Promoting Inclusive Markets and Financial Systems
Strategies and Best Practices for Crowding In?
Author: Leanne Rasmussen, Director of Partnerships and Consulting Services - Market Systems at Engineers Without Borders Canada
"I'm working right now with a project that is entering its final few months. I've been looking around for some case studies, strategies, best practices, or anything that focuses on this final stage of a market facilitation project, but haven't come up with much. Most resources seem to stop at the point of managing a pilot of a successful business model.
Does anyone have any suggestions on where to look for this sort of thing?"
When I started this conversation on MaFI, I was very new to market systems development work – I had arrived in East Africa three months prior, and I was working on my first long-term assignment. This was at the USAID-LEAD project in Uganda, which was entering its final six months, after being transformed into a market systems/facilitation project only a year or so earlier.
My role on the project was framed around supporting staff to shift their activities and outlooks from building role models to crowding in around market innovations. This shift is a challenge I have now seen repeatedly on market systems projects—it is very easy for project staff to get wrapped up in supporting specific market actors, as they aim to build up role models. Often, staff need a conscious reminder that the goal is to see broader change in the market system, and that this involves a wholly different set of activities. My goal was to shift the emphasis to this system change, and to crowding in around what the role models were doing.
During this time, I was also learning a lot myself about what crowding in looked like, and how it was done. After a few chats with other colleagues about where to look for information, it struck me that there wasn’t really much available about activities that staff could do to promote crowding in. This surprised me quite a bit. I just assumed there was a big body of knowledge and practice on all aspects of market systems development, that existed neatly and comprehensively in some dedicated corner of the internet. This is a surprise I’ve had a few times over the past two years, where I’ve looked for resources or previous experiences of other projects, and found little to nothing. It has starkly revealed to me how much we still don’t know—or at least haven’t written down—about how to create change in a market system.
During one conversation with a colleague, he suggested that I post my question on MaFI. I had recently joined MaFI, and had read various discussions but had never directly participated. I was still very green, and I was quite nervous about posting the question, potentially exposing my own lack of knowledge. I think I was still convinced that a perfect resource on crowding in still existed somewhere, and that I would look silly for being the only one who didn’t know about it. But on my colleague’s urging, I started the thread.
When the responses rolled in, my learning curve in market systems development started rapidly accelerating. I’d never read Donella Meadows before. I hadn’t thought much about social networks and pressure to conform as mechanisms for changing behaviour. I could see quite clearly the barriers to systemic change that the project was up against (it didn’t look good). I gained a deeper, nuanced understanding of what it meant to build in sustainability from the beginning of a project.
But I never really did get what I originally set out to find: an assortment of activities or interventions that project staff could try out in order to encourage and facilitate crowding in. When this list of ideas never materialized, it emphasized for me that there is no “formula” for market systems development, that replicability is difficult, and that context is everything. Part of the reason why there was no “list” was because market systems development is less a defined set of things you do, and more a way of thinking.
However, I still question why there wasn’t more information available about what happens at the project level. Looking at the theoretical and conceptual levels are important. But what about that place where the rubber meets the road, and field staff are out in their districts saying to themselves, “How do I actually do that?” We know a lot about the “what” and “why” of market facilitation, but the “how” is still not widely captured, disseminated, or made useful for future projects.
What more can we do to help projects better answer this question?