Systemic change in market systems development

Market systems development programmes aim to achieve systemic change.

However, the communities that use market systems approaches have struggled to define what constitutes systemic change and the pathways to achieve it. There is a commonly expressed feeling that the way current market systems development programmes devise their interventions does not reflect a good understanding of how market systems work (or fail) and how change happens in economic and interconnected systems.

The lack of a common understanding of what constitutes systemic change and how change happens in (market) systems negatively influences how programmes are funded and designed and also poses challenges to programme monitoring and evaluation.

Leading the research is a consortium of organisations led by IDS and including Mesopartner, Itad and Palladium. The aim is to achieve conceptual clarity on systemic change.


The research takes a three-fold approach. The first element is looking at establishing a conceptual grounding of systemic change in current academic theory selected from relevant fields.

The second element will draw from experiences of programmes applying market systems approaches, including those that have been thought leaders and developed frameworks to facilitate and capture systemic change and those that have been struggling to effectively integrate the notion of and stimulate systemic change with their activities. To date, two workshops with practitioners have been organised in London and Lusaka.

The final element will seek to test the applicability of the concepts, ideas and frameworks derived from the literature review and subsequent discussions with practitioners on a current programme.

The three elements are implemented in an iterative way to connect the theory review with current needs and applicability in practice.


The research culminated in a technical paper on the conceptual understanding of systemic change in market systems with principles and heuristics to guide the choice of frameworks for designing, implementing or measuring systemic change programmes linked to purpose and context. This paper is accompanied by a shorter practitioner-oriented briefing and a case study on the field application, which will help practitioners make an informed decision about the choice of a framework for developing interventions and assessing systemic change.