Network analysis is often cited as a useful tool for analyzing market systems. Network analysis visualizes and analyzes actors in a system and the relationships between them at a granular level. Compared to value chain analysis, network analysis provides a more detailed and nuanced understanding of relationships and social norms within a system[1]. Most importantly, it can help identify root causes and leverage points in a system, and if utilized in iteration over time, can measure long-term change. However, for project managers and MEL teams with limited time and budgets, the practicalities of mapping large unwieldy networks is often not feasible. Not to mention the knowledge of graph theory and network mapping software required to manage a network analysis. Given these challenges, it is easy to see why network analysis has been slow to catch-on among international development practitioners.

There are several use cases that have deployed network analyses successfully. The USAID/Leveraging Economic Opportunities (LEO) project highlighted two such cases in Uganda and Sierra Leone that were able to map large trade networks that provided useful observations about the market system dynamics as well as measure performance and track systemic changes. Network analysis was also conducted in Liberia on the USAID Agriculture for Children’s Empowerment in Liberia. Most recently in Bangladesh, on the USAID-funded Rice and Diversified Crops (RDC) activity, LINC, Canopy Lab, and ACDI/VOCA partnered to apply network analysis to enhance its MEL system and inform its systemic change frameworks. RDC was fortunate to engage LINC and Canopy Lab, experts in network analysis and systems mapping, through USAID’s Global Development Lab, Strategic Program for Analyzing Complexity and Evaluating Systems (SPACES MERL) activity. The SPACES activity develops and tests tools and approaches for analyzing complex systems and improving intervention performance, making for an excellent fit.

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This article, authored by Patrick Sommerville, originally appeared on Marketlinks.org on March 26, 2018.

[1] Sparkman, Tim & Beevers, Kim, Market Share Associates, Testing Tools for Assessing Systemic Change: Network Analysis, USAID/LEO, September 2016