AV Voices Blog Blog

Do Behavior Change & Market Systems Development Belong Together? Colleagues Sound Off on Tensions & Synergies

In April, various ACDI/VOCA employees members had the good pleasure of collaborating in the 2019 Market System Symposium in Cape City. An essential thought leader in techniques considering, Marcus Jenal, blogged about his expertise at the symposium. In his publish, he raised questions concerning the position of conduct change in market methods improvement. In asking “should we fix wrong behavior?”, he critiques the thought of embracing conduct change as an area of focus in market methods improvement programming.

Jenal’s weblog sparked conversation amongst ACDI/VOCA colleagues–together with market techniques and Social and Behavior Change practitioners–concerning the relationship between conduct change and market techniques. The next dialog, introduced with out main edits, ensued. We hope it prompts your personal inner dialogue and sparks further healthy debate.

Cheryl Turner, Managing Director, Technical Studying and Software (TLA) Unit:

Hello all – I’m in the discussion in Jenal’s blog about conduct change for private-sector actors, and the assumptions of Western contexts.

Dun Grover, Director of Monitoring, Evaluation & Studying for the USAID Honduras Reworking Market Systems (TMS) Activity:

My take on Marcus’s blog is who is the “agent” that modifies the conduct? When improvement actors design and push conduct modifications, the issues Marcus points out are actual issues. Nevertheless, if the market actor is the principal agent that explores a new set of behaviors, and the development organization facilitates this studying course of to see what works in a context, then this can be a more applicable position. It’s a improvement as freedom perspective. Development actors could provide info to inform rational decisions, bridge networks to open up new decisions, or even work on high-level institutional change with the potential to vary the panorama through which decisions are made.

Then again, the truth is that behaviors are sometimes efficient ways to orient groups round a market facilitation technique. Results chains, AAER frameworks, and methods maps are principally developed based mostly on preconceived market behaviors. Arguably, these are a lot better ways to orient groups than an strategy based mostly on a “lack of,” e.g., farmers lack seeds, subsequently, let’s give or subsidize seeds. A behavior-oriented strategy would say, let’s focus on desired progressive gross sales methods or techniques which might be attribute behaviors you’d wish to see on the part of input dealers. Behaviors are additionally measurable, which many issues in techniques will not be, so once we obtain success we will quantify it.

Sarah Sahlaney, Social and Behavior Change (SBC) Director:

Weighing in on this! I like Dun’s point that, as we do extra market techniques work, conduct change will develop into increasingly more necessary, both as a approach of designing actions and as a means of measuring methods change.

But, I need to clarify something about how you determine behaviors within the first place. Good SBC practitioners will work WITH an actor to determine a set of behaviors which might be preferrred. When USAID talks about avoiding “didactic messaging and behavior change,” this is precisely what they’re speaking about–they’re saying that any respectable SBC program isn’t going to only transfer in and start selling behaviors with no co-development process. As an alternative, you do a variety of research and work WITH the actors to determine some superb behaviors. The method ought to be participatory from the start. Part of this course of can also be predicated on plenty of science that means that actors are more likely to undertake a conduct in the event that they themselves have recognized it as a aim. We are going to do it with the USAID Food for Peace Victory Towards Malnutrition Plus (ViMPlus) venture. So, the thought isn’t (or shouldn’t be) to tell market actors that they’re training “bad behaviors” and then recommend a set of “good behaviors.”

The blog additionally raises the argument that immediately concentrating on individuals’s conduct is morally problematic. This has been extensively debated by behavioral scientists and policy makers (google libertarian paternalism). When you can’t dismiss energy dynamics, I don’t assume it’s a huge moral quandary as long as you’re figuring out behaviors with a group, not for them.


Sarah, your level reinforces why numerous views are crucial to creating sense of market methods, as it’s actually a convergence of disciplines as a part of a methods perspective. There’s additionally a distinction that we shouldn’t overlook–the argument that the perfect behaviors in market techniques for a given context is usually unknowable at a time limit–both by the market actor or anybody else for that matter. On this case, the “identification” is just not linear, however is a non-linear strategy of real-time retrospection, iteration, and adaption that’s essential to study by doing and to find what “ideal” behaviors match the present context. That is difficult by the evolutionary facet of market techniques, and sometimes intent behind MSD, through which the context transforms what behaviors are made by evolving political, social or market buildings. Working beneath uncertainty requires a special tact or strategy that is actually at the core of the behaviors out there system challenge. Nevertheless, perhaps this is already a core tenant of SBC, and non-SBC people just have to study it.


The Designing for Behavior Change (DBC) process has steerage on conduct identification; it’s a core tenant of SBC. But we within the SBC group don’t all the time speak as a lot concerning the complexity of identifying these behaviors in a market techniques strategy.


When it comes to sensible implementation, there’s a big challenge to place this principle into follow. For instance, how do you set a baseline on a conduct in the event you don’t know which behaviors matter or which are proper? Is it a good suggestion to structure grant milestones round a companion conduct change (what if that change ends up being much less fascinating, even when each you and the companion thought it was good at first)? How do you create a transparent group orientation for change during which the set of desired behaviors are unknown, and even unknowable at first? These are actual issues once you’re working in a very complicated market system.


That is spot on. Figuring out these behaviors is tough, particularly when techniques are so complicated. The SBC group, particularly the CORE Group SBC Working group, has had some occasions (here and right here) at which we’ve discussed constructivism and how it informs our conduct identification and considering, in addition to how, because these behaviors are constructed, additionally they change based mostly on our understanding and on the shifting context. So, there’s some considering that it is advisable continuously revisit the behaviors that you simply’ve recognized together with your partners. This is very true once we’re talking about market techniques behaviors, somewhat than, say, health behaviors.


