The Market Corner: Unraveling Norms and Behavior Change within Market Systems for Lasting Impact

November 17, 2023

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This blogpost is one in a series of blogs sharing insights gained from the Market Systems Symposium 2023. The MSS blogpost provides a brief snapshot of key insights shared across a number of different sessions in MSS 2023 held in Cape Town between 13-15 November 2023.

Understanding and influencing norms and behavior change emerge as critical components for fostering lasting impact. Day 3 discussions among practitioners at the 6th annual Market Systems Symposium shed light on diverse perspectives and strategies employed across different sectors within the development landscape to influence behavior change.

Behavior Change: A Catalyst for Transformation

A representative from the Terwilliger Center for Innovation in Shelter (Philippines) at Habitat for Humanity (HFH) emphasized the paramount importance of behavior change. The discussant highlighted the prevalent information gap on the demand side of the housing market, where homeowners lacked the knowledge to initiate construction projects. On the supply side, there existed an unexplored market segment among the poor. To stimulate supply before demand, rigorous research was conducted to pitch a compelling business case. The subsequent efforts were directed at mapping out constraints, identifying key actors, and leveraging untapped opportunities on the demand side. The use of radio and social media, in combination with mapping customer journeys, played a pivotal role in fostering behavior change.

A Behavior Change Specialist at the Terwilliger Center for Innovation in Shelter (Kenya) reinforced the significance of understanding diverse behaviors within systems. By mapping out household journeys, the discussant emphasized the influential role of social networks. In a community where recommendations and experiences within social circles shape decisions, equipping laborers, and professionals with the right certifications becomes essential. Bridging information constraints and leveraging social networks are key elements in driving effective behavior change.

Addressing Climate Resilience in Agriculture

A discussant, involved in programs promoting climate-resilient agriculture, highlighted the challenges faced in adopting new technologies. Recognizing the acute impact of climate change on farmers, the focus was on creating market linkages to address the information gap. The importance of repetition in introducing new agricultural practices, especially in programs spanning several years, underscored the need for sustained efforts. The discussion emphasized understanding and adapting to the realities faced by smallholder farmers, particularly women, in the face of changing climates.

A Technical Director for Nutrition and Food Systems at ACDI/VOCA brought insights from the nutrition sector. She emphasized that behavior change in nutrition is not solely about knowledge; it's about enabling customers to adopt changes. Lowering costs, debulking nutritious foods into smaller sizes, and ensuring accessibility through infrastructural investments were strategies that proved effective in promoting behavior change.

Behavior Change as the Bedrock of Program Design

The importance of engaging market actors and breaking down desired behavior change into manageable chunks was highlighted. By aligning with the core values and initiatives of entrepreneurs in the market, significant changes in branding were observed. This approach, where behavior change becomes the foundation of program design, has proven successful in various contexts.

Influencing Private Sector Behavior for Sustainable Change

A participant whose program regularly provides grants to companies working with smallholder farmers, emphasized the need for aspirational behavior changes, such as healthy competition, fair employment practices, and compliance with regulations. The discussant emphasized the significance of speaking the language of the private sector and demonstrating the business case for ethical practices. Understanding behavior change dynamics at both the last mile and the private sector level is crucial for effective implementation.

Holistic Thinking: Beyond Grants and Partnerships

A key thread that emerged was the reminder to think holistically about market systems. While grants and partnerships are essential, it's crucial not to lose sight of the larger market structure—a system with stocks and flows. Holistic thinking involves understanding the interconnectedness of components within the system, ensuring a more comprehensive approach to development initiatives.

The discussion illuminated the multifaceted nature of behavior change within market systems development. From construction to agriculture, nutrition, and private sector engagement, recognizing, understanding, and influencing behavior change emerges as a cornerstone for driving sustainable and transformative impact.

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