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  • Writer's picturePiers Bocock

Market Systems Strengthening: Adaptive Management in Action


There are strong signals across the international development sector that intentional, systematic, and resourced efforts to improve strategic collaboration, organizational learning, and adaptive management are being mainstreamed into the work of development projects with the goal of improving development outcomes, increasing stakeholder self-reliance, and reducing donor dependence. The May 2018 Market Systems Symposium in Cape Town, South Africa event not only highlighted the benefits of these approaches, but also embodied them.

The Symposium was the inaugural edition of a (hopefully) annual gathering of some of the leading champions for inclusive Market Systems development It was a true learning event, focused on creating a dynamic and cross-cutting environment for development professionals from dozens of countries, multiple funders, and scores of projects from across the globe to share successes, challenges, and visions for a path forward in this discipline.

Originally envisioned as a group of 40 or so thought-leaders, the event clearly offered so much potential that the guest list ballooned to more than 130 practitioners. As Chief of Party of the USAID LEARN contract, which is charged with supporting strategic learning and knowledge management at USAID to development results, I was asked to share how adaptive management processes are being embraced and integrated by USAID Bureaus and Missions around the world, along with resources that could be applicable for those working in Market Systems development.

There was broad acknowledgement that adaptive management and more intentional learning efforts are essential to improved market systems effectiveness. I also learned about a number of programs that are integrating adaptive management practices in their work (all of which I strongly encouraged to submit to our annual CLA Case Competition!).

This particular gathering of development experts work in some of the most complex development contexts in the world, under constantly changing conditions, with numerous market actors. As an intentional approach to making decisions and adjustments in response to new information and changes in context, adaptive management is a promising approach to working under these conditions. So it was gratifying to learn about so many practical applications of this approach in action at the 2018 Market Systems Symposium. It is exciting to see the convergence of two of today’s most promising approaches for sustainable international development impact; I’m already looking forward to #MSS2019.

For more information on this event, go to

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