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Katalyst’s Contribution to Systemic Change – The Adopt, Adapt, Expand, Respond Cases


Development programming is temporary in nature. External entities intervene in a system and change it with the aim of benefiting poor people. Throughout the history of development there have been temporary impacts on small numbers of people as, when funding stops, so does the impact of the change in the system. Katalyst’s approach is different in that it explicitly targets large scale, sustainable – or systemic – change. These cases represent a significant milestone in the implementation of market development programmes. Katalyst, with the Springfield Centre, has played a leading role in developing thinking around what systemic change means. This suite of cases examines this concept across three sectors, demonstrating with different levels of complexity how a system can be changed to create sustainable impact at scale. Before engaging in the case material, however, it is important to clarify the Adopt, Adapt, Expand, Respond (AAER) framework as a means for identifying and defining systemic change so that this can be employed to understand how it has been facilitated in these sectors through the work of Katalyst.

What systemic change means

The first key concept defining systemic change is the identification of a system. M4P provides a useful framework for understanding a system which is seen as a series of interconnected supply-demand transactions which are supported by functions and governed by formal and informal rules (see Figure 1). The supporting functions and rules are components of a system which affect the price, level, or quality of supply, demand or exchange in the core transaction.

The target group, which in the case of Katalyst is poor people, will always play the role of either supply or demand – as producers, consumers, rights holders, or employees – in the core transaction of the principal market system, i.e. the system where the programme aims to improve outcomes for the target group.

The performance of the supporting functions and rules dictates the outcomes of the transaction. In order to change the way the system works for the benefit of the poor, one must change how these supporting functions and rules work.

The performance of each of the supporting functions or rules is, in turn, dictated by its own system – the supporting market system – which has its own supporting functions and rules.

Figure 2: Principal and supporting markets

The objectives of systemic change are defined relatively consistently as sustainable, large-scale change. However, while these goals are clear, consensus and clarity on what systemic change is, how to recognise it, and when intervention might be required, is notably absent. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘systemic’ as of or relating to an entire system and ‘change’ as to make someone or something different. New Philanthropy Capital’s 2015 handbook introduces concepts of sustainability and the different components of a system, defining system[s] change as:

…an intentional process designed to alter the status quo by shifting the function or structure of an identified system with purposeful interventions…Systems change aims to bring about lasting change by altering underlying structures and supporting mechanisms which make the system operate in a particular way. These can include policies, routines, relationships, resources, power structures and values.

The M4P Operational Guide makes this more specific to development, using the objective of the change as part of its definition:

A change in the way core functions, supporting functions and rules perform, that ultimately improves the poor’s terms of participation within the market system.

Definitions are inherently limited when they have to be applied in context and the real question that development programmes need to address is what does systemic change look like and how do I know if it has happened?

Based on the goals of sustainability and scale of impact, the changes in performance of supporting functions and rules identified above must demonstrate:

· Uptake, ownership, and investment by relevant players within the system, in the absence of external involvement; a sustainable change in behaviour.

· Increasing impact over time; more benefits to more people in the target group.

· Changes in other supporting functions and rules to stabilise or augment the impact of the initial change.

Cognisant of the concept of systemic change, the Springfield Centre and Katalyst developed a simple conceptual framework which aims to capture these different dimensions. The framework, known as the Adopt, Adapt, Expand, Respond (AAER) framework or the Systemic Change Framework, can be used by a programme to monitor whether systemic change has happened, is happening, or requires further programme action in order to take hold. These case studies are presented through the lens of this systemic change framework, the four key components of which are explained here.


In the first instance, the role of a programme is to identify what change is needed – which of the supporting functions and rules within a system are underperforming, how they might perform better, and what actions should be taken to bring that change about. The system is not generating this solution of its own accord and so programme intervention to instigate an innovation is necessary.

Adopt is a process whereby an innovation in the operation of one or more supporting functions or rules of the market system is introduced and ownership over it is gradually institutionalised within the relevant players in the system. This will involve different roles for different actors. In this phase, a programme will be testing and refining an innovation in partnership with one or more players whose incentives are similarly aligned should the innovation be successful. It may be the case that multiple models of innovation fail at this stage – constraints may be intractable or the barriers to opportunities being realised too significant to warrant further programme investment.

For example, a programme might want to change the way that farmers receive information – changing the way the function of ‘information’ operates. To do this, they might need to partner with radio stations, journalism training institutions, research institutions, and private advertisers. All of these players, whether they are programme partners or not, need to change their behaviour in some way in order for the new model to work.

