Market systems development is an approach based on facilitating change through partnerships.

However, little is written about the partnership brokering techniques that are used in programmes - what works and what is seen as good practice.

In this blog I discuss the importance of learning about partnership brokering and provide some references to good practice. 

My hope is that we improve the way we broker long-lasting, effective partnerships so that the changes in the market system that we facilitate are sustained. And that we do not add to the pile of bad practice so capably critiqued by Soli Middleby.

We all know that it is the programme partners that make the changes in the market system, not the programme implementers. Our role is to facilitate change. Sometimes this means helping to create a vision and movement for change, or encouraging businesses to innovate, governments to lead better or helping citizens to be able to respond to a more inclusive market.
For example:

  • When a seed company sells a small packet of bean seeds with embedded insurance, there is a partnership between the seed and insurance businesses that the programme has brokered. If that seed company also uses a unique number code, printed on the packet to help the farmer verify the quality of the seed before purchase, there is a partnership between the seed business, the mobile network operator, a mobile-based verification service, and possibly a national seed agency. And that partnership web will have been partly brokered by the programme.
  • If a vocational school opens a new career advisory service for its students and funds this from the municipal budget, then a partnership will have been nurtured over several years between the school director, the staff that take on the new role of career advisers, local businesses that want to attract students to work in their factory and the municipal department of education that is encouraging more youths to find employment through vocational education. That network of partnerships will also have been brokered by a programme.

You will have your own examples of partnerships for change that you have brokered. But have you ever received any training or coaching on how to form these partnerships? Or did you just learn on the go? 

Probably the main emphasis of any training that you did receive would have been on the administration of the partnership between the programme and the business that received a grant. The focus would have been on reducing and managing risk for the programme: due diligence checks, monitoring sheets, reporting and auditing requirements. But that is more about managing the programme’s interests than forming a partnership. 

And what about the partnerships developed in the market system like those in the above examples? Did you receive any training on how to broker those?

The development impact that we all seek to achieve is founded on changing the way institutions in the market system interact. Some of these interactions are simple market exchanges of demand and supply, but others are partnerships. Without formal training, programme staff will not be sufficiently skilled. 

Programme managers recognise the relevance of training their staff. There is training on measurement (e.g. DCED standard), on market systems in general (e.g. DevLearn’s online course), but very few programmes train staff on partnership brokering. This should change.

If you want to learn more about how to broker partnerships, there are several public sources of information on good practice, with some overlap and duplication:

PRISMA is a rare example of an MSD programme that has detailed guidance for intervention managers on brokering partnerships. Have a look at it.

In conclusion...

Adopt-Adapt-Expand-Respond (AAER) – remember that? Getting to R(espond) will depend on a change in the institutional arrangements of the market system, which means the development of new partnerships based on a change in the power balance of the market system. 

Programmes that train their staff to broker partnerships are more likely to achieve large-scale, long-lasting, just change. And those that don’t will be stuck counting limited, direct results from pilots.

The gap between the need to think and act interdependently and our ability to do so sits at the heart of the most difficult problems we face today. A sustainable world will only be possible by thinking differently – by learning to see the larger systems… and by fostering collaboration across every imaginable boundary.
The Necessary Revolution, Peter Senge
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