Demystifying Practical Market Facilitation Tactics Through Next Generation Learning Tools

October 13, 2016


The Challenge

Development practitioners continue to report challenges in moving from the theory of operating in complex, continually changing market systems to what this looks like in practice. USAID’s Leveraging Economic Opportunities (LEO) activity has grappled with how to provide learning tools that build practitioners’ capacity around effective market facilitation in a creative, experiential, "text-lite," and interactive way which is particularly oriented towards field-based staff. Building on the success of the initial market facilitation learning cartoon series released by LEO in 2015, LEO worked with Vikāra Institute to take on the challenge of designing cartoons that would further demystify practical "tactics" that can be used in market development contexts. The challenge throughout the process remained: How do we share a practical example of an implementation activity that doesn’t then become seen as a silver bullet or holy grail, appearing in every project proposal and work plan, replicated far and wide regardless of development objective or context? 

The Tactics

We settled on a series of tactics that have a higher likelihood of being relevant across multiple market systems contexts and then emphasize throughout the cartoon-based stories broader, underlying principles of market facilitation. Each tactic has several cartoons that introduce different perspectives amongst actors, present practical case studies, or highlight different market systems facilitation elements such as having projects continually assess their activities through an “ROI-lens” of relationships, ownership, and intensity. 

The business tactics explored are:

  • Supporting businesses to use contests and competitions (such as raffles with multiple, random winners or amplifying good practice where it already exists) to introduce new technologies in the system;
  • Supporting buyers of production outputs to set up supplier performance clubs to improve productivity in the system through improved supply chain management;
  • Credit and non-credit buyer check-off systems where buyers of farmers’ crops set up a financial mechanism to provide inputs that are paid for when the outputs are sold; and
  • Linking domestic remittances from urban areas to inputs stores in rural areas to improve access to quality inputs in the system.

The tactics themselves are not the magical brainchild of the development sector. To the contrary, they are common business tactics used by firms around the world to grow their businesses. They are generally not used in markets where development projects operate—that is, more rural, low income contexts. In these contexts, businesses supplying inputs or buying produce tend to hold the power in relationships and the farmers, as buyers of inputs or suppliers of produce, hold very little. Farmers are not seen as important investments in the businesses’ growth or success. 

In more developed economies, for example, there are generally huge investments by firms in understanding their customers’ preferences and buying habits and designing promotions and business strategies around these. There are huge investments in firms’ supply chains
and how to identify which small-scale suppliers to invest in and influence others. In a development context, we often forget to look at how to support firms to put in place modern business tactics that can help them to grow, which at the same time incentivizes inclusive market development through increased investment in low income households and producers—as these are ultimately the consumers of their inputs and suppliers of their goods! 

Our Approach

Instead of simply describing the business tactics, we recognized the importance of placing a
lot of emphasis on what behaviors these could change in market actors and in the market system overall. In market systems contexts, it really is the destination and the route taken to get there that is far more important than the vessel one decides to travel on. If projects focus on the tactic itself, they are likely to miss the bigger market systems change that they are aiming for and not notice the changes in market actors along the way.

Let us know your experience trialing these with staff, by emailing Caroline Fowler at French and Spanish versions of the cartoons are available, as well as printable cartoon handouts and PowerPoint versions of the cartoon graphics that can be integrated into your own training courses and presentations.

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