Pilot Infatuation

Former Canadian Minister of Health, Monique Bégin once lamented that Canada is a country of perpetual pilot projects. She was referring to the fact that we can’t seem to get off the pilot project treadmill. Perhaps we are perfectionists. Maybe we are trying to be fair by sprinkling limited resources to as many people as possible. Or we naïvely think that a successful pilot will magically disseminate on its own. It won’t.

The requirements and resources to make a pilot successful are different than spreading its benefit far and wide. The latter requires a sizeable infusion of cash and a receptive policy apparatus.

There are already more than enough proven, workable solutions to social and environmental challenges out there. Sadly they languish in isolation. With their inventors watching from the sidelines as the resources and attention are focussed on another funding round of pilots, demonstrations and startups.

Pilot infatuation is a profound dilemma. It perpetuates the thrill of the new. It allows government and funders to tick the box of innovation while keeping change at bay. And it ignores pilots that have already proven their worth.

There is nothing inherently wrong with pilot projects. It’s a good place to test new ideas. And find the occasional gem.

When we do, then what?

It’s time to stabilize successful pilots. Here are three suggestions:

  1. Core funding or financing for social enterprises, non-profits and social purpose businesses. I’ve watched far too many talented social entrepreneurs waste years waiting for the financial support to take their initiative to the next stage. Sometimes money is all that is needed.
  2. Policy discipline from governments to guide proven innovations into the policy, regulatory and funding mainstream.
  3. Mentoring and coaching for early stage social entrepreneurs who want to magnify the impact of their pilots and startups.

Next time you hear another announcement about yet another round of pilot funding ask the sponsors if they have budgeted for the critical ‘beyond pilot’ stage. And whether they have the willpower to choose those minority of pilots with proven merit.

While you are at it, remind them there is a backlog of proven innovations ready to be rolled out.

Pilots are helpful but they are not the destination.


When it comes to moving health care practices forward efficiently, Canada is a country of perpetual pilot projects. We seldom move proven projects into stable, funded programs, and we rarely transfer the outcomes of pilot projects across jurisdictions. (Monique Bégin)

Musical accompaniment this post is “Throw it All Away” by TUNS the great new East Coast super group. Purchase.


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