By the end of the Adopt phase, a programme will no longer be providing support to the initial partner or partners in the same way. However, as documented below, changes required to further expand or stabilise the impact of the initial innovation will require actor level institutionalisation among relevant players. Further programme involvement may be required and so that this transferal of ownership takes place.


The Adapt component of the systemic change framework refers to sustained behaviour change by relevant actors. The players involved in the innovation – both those that were supported by the programme and those that weren’t – must have accepted the different changes in their behaviour necessary for the model to work and incorporated them into their standard operations, in the absence of programme involvement, with independent investment of time, money, or other resources.

The process of institutionalisation – moving from Adopt to Adapt – needs to happen at the system level i.e. the functions which comprise the innovation need to continue to operate in this novel way after external intervention has ended. However, in practical terms, functions are comprised of a wide range of actors adopting a wide range of behaviour changes. Whether an initial partner, or an actor involved in the expansion or response component of the change, any shift in behaviour has to be institutionalised in order for it to be sustainable.


Expand is about pushing the boundaries of the innovation – more benefits for more people.

The competition mechanism also has a dividend on sustainability, as an innovation becomes less dependent upon individual actors. If others are not imitating or emulating innovations that are seemingly successful and aligned with incentives to do so then it is indicative of a more fundamental problem with how the system operates including the information transmission mechanisms.

Having monitored the adoption and adaptation of a change in behaviour, a programme might need to re-engage in order to include new players or new areas in an innovation. It may be that the concept is proven and so the risk for a private sector partner is lower, or it may be that the programme initially targeted easier to reach areas and so heavier programme involvement is required in order to push impact into more marginal areas. Different partners also have different needs determined by their capacities, and so the type of programme support might also differ from that in the initial innovation.

Referring again to the earlier example of intervention in the information function, a behaviour change may have been sustainable with the programme partners – for example a radio station and a research institution – and with all of the other players who needed to change their behaviour, such as journalists, training providers, and advertisers. However, the impact from that single radio station might not be reaching as many people as it could and so it might be necessary to partner with other players – whether they are radio stations and research institutions or perhaps other relevant players – in order to expand the benefits of the model to more people.


The Respond component of the systemic change matrix examines whether other supporting functions and rules are changing in response to the behaviour change that has been assessed through other components. It assesses what changes are happening and the degree to which they are supportive of or obstructive to the desired impact. If impact could be increased by responses within supporting functions and rules that are not happening organically then this represents an opportunity to increase the scale of impact. As such Respond is an important aspect of systemic change for both sustainability, through creating resilience of change, and scale, through realising opportunities for increasing impact.

Adopt, Adapt, and Expand represent changes in the operation of one or more initial supporting functions or rules which are part of a programme’s vision for how a sector might work better to improve outcomes for the target group. Respond represents changes in other supporting functions or rules which reinforce or enhance the changes from the initial innovation.

In the example here, a range of players altered their behaviours and have helped to change the skills and technology and related services functions. However, if the growth in benefits to and numbers of the target group are to continue to expand from these changes, it may be that informal rules and norms need to change the way they work too.

Employing AAER

In summary, then, there are two roles of the AAER framework. Firstly, it is an articulation of the programme’s vision. If a programme aims to bring about systemic change and the AAER framework helps articulate what it looks like, then a programme should be able to articulate how they can realistically expect the system to change in each of these components, before intervening.

However, systems are dynamic and complex and plans are rarely borne out in reality. As a second and on-going use of the framework, then, the systemic change matrix is used by the programme as a tool for monitoring, reflection and guidance to action.

Structure of the cases

The cases are structured as follows. In this introductory chapter, the two key concepts necessary for defining and articulating systemic change are outlined; the nature of the market system and the dimensions of change necessary to ensure sustainable, large-scale impact. This is then employed to examine Katalyst’s work across three sectors. Firstly, focus is put on the vegetables sector. Katalyst’s work here has been extensive over 13 years and so the case study will concentrate on the inputs market, with a full case study on vegetables followed by mini-cases on crop nutrition and crop protection. There then follow two further case studies examining change through the AAER framework; one on fish and one on maize. While each case includes sector specific lessons, the final chapter of the cases draws together some higher level conclusions based on common findings across cases. These should be used for wider learning in the planning, implementation and measurement of systemic change programmes.


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