Advancing Policies/Systems Change

Test, Then Invest

Test or pilot projects demonstrate commitment, enhance learning and build credibility. Many policy and environmental approaches are amenable to pilot efforts, either in a specific location or with a specific group (e.g., a corner store conversion, intersection redesign or a double bucks program for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients at a farmers’ market). When pursuing a new approach, pilot efforts can offer a partnership the chance to demonstrate concrete action to a disengaged community, show skeptics what is possible, build demand, learn what works (or doesn’t) in a given context and involve additional partners. An unsuccessful pilot can expose unforeseen challenges that support a practical decision not to move forward. On the other hand, a successful pilot can convert skeptics into advocates and build a base of credibility beneath more ambitious plans.

Pilot efforts conserve resources, increase leverage and lay the groundwork for scaling. Ambitious initiatives often look for high impact policies or initiatives with large reach in order to meet their goals as quickly as possible. While some partners prefer to go big with a strategy right away, it can be risky and inefficient to do so before learning more about how the strategy works on the ground. It’s also important to learn about the other elements that could help produce results for a given population, or to discovering potential unintended consequences. Pilot testing allows a partnership to refine the approach, build in the necessary supports, increase reliability, and examine sustainability and growth potential before committing precious resources to full implementation. This can position the effort more strongly for replication or scaling, build confidence among those who will fund or implement the strategy, and increase the likelihood of future investment.

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