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

Resources:

  1. Rick Davies’ original 1996 paper providing the first public summary description of the method: An evolutionary approach to facilitating organisational learning:
  2. 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.
  3. Rick Davies andJess Dart’s 2004 The ‘Most Significant Change’ (MSC) Technique: A Guide to Its Use. <- THE KEY RESOURCE
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Trainers available include: Natalie Moxham, Tracey Delaney, Clear Horizon (Jess Dart and others), Irene Guijt, Fiona Kotvojs, Theo Nabbenand Claus Kjaerby
  7. An updated Bibliography on MSC (2006 onwards)
  8. 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

Postscript

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  1. 42 Responses to “Most Significant Change (MSC)”

  2. Am a graduate from Bugema University in Kampala Uganda and i have just Participated in field work where i learned briefly about MSC.
    I request that you send me a guide about MSC as a tool usedin Monitoring and evaluation.Am interested in Knowing more about it!!

    By Kenaz Kibet Chebeo on Jun 4, 2008

  3. Am a lecturer in Makerere University, Kampala Uganda. I have just trained in M&E by IMA International in Cape Town, one of the tools we got expsed to were MSC, to it appeared interesting and significant. Can you please send me more information about the tool so that i deepen my grasp!

    Thank you

    By Henry Mbidde on Jul 12, 2008

  4. Hi Kenaz and Henry
    Please read the page above, and find the link to the The ‘Most Significant Change’ (MSC) Technique: A Guide to Its Use
    That should be sufficient. You can download a digital copy, for free.
    regards, rick davies

    By rick davies on Jul 12, 2008

  5. Hi Rick,

    Really love the technique, and just used it for the first time earlier this month. I’ll send you the link on when we’ve the stories online but suffice to say I’m delighted with it. Thanks for all your work on it

    Cheers,

    Ciarán

    By Ciarán Casey on Oct 28, 2009

  6. Hi Rick,

    I am curious if you know about, and if so, have used Discourse Network Analysis or DNA (http://tinyurl.com/2uwqyy7) for example, with MSC?

    When reading an overview of DNA and how it illustrates actor, affiliation and concept networks, I thought of MSC stories.

    Of course, learning and using DNA requires having the resources (computer) and knowledge of networks (like UCINET and NetDraw) so not for everyone, but was curious if you have used this tool.

    My best,
    Larry

    By Larry Dershem on Nov 25, 2010

  7. Hi Larry
    Thanks for this useful comment. It sounds related to and relevant to this part of my website, on network visualisation of qualitative data. I will investigate it further. Have you used it?

    By rick davies on Nov 25, 2010

  8. Hi Rick,
    I am struggling to understand the MSC idea as an evaluation tool. In monitoring and evaluation, you want to know if the project is doing what it should do, reaching those it should reach, and what outcomes and impacts it has. How can the MSC techniques identify problems that occur in the project, when only focusing on (positive) outcomes and impacts? And how can you know that the project has meant a change in lives for many people if only asking a few?
    Thanks, Lisa

    By Lisa Olsen on Mar 3, 2011

  9. Hi Lisa

    I think your concerns are justified

    Re “How can the MSC techniques identify problems that occur in the project, when only focusing on (positive) outcomes and impacts?” In the MSC Guide we have suggested that MSC users deliberately ask about negative changes,if they are concerned that none will be reported otherwise.

    Re “And how can you know that the project has meant a change in lives for many people if only asking a few?” You cannot make generalisations based on MSC stories, because they are purposefully sampled, even if your sample of respondents is large. The MSC process helps identify what is worth counting. It is not a substitute for counting.

    By rick davies on Mar 4, 2011

  10. I really appreciated the MSC tool. It is a practical one. I will be using this in our project monitoring here in the Philippines.

    regards,

    marlon

    By Marlon Divina on Mar 7, 2011

  11. i would like to participate as an observer in an MSC evaluation anywhere in the world – either English or French speaking. i have years of evaluation experience but none in MSC, about which my organisation (Christian Reformed World Relief Committee) is interested to learn. if anyone is planning on doing an MSC evaluation and would not mind having a learner on the sidelines, please be in communication with me. thanks.

    By wyva hasselblad on Mar 28, 2011

  12. There is a new approach that should be considered in understanding Gender its not about women issues.Many people fail to conceptualize the difference and real meaning of gender is you are one of the few consider reading my article on why gender changes its meaning depending on the scenario.when you are considering a project that targets women and girls that is still gender but refer to it as positive discrimination which means we allow that to have women move at the most equal pace with men may be in getting opportunities to change their lives.Like wise the men projects this doesn’t mean when you have either of the project for men of women you segregate them it means having a prioritized mindset to meeting their different needs where both benefit at different unique ways.
    The new wave in Most significant changes should be dwelling on how men and women benefit for separate projects or same project.This is the new phenomenon in MSC.