Dun’s comments remind me of a few of the discussions we started with Erin Markel from MarketShare at the end of ACDI/VOCA’s 2017 SBC and Market Systems Digital convention about complicated techniques and utilizing SBC concept and apply to trace modifications.

I additionally assume it’s essential to differentiate between behavioral economics, which is usually concerning the disconnect between what individuals say they may do and what they actually do in an economic sense, and social and conduct change, which is a extra participatory strategy to improvement, as Sarah notes under. Behavioral economics (as a subset of economics) does in reality have a selected perspective about what individuals should do (in order that economic theories work). Whereas both approaches may be useful in our work, and in understanding why individuals do what they do, they don’t seem to be the same.


And SBC and conduct change are clearly tied, however not all the time the same; SBC is a follow with a clear body of research and approaches, while conduct change itself might be interpreted as a way more nebulous term.

Sergio Rivas, Chief of Get together, Honduras TMS:

Leaping in – I really like the conversation! I read Dun’s point extra as no one should even attempt to determine what individuals should do. Market actors integrate social, political, and financial variables of their considering with out even noticing. We as improvement actors ought to work together with market actors to permit them to experiment, based mostly on their very own pain points, facilitate an interpretation of their findings and conclusions, and help the scaling of concrete, meaningful solutions that others within the system will hopefully imitate and replicate. This can be a humbler place than concentrating on a whole complicated conduct for change with limited funding and time and/or trying to parcel out where social conduct starts and economic conduct ends.

Bob Fries, Government Vice President, TLA:

Wow. Just getting to this dialogue now. I’m sharing a schematic introduced by Marcus at a Symposium workshop on determination making: the Cynefin framework. This helps us to take a look at complicated methods with some nuance. Even within complicated techniques, not all parts or issues are complicated. In a number of the techniques we are working in, and the tasks we’re working on, it’s apparent where greatest apply might be applied. Different parts are difficult, the place evaluation and good follow are useful. Others are complicated (and I might anticipate that the conduct change parts typically fall into this class), and probing and studying are crucial. How we break parts and issues into these distinct classes, and develop layered programs of motion, might be crucial to our work in this area.


So as to add to Sergio’s point, one of the more foundational parts that came across strongly for me from Market Systems Symposium–and I can say is probably the most important leap for lots of us indoctrinated first in the worth chain (and even M4P) strategy–is getting away from a prescriptive orientation to a retrospective one. I’m still scuffling with the practical implications of this.

The emphasis on planning and technique is admittedly deemphasized in market techniques. Whenever you intervene in markets, they are so complicated, the grand plans and sophisticated methods you attempt to develop are inevitably mistaken. Extra importantly, once you develop your monitoring, grant, and implementation methods round such plans, you are likely to ignore the weaker alerts out there that ought to inform you they’re incorrect and it’s time to vary. As an alternative, you get caught in programmatic inertia, that it’s actually arduous to vary. Options discussed lots on the Symposium, which Bob also flagged in his comments, are “probing” and “sensemaking.”

This shift, or relatively re-balancing, from a heavy orientation on planning and strategy to an orientation based mostly on doing, then studying and adapting, primarily where you propose and strategize as you go, is tough and sophisticated to place in apply. Frankly, I don’t assume we’ve absolutely found out how to do this but virtually (versus conceptually), though there are fascinating actions making headway here.

Dan White, Director of Agriculture, TLA:

I lastly had a chance to read this thread and Marcus’s unique weblog publish this morning. Numerous ideas, however the massive one is that it highlights a core contradiction in our work that’s not often stated out loud.

On the one hand, our tasks are funded to realize very clear policy goals, which just about all the time embrace specific conduct change on the a part of our beneficiaries, typically on an important elements of their lives. Solely within those parameters can we pursue participatory approaches, which is a large purpose we persistently regress towards prescriptive action plans and paternalistic strategies.

At the similar time, we in the improvement area interface with such a wide variety of actors; few others have this access or curiosity in several perspectives on a single financial system and society, notably in nations with weak democracies and stark inequality. Anybody in that place who is paying consideration and asking questions can’t assist but see the complexity and emergence Marcus describes, and the necessity for humility in designing interventions, as Sergio and Dun recommend.

The challenge is to seek out openings for the type of open-ended iteration and radical participatory experimentation that all of us see as extra more likely to deliver probably the most sturdy constructive change. And to be able to get buy-in from donors on approaches that help individuals, economies, and societies climate the large-scale challenges they face and adapt to with out as much behavioral prescription.


So the place does this depart us? Properly, to be trustworthy–as you possibly can see from the exchanges above–we now have a variety of views on the difficulty, drawing on a number of numerous technical disciplines and experiences. And that’s a great factor, actually, because within the process, we questioned things that deserve poking; and have been challenged.

At ACDI/VOCA, there does seem to be a shared perspective that conduct change has an necessary position to play in our market methods improvement follow, and there’s an extremely rich body of work from the conduct change area to study from and build on. But there’s also a shared perspective that methods considering–and the real-life laboratories that our more progressive market methods improvement packages in the subject provide can reveal quite a bit about:

  • the best way we go about prioritizing certain behaviors for change (e.g., highly participatory, stakeholder-led, iterated via probing and sense-making activities, inclusive of a diverse vary of prospects for constructive change)
  • the humility with which go about your complete process
  • administration and M&E processes in place to re-configure as we study
  • and the pathways via which we search to nurture change (e.g., by way of more systemic shifts in incentives, buildings, and norms)

What do you assume? How does this play out in your packages, especially these of you working on market improvement packages? Tell us in the comments.

—Anna Garloch, Director Inclusive Market Systems, TLA