Reconsidering the Concept of Scale in Market Systems Development

January 2016

Economic development programs are increasingly taking a systems approach. This paper suggests that the shift to a systemic perspective calls into question the utility of using scale as a key measure of project success, at least in its current usage. While understanding a project’s outreach still has a place, it has been traditionally overused as the primary means of assessing a project’s impact; a use which creates perverse incentives for projects trying to take a systemic approach. This paper supports this argument by both 1) assessing the relevance and utility of redefining scale using systems thinking, and 2) assessing the implications of shifting the definition of scale to create a more useful concept for systems program design and measure of program impact. Lastly, the paper briefly explores the implications of a revised view of scale for assessing attribution, given the complex dynamics of socio-economic systems.

From a systems perspective, any statement of scale should be contextual and character-specific. That is, scale should be redefined to include a measure of the spread of a behavior or benefit across a specific population (e.g., X behavior adopted by, or Y benefit enjoyed by, Z percentage of people in a specific market system); and it should consider the process by which the spread was effected (e.g., a self-sustained spread across a network of relationships, beyond what was directly induced by a project). The character of how scale was reached is important given its impact on the likely sustainability of the change, and thus whether it is systemic in nature. While this paper argues for change, its focus is on stimulating discussion rather than proposing specific guidance on how to apply a redefined understanding of scale.

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Making the Business Case: Women’s Economic Empowerment in Market Systems Development

March 2015

Evidence shows that giving poor women the means to improve their incomes and the power to make decisions has a catalyzing impact within their households, their communities, and beyond. The USAID-funded Leveraging Economic Opportunities (LEO) activity seeks to build upon these efforts by demonstrating how business practices that are inclusive of women are good for business and social change.

This paper is based on extensive research and interviews and provides the rationale that market systems facilitation practitioners can use to engage private sector firms in efforts to empower women. From identifying partners to articulating the mutually beneficial value of women’s inclusion, the paper offers guidance and real-world examples to help companies empower women working at every level of the economy.

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Scaling Impact: Extending Input Delivery to Smallholder Farmers at Scale

January 2015

Smallholder farmers represent the majority of the world’s farmers as well as the majority of the world’s poor. Though it has been established that the application of improved inputs (such as fertilizer, agrochemicals, and seeds) can increase both yields and income, improved input access remains low.

This paper strives to inform the development of market systems that improve smallholder access to and adoption of commercial inputs. Previous studies have focused primarily on cases where donor funding has facilitated market change. This report, on the other hand, considers a diversity of models but focuses particularly on those that have reached significant scale.

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Evaluating Systems and Systemic Change for Inclusive Market Development

June 2014

This report summarizes key findings from a review of selected literature on evaluating systems and systemic change. The purpose of the review was to inform the evaluation research agenda under USAIDS’s Leveraging Economic Opportunities (LEO) project. In particular, this review highlights findings that can contribute to the development of, first, an evaluation framework for interventions designed to facilitate inclusive market systems development and, second, empirical approaches for identifying and monitoring systemic changes.

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