MSD competency A1

Systems analysis for economic inclusion

Understand market systems and their role in poverty reduction from a systemic perspective

MSD competencies

Competency definition

Practitioners can apply principles and frameworks from economics, political economy and complex systems thinking to analyse a market system. They can...

  • use the terminology of core markets, supporting functions, rules and norms to describe how a given market functions and articulate market failures
  • see the links between social, political and economic power, and understand how power functions at a community level through social norms (e.g. gender)
  • investigate and describe root causes of economic exclusion (poor access to products, services or markets) in terms of incentives, beliefs and interactions between people and institutions
  • identify potential leverage points that could change these dynamics in a programme’s focus area

Knowledge areas

Practitioners with this competency will be knowledgeable about concepts and ideas described and explored in the following resources...


Political economy

Complex systems

Skills and experience

Practitioners with this competency will have acquired qualifications, skills and practical experience that may include:


  • conducting market analysis in order to make business or investments decisions (private sector)
  • development of programme strategy for an NGO / government department
  • degree or research experience in microeconomics

Political economy

  • participation in civil society groups that advocate for social justice
  • degree or research experience in political science, sociology or gender studies

Complex adaptive systems

  • participation in strategic planning and prioritisation exercises to address social challenges (e.g. inequality or lack of access to services). This could be in a public policy or private sector setting.
  • the use of causal loop diagrams to understand feedback loops and short-list interventions or initiatives

Guidance for teaching this competency

Content delivery
Definitions and terminology to describe a market, e.g. transactions, supply and demand, prices, value chains, competition.

Present framework for political economy and give examples that are relevant to local context. Learn to define different types of power: financial, political, prejudice and privilege.

Definitions and frameworks to understand types of systems (ordered, complex, chaotic). Address what a complex adaptive system is and how it relates to creating change in a market or social context.

Research assignment
Focus on a household or community, investigate how people are integrated into markets for key goods and services as both consumers and producers. Apply key models, terms and concepts from microeconomics and use them to describe findings.

What individuals and groups hold power and wealth in a specific bounded context, e.g. community, particular market? Why do they have this power? How do they maintain it?

Introduce examples of entrenched power and historical reasons why those people and organisations have it. Discuss how it affects MSD and reasons why it might be hard to change who has power.

Facilitated discussion
Using tangible examples of complex adaptive systems (including videos and group exercises) from ecology, biology and social systems to unpack key concepts, e.g. emergence, path dependence, agents, simple rules.

Case study
Analysing a sub-sector, or local issue that all participants are familiar with to illustrate links between visible events and trends, structures, institutions and norms, and mental models of particular actors in that situation.

Coaching & mentoring advice

  • Support and encourage staff to actively use terminology from economics on a daily basis when describing their observations from the field and making decisions about interventions.
  • Encourage staff to question underlying assumptions in traditional microeconomics and encourage them to self-learn about alternative economic theories: behavioural, agent-based, evolutionary etc.
  • Help staff pay attention to the political connections of business owners and assess for risks and benefits. Encourage them to take those factors into account when choosing who to partner with.
  • Challenge staff to critically assess which segments of the population their interventions are serving and actively make decisions to include vulnerable and marginalised groups.
  • Challenge linear cause-and-effect thinking: push staff to consider multiple factors.
  • Emphasise pattern recognition: encourage staff to notice common themes in market actor behaviour, e.g. predatory pricing, inequities in access, low information flow in transactions)

Guidance for assessing this competency

Traditional questions
Test participants' ability to articulate how political forces directly shape market dynamics in ways that are difficult to measure.

Probe past experiences with multiple interacting actors, working on complex problems in past jobs or education; ask participants to draw out dynamics of a system.

Presentation of case analysis
Provide a package of background information and data for a market and require participants to present an analysis of market structure, performance and market failures

Frame a case that includes clear examples of power imbalance due to either political patronage or affirmative action. Probe how participants analyse how the distribution of power affects market dynamics.

Probe for understanding of: feedback loops; two-way interactions between actors, institutions, and social norms; multiple possible causal relationships.

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