Markets and Metrics: Minneapolis/St. Paul project adds to the research

      Posted On: July 11, 2019


Please follow this link to a report from the newest JAFSCD issue containing the article “The Farmers Market Metrics Project: A research brief on scalable data collection in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro” (Peterson, H. H., & Nowak, J. J.) outlining a multi-stakeholder market-based measurement project in Minneapolis/St. Paul.  This pilot will no doubt be helpful to those market organizations undertaking a similar data project of this scope, especially those involving research and municipal partners. Many of the article’s findings mirror those in FMC’s JAFSCD article “Designing Effective, Scalable Data Collection Tools to Measure Farmers Market Impacts” (Wolnik, Cheek, Weaver. 2018). The similarity in article titles and between the project’s name and Farmers Market Coalition’s Farmers Market Metrics (Metrics) program suggested that sending along some relevant information as to the differences between the two approaches may be helpful to readers, markets and our national partners.

Since 2012, FMC has been developing Metrics to offer relevant and dynamic data useful to the national market organization  field and to its vendors, data that can be immediately shared to the community in contextual images and reports. At FMC, we have heard from our market leaders that their work is increasingly data-driven and yet they had few resources to use that were appropriate for their diverse needs, market week after market week, season after season. This was the impetus for Metrics and continues to drive newer iterations in partnership with its hundreds of users. The data points chosen by FMC at the outset of the development of Metrics were drawn from a larger list of over 150 metrics already in use in reports on markets, and narrowed to 37 metrics that were most useful to the audiences that farmers markets and their vendors across the US work with and want to influence. (Metrics has now operationalized around 50 data points.)  Metrics allows markets and their partners to select those relevant and necessary to their needs, as pointed out in our 2018 JAFSCD article: “Continuing to advance tools and training that help markets choose the right (and the right number of) metrics that speak to many audiences will assist markets in limiting their choice of data points at the outset, which will reduce “survey fatigue” and encourage more disciplined data collection.”  Or as stated on FMC’s Metrics Guide site: “Examine the mission and goals of your market, and identify the stakeholders that will help your market in meeting those goals. Identify metrics that will best demonstrate your progress, and would be of most interest to your target audiences. Don’t collect data “just in case” you need it.”

Since its inception, five major research pilot have framed and informed the development of Metrics in terms of refining appropriate collection methodology and reporting templates: the 2008 trans•act project, the 2014 Summary Report Prototype Project, the 2014-2017 Indicators for Impact Project, done in partnership with the University of Wisconsin, the 2014-2016 FM Training Materials Project,  and our current FMPP-funded project with Virginia (VAFMA) and the District of Columbia networks. Those projects are highlighted here to stress FMC’s goal to use multiple pilots and constant feedback from a wide selection of market types in order to make Metrics useful. In addition, FMC researched existing market measurement tools including Oregon State University’s Rapid Market Assessment, BC Association of Farmers’ Markets (BCAFM) Farmers’ Market Impact Toolkit, Market Umbrella’s trans•act tools (SEED, NEED, FEED) and the USDA’s Local Foods Economic Toolkit to ensure their lessons learned were included in Metrics.

Those pilots and review of existing measurement efforts made it clear by 2015 that any set of tools for markets would need to include a data management site for market organizations to be able to easily share images and reports from the collected data, reducing the delay between data collected and finalized in report form when done in partnership with researchers. By 2017, it was clear it would also have to include functionality for those market organizations already using online vendor database systems to be able to push that data to Metrics graphics.

FMC would like to correct the assertion in the recent article that our tool relies on the collection of data to be only the responsibility of the market organizations. Instead, the emphasis is on the market organizations as owners and users of the data.  Metrics stresses that any market-level collection of data honors the culture and capacity of the market day, and does not inflict too many added interruptions to its primary work of increasing market transactions for regional producers and educating communities about equitable food and civic systems.  Even though we see markets as the owners and main users of the data, Metrics also includes functionality for partners to have access to aggregated and market-specific data so they can also share it and use as the basis for research. However, when data projects are led by other stakeholders, markets often feel left out of the decision making. From FMC’s 2018 JAFSCD article: “While understanding the value in aggregating data for regional impacts, market staff remained concerned about how the sharing of data with networks that included nearby markets could lead to misuse, such as poaching of vendors. As a result, they are often less eager to engage in projects that include other nearby markets. Documentation that explicitly laid out the ways data were shared and the limitations to that sharing did not always assuage market staff at networks or vendors at markets. This may indicate the need for networks to move more slowly in requiring sensitive data from their markets or be aided by examples of data use by networks to build support for markets.”Also from the 2018 JAFSCD article: “Funders and network leaders must also exercise patience and support for each market’s level of capacity and comfort with data collection, and assist them analyzing and using the data.”

Similarly to the Minneapolis/St. Paul project, FMC’s Metrics’ goal is to build a collaborative system where market organizational partners and stakeholders take on more (if not most!)  of the collection of data. In doing that, FMC appreciates the Minneapolis/St. Paul statement that market leaders must be brought in as full partners and the data collected as useful to markets as to the partners. 

In conclusion, the promise of the Minneapolis/St. Paul project is excitingly aligned with FMC’s Farmers Market Metrics Program goals by stating its intention to “elevate the capacity of farmers markets in the MSP Metro region to articulate their own value to the local food system. The project also aims to establish an efficient, effective, and scalable data collection method for measuring farmers market activities in a defined area. Scalability is important because geographic and political boundaries that shape the collective identities of farmers markets (e.g., neighborhood, city, or county) are nebulous and overlapping.”

FMC’s Directive on Evaluation states: “the development of Farmers Market Metrics (Metrics)  has been closely tied to the development of a culture of data collection and use of data for markets. At FMC, we have watched this culture grow by leaps and bounds, and see our role in this process as providing necessary and appropriate resources for markets engaged in evaluation.

The increasing interest in data on markets impacts is very exciting to FMC and we believe will lead to better policies for DTC activities and more importantly, highlight the need for sustained support for the organizations that operate farmers markets, both in program development and in measurement activities. Please feel free to share information on market measurement projects with the Metrics team and to contact them with any questions.