Metric and Market Selection – 2014

      Posted On: September 26, 2014

by Sara Padilla, FMC Project Director

As we mark the completion of the initial market and metric selection of the Farmers Market Metric project and enter a new season, it seems appropriate to reflect on the process made to date to initiate the pilot project, Indicators for Impact. In early 2014, the Indicators team including members of the Farmers Market Coalition and the University of Wisconsin-Madison began to meet and plan this three-year project. This team has worked closely and collaboratively to initiate and build processes that ensure an expansive and inclusive approach to bringing in markets and market leadership to this pilot.

In March of 2014, the project team began to work with advisory teams from each of the three selected regions, reviewing past market data collection efforts and drafting the agreements for the potential sites. The team worked concurrently on refining the initial set of metrics with the National Advisory Panel. In months May through July we sought the input of our national advisors and regional team leaders as we learned more about the environment in which these markets operate and evolve.

Critical to this work is the identification and refinement of key metrics that will be shared with markets in order to initiate metrics selection on the ground. Through an extensive review of the scholarly and non-scholarly literature and via outreach, dialog and listening to a team of seven national advisors to the project, the FMC-UW project team identified more than 40 metrics that we believe are relevant and useful for evaluation in the market setting.

In order to create a meaningful set of metrics that make sense to the markets, we aligned each metric in one (or more) of four areas of capital, according to the unique benefit they bring to the market and its community. These areas include ecological, economic, human, and social capital. While we acknowledged the importance of crafting metrics that speak to health related benefits of markets, we also came to consensus that we would look at those metrics that speak to the skills, motivation, and capacity to make healthy choices rather than attempt to examine individual or population-level physical health outcomes in this pilot (i.e. we might track the number of SNAP-eligible goods available at market on an average week rather than attempt to measure actual changes in diet for a particular population).

Discussion was lengthy in order to ensure that markets and their stakeholders’ needs would be met during the project. Additionally, language was simplified and clarified whenever possible. As we refined (and continue to refine) the set of metrics, many questions rose to the surface.

How and what and why do we measure?  How do we present the issue of seasonality and its impact on market activity? What are the best ways in which we can capture accurate and reliable data in such a dynamic environment? And what about metrics that address multiple areas of capital – how can we best present the multifaceted nature of farmers markets? Can we build tools to allow for varied multiple capacity levels and types of markets collecting data on the same metrics? How will this set of metrics evolve over time, and how well will the markets use them?

The process during this early part of the project has revealed both the complexity and the appeal of collecting data in a market venue.

As the poet T.S. Eliot said, “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice.

We continually sought the markets’ and our advisors’ input as we learned more about the environment in which these markets operate and evolve. The project received attention and queries from across the country, and we are excited to add another level by inviting other markets as part of a larger community of practice, and to share new tools and learning as we move forward.