Upping the Ante: Adopting Market Systems Approaches in Conflict-Affected and Thin Market Contexts

Sep 12, 2016 | by Clara Garc­a Parra

Market systems development programmes are implemented in contexts where markets aren't working well, or at least not to the benefit of the poor. By definition, these contexts are not easy to analyze , and they are definitely not easy to navigate.

What happens, then, when an extra layer of complexity is added? What happens when projects stick to a market systems framework but need to operate in even more challenging contexts , such as in conflict-affected Afghanistan or remote northern Ghana? What happens when the markets are so heavily distorted, as is the case in Bosnia-Herzegovina, that it seems impossible to apply handbook approaches to incentivize market actors to adopt sustainable solutions? What happens when the security situation makes it virtually impossible to maintain a strict facilitation role, as is currently happening in Nigeria's Niger Delta?

In other words: How can market systems approaches work if there are (virtually) no markets?

Taking a step back:

Going beyond implementation considerations, an essential part of market systems approaches is analyzing the market and designing appropriate interventions. As mentioned above, this is already difficult in "normal" developing contexts, and often poses an even bigger challenge in fragile and conflict-affected situations and thin markets.

A soon-to-be-published report on the BEAM Exchange platform touches upon different approaches adopted by practitioners to take the leap from analysis to action in market systems approaches.


Interestingly, as the figure shows, intervention design is either approached from an Analytical or an Experimental angle:

  • Analytical approaches rely on a thorough ex-ante market analysis, while,
  • Experimental approaches are more reliant on iterative approaches to understanding markets and designing interventions.

The five projects discussed in the presentation will show how, when working in thin markets and fragile contexts, it may prove necessary to adopt an experimental approach to designing interventions.

Working and Learning Together at #SEEP2016

Join us for an interactive session at the 2016 SEEP Annual Conference, the "Challenging Realities: How Market Systems Programmes Operate in Thin Markets" presentation which will serve as a platform to explore some of the issues mentioned. While the "magic bullet" is still an elusive concept, and there are no straightforward answers to making things work (if you think you have these answers, please tell us!), we will present practical experiences and lessons learned from projects using a market systems approach and operating in fragile settings.

You will hear practitioners from Nathan Associates, MarketMakers, International Labour Organization, and NDPI who will highlight practical experiences from five different markets systems-based programmes. This will be complemented by a dynamic session on how things can be done to maintain a market systems approach in contexts saturated by donors, missing supporting markets and ecosystems, or affected by conflict and insecurity that render attracting partners and investment extremely challenging. We hope to see you there!

Clara Garc­a Parra is a Consultant at Nathan Associates who brings experience working with major international donor organisations and international NGOs. She is involved in the development and implementation of monitoring and evaluation (M&E) and knowledge management (KM) frameworks in multiple private sector development projects. Since 2012, Clara has been working in long and short term projects with donors and cooperation agencies including DFID, the European Commission, the Mastercard Foundation and Comic Relief.

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