Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

How Feed the Future is Helping us Better Measure Market System Impact

Feed the Future (FTF) monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) requirements and expectations have shifted under the Global Food Security Strategy (GFSS). This post by Land O’Lakes International Development’s MEL Manager Danielle Niedermaier is the third in a series of posts exploring opportunities and challenges for implementing partners (IPs) during this transition to the new FTF MEL framework.


It’s no breaking news in the developing world that the focus is no longer just on the smallholder farmer, but rather on the entire market system. Whether your organization has years of experience or has only just started to dabble with a market system approach, this new era of development is complex and always changing. That’s why the Leveraging Economic Opportunities (LEO) project developed a framework for market systems to promote a common understanding of market systems and what this industry shift means for projects. At Land O’Lakes International Development, we’ve been diving into what that means for our MEL team.


As was noted in a first blog post in this series, the new FTF MEL framework involves indicators that track stakeholders across agricultural value chains. FTF is also encouraging IPs to measure changes in the entire market system in the following ways:

It all starts with a theory of change

In their MEL webinar series, FTF stresses how important it is for all projects to have a clear, detailed and dynamic theory of change (TOC). This is especially true for projects that embrace a market system approach due to its complexity. As FTF notes, a well thought out TOC enables a project to track their hypothesis, activities and assumptions over time, providing opportunities for adaptive management and for telling their story of impact – including connecting USG activities to changes observed at the population or systems level.

Standard performance indicators can capture some changes

A few of the FTF Implementing Mechanism (IM) level 27 standard performance indicators that Land O’Lakes finds particularly useful for capturing market system changes are the following: EG.3.1-14, EG.3.2-24, EG.3.2-26 and EG.3.2-27, because they track numerous actors, including private sector actors, and measure changes across market systems. Incorporating these indicators into project MEL plans helps us know the impact our project is making in the market system and adaptively manage our projects for greater impact.

Custom indicators and other measures allow IPs to capture tailored changes

Custom indicators and other measures, such as qualitative approaches, allow IPs to capture more of the nuances that are specifically relevant to their project. Custom indicators that are particularly useful for a market systems approach include sentinel indicators, such as monthly rainfall or monthly consumer prices for key commodities, because they are designed to be particularly sensitive to changes in the system. Qualitative approaches that are useful for a market systems approach include Social Network Analysis, Outcome Harvesting and Most Significant Change.

Context and other indicators can measure market systems changes at several levels

New to FTF are 25 context indicators that are collected by entities outside FTF, such as the 5 context indicators that are also Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) indicators. In many cases, these indicators can be used by IPs to better understand the market systems in which they’re working and see how those systems are changing over time. They could, for example, serve as sentinel indicators. A few context indicators that we think will be particularly useful for our projects to follow include: FTF Context 1, 2, 13, and 25. In addition to context indicators, FTF also has 27 standard FTF indicators that are measured at the Zone of Influence (ZOI) and national levels. Even though IPs are not expected to report on these indicators, they can serve as important metrics for IPs to follow, particularly because they are population-based and, therefore, may reveal systems-level changes better than other indicators.

Analyze your data and act accordingly

As we all know, generating data without using it is a waste of resources and time for program participants interviewed for data collection. A central component of the new FTF MEL framework is analysis and learning, but doing so effectively and efficiently may prove difficult, especially with all the great market systems data collected through the above mechanisms. Luckily, USAID has developed some excellent resources to help us do that through their Collaborating, Learning and Adapting (CLA) framework.


While this shift to a more market systems-friendly MEL framework is exciting, it does pose challenges. As noted in the second blog post in this series, the transition has implications for MEL budgets. Each of the five areas noted above for how FTF is embracing a stronger market systems approach could result in additional time and effort needed from MEL teams – and therefore additional costs. Now is the time to consider how these efforts can be resourced.

In addition, evaluating a market systems approach often necessitates the use of evaluation methodologies that are different from traditional evaluations. IPs can be proactive in working with their donor to ensure evaluations incorporate appropriate evaluation methodologies. FTF notes a renewed emphasis for engaging a variety of evaluation methods and types in their MEL webinar series.

The new FTF MEL framework provides us an opportunity to monitor and evaluate progress and impact of a market systems approach. Make sure to check out the FTF MEL toolbox for great resources to help your MEL teams and projects transition to this new framework.

Danielle Niedermaier is a Global Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Manager at Land O’Lakes International Development. She has more than 10 years of experience in developing and implementing MEL systems for food security projects across the world.