Unpacking Complexity in Times of COVID-19: A User-Friendly Guide for Market Systems Analysis

  • Date Posted: June 2, 2020
  • Authors: ILO The Lab
  • Document Types: Guidance
  • Donor Type: Multilateral Organization


Photo: Sections of the MSA User-Friendly Guide. Photo shows text on pages.
Sections of the MSA User-Friendly Guide. Photo Credit: ILO 2020

With much of the world on lockdown or just emerging from it, we are still far from having an accurate picture of how COVID-19 will alter workers, enterprises, and market systems in the countries we work in. This granular understanding will be key for programs to achieve the right balance between i) immediate support that targets the most affected actors in the most affected market systems, and ii) market interventions that stimulate systemic and sustainable change in the long-term to build back better.

The market systems approach offers key analytical tools to unpack the complexities of market dynamics and identify strategic entry points and actors for market facilitation. A market systems analysis (MSA), for instance, provides a deep but practical understanding of how a market functions, why it might not be serving the needs of a certain target group, and what root causes of underperformance need to be addressed to bring about more and better jobs. For many projects, undertaking this kind of analysis may seem burdensome, complex, and not worth the trouble, particularly while under pressure to come up with quick and implementable fixes rather than well-informed interventions. To be relevant in the current rush for emergency responses, the analysis must be rapid and easy to implement: delivering evidence that can inform the design of new projects and re-orient the implementation of ongoing ones.

That’s why the Lab has put together a user-friendly guide on how to quickly carry out the end-to-end process of a market systems analysis. The focus of this short guide is on the practical aspects of the MSA process and how to manage its component parts — such as finding a good consultant or understanding how to orient your research questions. The purpose of this guide is to provide an analytical basis to unpack the complexities of old and new market disruptions for better targeting sustainable and scalable project initiatives.

If you have any feedback or follow-up questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch at thelab@ilo.org