A research agenda for market systems development

How much is spent on programmes that use the market systems development (MSD) approach? A quick guess (based on the BEAM Exchange programme index), is about a billion dollars over the last five years. Enough money to raise reasonable questions about the effectiveness, value for money, and impact of the approach. The BEAM Exchange led a response to these questions, putting together an evidence map of evaluations and assessments of MSD programmes which meet quality criteria. They’ve quickly amassed a…

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Recruiting: Private Sector Development Associate

Want to join a small, enthusiastic, and flexible team working on some of the most exciting challenges in international development? Then think about joining us – read the job description below, or click here for the pdf. 1.1         Introduction DevLearn is a consulting firm specialising in international development monitoring, evaluation, implementation and communications. Our work focuses on sustainable economic growth through agriculture, urbanisation, and industrialisation. We are particularly interested in solutions derived from systems thinking and how economic growth can…

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Tendering development programmes is a waste of time

Let me reveal a secret. When I worked as a freelance consultant, about five years ago, I was regularly included on multiple bids for international development programmes, mostly as a part-time monitoring and results measurement expert. If all had been successful, I would have been be required to work considerably more than the number of working hours in a day. Here’s another secret. The same is true of every consultant. Mostly, it works out – not all bids are successful,…

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Aid Reform in the Real World

I get really frustrated by aid reform think-pieces which offer lofty suggestions for improving the aid system, while ignoring the dysfunctional, messy reality of how the system actually functions. Many of the things we complain about – ludicrous accountability requirements, inflexible projects, and a neglect of local knowledge – are not bugs but features, adopted because they satisfy the interests of aid stakeholders. Duncan Green on From Poverty To Power offered some great suggestions on how to improve aid in…

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A taste of my own medicine

It’ll taste good, I promise I’ve worked on or reviewed hundreds of projects inflicting training on small African businesses. They all follow a similar pattern; find some people selling fruit by the side of the road (“entrepreneurs”), find a classroom (“supportive learning environment”) and encourage them to sit through tedious lectures (“participatory learner-centric delivery”). Now I’m becoming a beneficiary myself – I’ve just started a small business training programme, running in London. It’s important that evaluators understand the perspectives of…

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The point of pointless bureaucracy

The business owner I was interviewing turned red with anger. She tried to speak, but was too emotional to get any words out. After a pause, she managed to splutter out an answer. “The bureaucracy is crazy!” she told me. “For the last reporting period, I delivered ten boxes of receipts to the donor. For the next reporting period, they want even more! I spend more time on reporting than I spend running my business.”[1] Anyone who works in private…

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Why is it difficult for market systems programmes to create jobs?

Market systems programmes have been remarkably successful. Even allowing for a healthy scepticism about their reported results, the best-know programmes have supported hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of farmers to increase their income. But few market systems programmes have created significant numbers of jobs. The above programmes do report numbers of jobs created – but the results are miniscule. By the end of 2017, for example, Market Development Facility had raised incomes of 44,150 households; but created under a thousand…

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What have we learned from eight impact assessments in market systems development?

For many programmes, running an impact assessment is like going to the doctor for an embarrassing medical condition. A patient with such a condition may prefer not to think about the issue until the last moment. Eventually the pain is too much to ignore, so the patient looks for the cheapest and quickest solution available. They get a cursory inspection from the doctor, try to ignore any bad news that comes out of it, and make sure that nobody ever…

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What does adaptive management have to do with Mario Kart?

I’ve started recording videos for our upcoming training course on how to measure results for adaptively managed programmes. While I absolutely hate the sound of my own voice – all the more so now I’ve listened to it non-stop for two hours – I’m reasonably satisfied with this simple explanation of why we need adaptive management in the first place. If you have any comments or feedback, please let me know! And if you’re interested in signing up, we still…

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Three reasons why programmes don’t manage adaptively

A version of this blog was originally written for a proposal, which due to a catastrophic email failure never made it to the intended recipient’s mailbox. In the spirit of adaptive management, therefore, it has been reused for a completely different purpose… The puzzle of adaptive management is that it is so intuitively useful, yet so infrequently implemented. Take USAID’s definition of adaptive management: “an intentional approach to making decisions and adjustments in response to new information and changes in…

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DevLearn LLP specialises in design, monitoring, evaluation, implementation and online training for private sector development, market systems development, M4P, challenge funds, and other economic growth programmes.

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