Do I need to adapt my model?


Do I need to adapt my model?

When you scale to a different context and need to cope with challenges specific to this new environment and demographics, you may need to adapt your existing model to make it more relevant to this new context. Adaptation is often needed to gear the operational model to not just a different regulatory framework, but also cultural, economic and social differences can be issues when scaling transnational. There is a relation between adaptation and the complexity of the model and the sector in which it will be implemented: the more complex the operational model and the more stakeholders are involved, the more effort it takes to implement the social innovation in a new context.

The key questions in this chapter:

  1. Have we already assessed the feasibility of entering the market, possibly through a small test of our offering or market study?
  2. Will we be able to achieve the desired level of impact in the new market?
  3. Have we sufficiently considered the time and resources required to adapt to the new market?

1. Have we already assessed the feasibility of entering the market, possibly through a small test of our offering or market study? 

A feasibility study to test your concept requires some investment, but it’s key to successful scaling. By doing a market study or a pilot test, you will learn a lot about the new context and the relevance of the societal challenge you want to tackle. Strong market knowledge is needed before implementation: is there a clear need in the new market? Are you facing institutional, cultural or language barriers? What is the regulatory environment like? Do you need to rethink your legal model (legal structure, contracts, licenses etc.)? Cultural, administrative, political and economic dimensions can make markets considerably more or less attractive.

A new context 

How does the competitive landscape look? Is there local competition? How are they performing? Be aware of the advantages they have over you: like access to local networks and resources, market knowledge and no language barriers. It might be useful to work with an expert who can give you advice, or to partner up for strategic purposes. In case you can’t detect any competitors, you need to find the reason. Is this just a new market for the new context, or are there hidden factors that hold people back from this specific market (like culture, religion, public versus private market…)?

Early adopters 

Testing the feasibility of your concept means identifying your first customers in the new context. When approaching a new market, finding the early adopter is crucial! Especially when you are tackling a societal need that was not met before. How big the real demand? Are persons only interested or will they undertake clear actions to buy? Who will pay? You need to get insight into who your future customers are and what is driving them, a clear understanding on how to approach them is vital. It is a good idea to involve stakeholders from this new market to create the demand, and to define and find your (first) customers.

2. Will we be able to achieve the desired level of impact in the new market? 

The success you have today is no guarantee for success in a new market. Whether or not you will achieve the impact you want, differs from the original context. You need to consider in what degree the following adaptions are necessary in order to reach the desired impact:

  • Adapting your product/service: What’s your added value compared to alternatives? Does it all make sense in the new context? Is there a willingness to pay?
  • Adapting the way it’s delivered: What’s your marketing and communication plan? Adapt your communication to the local context: culture, language, habits…

3. Have we sufficiently considered the time and resources required to adapt to the new market? 

Governance, legal hurdles, channels to reach customers, cultural issues, translations… these take time and resources as you adapt your social innovation to a new market and many elements need to be taken into consideration. Plan in advance in order to avoid implementation failure or additional surprises: what are the internal and external transfer costs before, during and after the implementation? Take into account different steps: doing market research, designing the legal and organisational model, finding the right place, finding the right people, creating a new network and promoting your concept, following-up, training… Is your organisation mature enough to devote the necessary time and resources?

There’s a significant increase of necessary adaptation once other countries, cultures, languages and norms and values are involved. Therefore, consider carefully if your organisation is mature enough to look for places with a different culture or language. Scaling transnational is a challenge and should not be underestimated. However, scaling in your own country might also require quite some adaptations if it for example involves new regions or new target groups.

We learned that organisations who needed to adapt their model, turned to specific resources like growth funding and visibility in order to scale successfully, while organisation who didn’t need to adapt their model turned more towards network resources, business coaching and peer-to-peer support for a successful scaling.

Scaling is easier without adaption but anticipating adaptation can help
Organisations that did not require adaptations to enter new markets doubled in personnel and revenue – 50 percent more than those that required changes.
When scaling outside their home country, organisations that did not anticipate adaptations to their social innovation were less likely to succeed in scaling.

Related cases



New Horizons Foundation


Citizens' Agreement


Opera Domani



  • You can have a better chance to demonstrate the validity of your model by realizing a ‘limited’ pilot project.
  • When approaching a new context, listen, learn and modify your approach.
  • First explore opportunities to scale in markets without too many adaptations. This increases your success. 
  • Working with locally available resources helps avoid creating an innovation that is too costly or complex for the user organization to adopt.


To find out more about designing your scaling approach, please visit our online database with useful resources. A sample of these is listed here below:

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