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  • Oscar Mejia, Business Development and MEAL Lead, ActionAid, Peru

Thoughts on Results Measurement from MSS2023

Author:

Oscar Mejia, Business Development and MEAL Lead, ActionAid, Peru

MSS2023 Scholarship Recipient (MSS Scholarship Program supported by Supported by Feed the Future Market Systems and Partnerships Activity (MSP))


Context setting from Mike Field, Senior Systems Specialist, Vikāra Institute:

An interesting trend over the last number of years has been the use of systems thinking approaches, especially related to market systems, in programs that primarily focus on humanitarian or very difficult contexts.  The blog provides very interesting insights into how a practitioner from more humanitarian contexts has evolved to embrace MSD approaches. The list of learning highlights gained during the symposium were particularly interesting, especially the point about knowing the difference between attribution and contribution. The 2024 symposium will certainly continue to support the ongoing learning and integration of systems thinking in all contexts, and especially very chaotic and difficult contexts. 

 

My first encounter with the tenets of systems thinking occurred in Uganda, where I travelled from Peru to provide technical assistance to the ActionAid national office in Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability, and Learning (MEAL) project management. I had worked in Australia and Asia; it was my first time in the African continent. To my surprise, while there, the team had decided to adopt a Market System Development (MSD) approach to enhance the delivery of energy services by the ecosystem players (private sector, financial institutions, and other relevant sector players) to refugee and host communities in Adjumani district (one of the biggest areas for humanitarian aid in East Africa). 


It did not take me too long to realize the implications of this particular lens – MSD involved more than just the expected set of actors, and it extended my vision of what real, sustainable impact looks like. The notion of a more inclusive market that could work for the poor seemed ideal, but how do you achieve that in practice? As a development practitioner from Latina America, my experience with MSD was eye-opening. I was  committed to researching systemic change deeply, and learning how to measure it accurately. A specialization in this field, thus, became necessary for me. 


As I enrolled in some courses, my interest grew. I was deployed to provide technical assistance in Guatemala for another MSD project focused on increasing women’s financial inclusion in formal banking, with the aim of benefiting more than 6,000 entrepreneurial females in rural areas. 


With these experiences in mind, I applied for a scholarship to attend the Market Systems Symposium 2023 (MSS2023) in the hopes of having the opportunity to meet with other passionate and well-known MSD professionals. And that is what happened. MSS2023 included rich panels and discussions, deep-dive sessions, and down-to-earth conversations with experts who were willing to listen genuinely and provide simple, valuable inputs on matters of interest. This type of engagement was very appreciated, especially by a person with a background like mine where in South America, MSD is still a more nascent field compared to regions in Africa and Asia with more advanced experience.


The interesting topics discussed at the Symposium allowed me to dive into some practical challenges, seldomly mentioned in theory, that I have experienced first-hand as a practitioner. Here are some highlights for me that were widely shared with other attendees:  


✅ Attribution and contribution: knowing the difference is key and will provide your program with more tailored insights into what achievements were reached due to your intervention or to other market actors. 

✅ MSD is more about a process of change rather than one single story of success, which means that the results measurement system should seek to track progress to inform decision-making.  

✅Change happens at all times, so we must get better at tracking change that projects  contributed  to and what is an inevitable change.

✅Change doesn’t only happen within the “primary circle” of beneficiaries. It is important to observe the secondary line of actors. You may be surprised by what you find. 

✅ Over the years there emerged a misconception related to direct delivery that continues to present confusion for practitioners.  In systems thinking, the key is whether an intervention is catalytic, or spurs on some kind of positive change in the targeted market system. An important rule of thumb is that more difficult contexts often require a project to take on more drastic action to have a catalytic effect.  In contrast, contexts that are more stable often require a much lighter touch to have a catalytic effect.    

✅Adaptive management is not a nice to have;, it is a requirement in order to identify and respond to internal or external changes.  

✅Innovation is a hands-on learning process.   

✅Engaging in MSD is about becoming a risk taker, because if you want to achieve new results, you needed to implement new strategies that are not standard. 


I can firmly say that after participating in the Symposium, I feel more confident with ActionAid using the Adopt Adapt Expand Respond (AAER) framework (combined with other approaches), to find indicators and evidence that capture wider changes in the system or market and inform decisions in project management.In addition, I will be in charge of providing technical assistance on MSD to other ActionAid national offices so that they can develop results measurement systems tailored to their needs and unique contexts. By doing so, I hope to contribute to building the technical expertise of other MSD professionals in Latin-American and the wider global community. 

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