Welcome to Market Systems Symposium Month on Marketlinks!


Photo: Robic Upadhayay, Feed the Future KISAN II

This post was written by Mike Field and Abigail Martuscello, Vikāra Institute.

This May, Marketlinks has dedicated its space to the fifth annual Market Systems Symposium (MSS), taking place virtually from May 9-19, 2022. By focusing on the cross-sharing of learning, MSS convenes donors, practitioners, and thought leaders to dialogue and debate around market systems development topics to propel the industry forward. This year, the Market Systems Symposium unpacks the five core technical themes of Market Systems Resilience; Climate Adaption and Conservation; Food Systems; Urban Market Systems; and Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning.

Central to these core themes is the ever-present concept of risk management, and it underpins all Symposium sessions. Risk management is a concept encompassed by market systems resilience, and it is a critical element in carrying out effective market systems development work. By focusing on risk management, insights can be gained on correctly identifying risks, prioritizing competing ones, and how responses can emerge that support the likelihood of market systems becoming more competitive, resilient, and inclusive. USAID also recognizes risk management as integral to its strategic goals outlined in its Risk Management Conceptual Framework. This month, Marketlinks readers can look forward to weekly digests through the two weeks of the Symposium on how risk management interacts with its core and cross-cutting themes.

To kick off this month, the MSS team provides an overview of risk management challenges for each technical theme:

  • Market Systems Resilience. As practitioners are increasingly integrating resilience lenses into systems approaches, it is clear that how market mechanisms/feedback loops identify and prioritize emergent risks is critical to how communities and market systems manage shocks and stresses. Currently, framing resilience in the context of how risks are prioritized and creating the incentives for action (or how they are "priced") within market systems is gaining traction when using market system resilience frameworks. For example, recent applications of USAID’s Market System Resilience Framework have been used to understand how social, political, and market systems identify, prioritize/price, and allocate resources in response to emergent risks. Whether there is an emerging pest infestation, a slow-moving climatic shift affecting agricultural production, or increased volatility from extractive business practices, the effective management of risks to the performance of market systems is central to resilience and directly relates to competitiveness and inclusivity.
  • Climate Adaption and Conservation in Market Systems. Climate change and conservation will be featured as a core theme at the Market Systems Symposium for the second year. The inability of most developing countries (and many developed countries) to identify and prioritize such risks is a central constraining factor to effective action. Even in cases where the real-world costs and harms from climate change and conservation are being felt by many within a society, the escalating risks are not being identified, prioritized, and effectively priced into market systems to drive action. A key question emerging from MSS2021 and will continue to be explored at MSS2022 is how and why risks related to climate change and conservation have struggled for recognition and prioritization within social, political, and market systems. The integration of market systems approaches and lenses has provided critical insights into the mechanisms, lever points, and feedback loops essential to translating risks into action to reduce/mitigate the harm, especially for vulnerable populations. However, the knowledge gained here is still in its early stages. There is more to be learned and tested regarding how market systems raise the alarm and catalyze action concerning risk from climate change and conservation challenges. Bridging the market systems development space and environment realm is ILO’s Market Systems Development and the Environment: A Strategic and Operational Guidance Note.
  • Food Systems. As outlined in the RFS Food Systems Conceptual Framework, food systems and risk management are closely linked. Applying systems lenses to how food is produced, processed, marketed, and consumed highlights crucial misalignments in incentives that have impactful and unintended outcomes related to market systems and wellness, especially nutrition. Of significance is how food systems evolve certain factors and forces that significantly influence a system but may also portend unintended consequences, as risks related elsewhere in the system are not fully recognized. For example, signals relating to slowly emerging risks like nutrient deficiency are often muted or not influential on system actors. As a result, these risks accumulate over time and then manifest into actual outcomes that can overwhelm vulnerable communities, especially when combined with and amplified to other risks. While there is a host of learning to be still done in food systems, MSS2022 will hone in on discussions related to how food systems identify and prioritize risks that catalyze effective action.   
  • Urban Market Systems. Evidence shows that rural market systems are interconnected with urban market systems and that overall economic development requires market systems to be competitive, inclusive, and resilient. But in many countries, even though most of the poor are located in urban and peri-urban spaces, programming targeting urban populations remains limited. Especially in terms of risk management, urban populations are a key lever in terms of consumer behavior and social movements. Central to raising the profile of specific risks such as climate change, nutrition, and inequality, raising the aggregated voice of urban and peri-urban populations is critical to how market systems recognize and prioritize risks. During MSS2022, discussions will focus on addressing issues affecting urban populations (especially vulnerable populations) such as migration, water/sanitation services, and housing links to amplify their voices and lead market actors to recognize and prioritize their needs and concerns about the risks affecting them.
  • Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning (MEL). While MSS will focus on innovations and new learning in the area of MEL, a key priority will be capturing and assessing information/data for adaptive management. From a systems change perspective, ongoing monitoring and analysis of emerging trends and pattern changes relative to positive systemic change is essential, but remains a difficult task. Increasingly, trying to understand a market system's capacity to identify and prioritize certain risks is key to tweaking interventions and resource allocation. As many market systems struggled to deal with COVID-19, many actors and components of market systems adapted effectively by identifying the associated risks and prioritizing actions to mitigate and even neutralize COVID-related risks. Additionally, many practitioners are struggling to gain insights into how to raise the concern related to various risks related to climate change, inequality, market volatility, extractive business practices, etc. that in many market systems are ignored, even when real harm is being felt. MSS2022 discussions will include MEL tools, tactics, and learning in monitoring systemic change that have helped practitioners adapt effectively.

For Market Systems Symposium Month at Marketlinks, we encourage community members to fully participate with us at MSS2022 from May 9-19 and share inspired blogs, thought pieces, or resources on MSS core and cross-cutting themes as well as risk management at info@marketlinks.org.