Most Significant Change (MSC)
What is MSC?
In brief: The most significant change (MSC) technique is a means of “monitoring without indicators” (but can also be used in evaluations)
MSC is a form of participatory monitoringandevaluation. It is participatory because many project stakeholders are involved both in deciding the sorts of changes to be recordedandin analysing the data collected. It is a form of monitoring because it occurs throughout the program cycleandprovides information to help people manage the program. It contributes to evaluation because it provides data on impactandoutcomes that can be used to help assess the performance of the program as a whole.
Essentially, the process involves the collection of significant change (SC) stories emanating from the field level,andthe systematic selection of the most significant of these stories by panels of designated stakeholders or staff. The designated staffandstakeholders are initially involved by ‘searching’ for project impact. Once changes have been captured, selected groups of people sit down together, read the stories aloudandhave regularandoften in-depth discussions about the value of these reported changes,andwhch they think is most significant of all. In large programs there may multiple levels at which SC stories are pooledandthens elected. When the technique is implemented successfully, whole teams of people begin to focus their attention on program impact.
MSC is most useful:
- Where it is not possible to predict in any detail or with any certainty what the outcome will be
- Where outcomes will vary widely across beneficiaries
- Where there may not yet be agreements between stakeholders on what outcomes are the most important
- Where interventions are expected to be highly participatory, including any forms of monitoringandevaluation of the results
- Rick Davies’ original 1996 paper providing the first public summary description of the method: An evolutionary approach to facilitating organisational learning:
- Rick Davies’ 1998 PhD thesis, describing the method andits use in Bangladesh: Order and Diversity: Representing and Assisting Organisational Learning in Non-Government Aid Organisations.
- Rick Davies andJess Dart’s 2004 The ‘Most Significant Change’ (MSC) Technique: A Guide to Its Use. <- THE KEY RESOURCE
- The MSC email list, established in 2000 and now having a global membership of more than 1100 people interested in and or using MSC. The email list (hosted by Yahoo) also has a file repository, with 45+ folders of documents dating back to 1993.
- The MSC Translations blog: now the central repository for information on translations into other languages, including Spanish, French, Sinhala, Hindi, Bahasa Indonesian,and Bangla so far.
- Trainers available include: Natalie Moxham, Tracey Delaney, Clear Horizon (Jess Dart and others), Irene Guijt, Fiona Kotvojs, Theo Nabbenand Claus Kjaerby
- An updated Bibliography on MSC (2006 onwards)
- Most Significant Change database (online): “that is now available commercially to help manage MSC stories. It also allows you to do secondary analysis on the stories fairly easily. I have trialled it on a few projectsand found it to be really good – especially in supporting the secondary analysis,and managing large numbers of stories” says Fiona Kotvojs, 25/8/2010.
Developments of interest
- See the MSC Guide for a 2004 perspective: Chapter 9: New Directions for MSC
- Clear Horizon view: to be included here
- Rick Davies experience:
- More use of MSC for evaluation purposes: To generate hypotheses about changes that took place, to be tested using other evaluation methods
- Exploring the use of card sorting exercises, to allow participants to create groupings of SC stories that are meaningful to themselves,andadd additional layers of meaning to the stories (i.e the descriptions they give to their groupings). Summary-by-selectionandcategorising (by grouping) are two different way of summarisingqualitativedata, which are not mutaully exclusive.
- Exploring the use of network analysis software to visualise relationships between kinds of stories, created through sorting exercises. How do different people’s groupings overlap, and what sort of causal connections do they see between different groups of stories? For more on these methods see this page