    By Chebeo on Mar 29, 2011

  13. Its true that Monitoring and Evaluation is significant in dealing with projects.Its also applicable to different life sitautions.For Example there is this common story of a Maasai one of the tribes in Kenya with a visitor who met while Maasai old man was herding his cattle and a question was asked by the visitor.He asked Maasai if i tell you how many herds of cattle you have will you give me one of the calf , the maasai replied yes! and the visitor said you have 16 which was exact number.Then the maasai also asked if i tell you what you do would you return back my calf the visitor said yes and the maasai said he was an M&E specialist and that was write.
    In monitoring we learn to prove.If can be applied in different sitautions..

    By Chebeo on Apr 5, 2011

  14. Can theatre be incorporated into MSC?

    By Rebecca on May 31, 2012

  15. I’m interested in exploring MSC as a monitoring tool for my program activites with OTI/USAID in Sri Lanka. Are there any groups (or individuals) in Sri Lanka with experience in this approach?

    By TJ Harris on May 31, 2012

  16. I do understand partly, the MSC idea as an evaluation tool. In monitoring and evaluation,we need to know the project outcomes and impacts as well.however, How can the MSC techniques identify problems that occur in the project, when only focusing on (positive) outcomes and impacts? can it move along other tools as well?

    By owilli nelson loum on Jun 5, 2012

  17. MSC does not need to focusing only on positive stories of change. You can easily ask “What do you think was the most significant negative change in …(area of concern) in the last …(period of concern)?”

    By rick davies on Jun 5, 2012

  18. Ther are Sinhala and Tamil translations of the MSC Guide, so my guess is the answer is yes. Join the MSC email list and ask members there.
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MostSignificantChanges/
    http://mscguide-translations.blogspot.co.uk/

    By rick davies on Jun 5, 2012

  19. Hi Rick,
    Is MSC a tool that can be used for monitoring advocacy/policy influencing projects? If yes can you point me some examples where it was used and where I can draw some learning?

    By Mansi on Jun 13, 2012

  20. HiRick,
    It is an interesting monitoring and evaluation tool that I have been using in Nepal for communication for development projects. And, I found the stakeholders in Nepal too interested to participate in the selection process. The guide you developed was very useful. Thanks for your effort.

    I will be sharing some experiences in the following posts.

    By Sushil Bhandari on Sep 3, 2012

  21. My name is stephen Kennedy Omolo, from Kenya, Nairobi.
    I have just read and participated in the MSC training and i like the way in which MSC work.
    Thank you.

    By Stephen Kennedy Omolo, Kenya-Nairobi on Sep 19, 2012

  22. For TJ Harris @ OTI/USAID. Try contacting MDF South Asia, based in Nawala, Colombo.

    see http://mdf.nl/mdf-offices/mdf-south-asia/

    Good luck
    Susanne

    By Svanlieshout on Nov 8, 2012

  23. I’m looking for some videos of

    a)people telling their stories of change
    b)a process of selecting the most significant

    Anyone have any suggestions for where to look?

    Thanks very much!

    By Catherine Squire on Nov 8, 2012

  24. Search YouTube. There is a whole set from Latin America which I found some time ago, which I though were very good

    By rick davies on Nov 10, 2012

  25. Hi Rick,
    I am really impressed, yesterday was the first time I heard about MSC and it really got my interest, I started searching about it and I came to your page. The first field work we are going to do using MSC is tomorrow hopefully with some selected stakeholders who work with us; I am participating with our M&E expert on this task. The MSC guide will help me a lot to understand and comprehend the whole approach as it was so difficult for me to understand at the beginning. Thank you:-)

    By Samira on Nov 13, 2012

  26. Just used MSC in an evaluation to determine staff vs. client based perceptions of change and criteria for both the term “significant” and “change” in a rights based program. It went SO well and was SO interesting! As you said, it doesn’t substitute for the other evaluation methods required, but it really brings a whole new depth to the qualitative analysis ….and I hope it will bring about more discussions (and story gathering!) within the organization as well.

    By Amy on Dec 30, 2012

  27. Dear Rick,
    we are planning on having a MSC training in Vienna and would like to have you as a facilitator. Could you please let me know about availability in April 2013 and your rates?
    Thanks a lot,
    Valerie

    By Valerie on Feb 18, 2013

  28. kindly assist with material which has;
    a)people telling their stories of change
    b)the process of selecting the most significant

    thank you

    By Nahashon Indiya on Apr 2, 2013

  29. Hi Rick,
    Thanks for the nice things,i have always longed to be an M&E professional,i am currently in training and i was very amazed to hear my trainer complementing you as the founder of MSC,its very nice that i have always trusted this source.Keep up the good work,I am right behind you :-)

    By Fadhili Terri on Oct 7, 2013

  30. I am very much interested in experiences of using MSC or elements of MSC in baseline studies / situational analysis in rural communities in post conflict settings- Any experiences out there?

    Thank you

    Kirsten

    By Kirsten on Mar 10, 2014

  31. Hi Kirsten
    You should post your query to the members of the MSC email list
    https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/MostSignificantChanges/info

    best wishes, rick davies

    By rick davies on Apr 11, 2014

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