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 monitoring and evaluation. It is participatory because many project stakeholders are involved both in deciding the sorts of changes to be recorded and in analysing the data collected. It is a form of monitoring because it occurs throughout the program cycle and provides information to help people manage the program. It contributes to evaluation because it provides data on impact and outcomes 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,and the systematic selection of the most significant of these stories by panels of designated stakeholders or staff. The designated staff and stakeholders are initially involved by ‘searching’ for project impact. Once changes have been captured, selected groups of people sit down together, read the stories aloudandhave regular and often 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 pooled and then  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. 66 Responses to “Most Significant Change (MSC)”

  2. Hi,
    I’m looking for guideline of photo story book, a kind of tool on M&E. Could you please share related documents?
    Thanks in advance

    By Tram on Oct 8, 2015

  3. Hi, we as Flock of Birds a social enterprise in Uganda build an application that support the MSC methodology. If someone is interested they can contact our organization.
    az@flockofbirds.org

    By arnold zwart on Oct 13, 2015

  4. Please publicise this on the MSC email list… See link to it on http://www.mande.co.uk

    By rick davies on Nov 10, 2015

  5. While I like the document, I find it very weak that you would publish the document encrypted – how is one supposed to take digital notes on it or mark any passage in the pdf? Do you think it is easy to spot the important parts of the document in 105 pages without any tools?

    Please re-upload an unencrypted version if you care about the user friendliness of your product.

    By Anna Finke on Apr 20, 2016

  6. Hi Anna
    Thanks for this comment. I don’t think we realised the consequences you have highlighted, when we originally published the MSC guide. I will look into it. regards, rick

    By rick davies on Apr 23, 2016

  7. Dear Rick
    can we have a conference call about our solution. We like to position it in the market as a possible ICT solution of your methodology. I’m wondering if you’re interested in cooperation with Flock of Birds to develop a software solution for your model.
    Arnold Zwart

    By Arnold Zwart on Apr 24, 2016

  8. Dear Rick
    can we have a some advice for our solution. We like to position it in the market as a possible ICT solution of your methodology. I’m wondering if you’re interested in cooperation with Flock of Birds to improve our existing software solution for your model.
    Arnold Zwart

    By Arnold Zwart on Apr 24, 2016

  9. Email me at rick.davies at gmail.comhttp://mande.co.uk/blog/wp-admin/edit-comments.php#comments-form

    By rick davies on May 2, 2016

  10. Dear Rick,
    We are planning on having a MSC training in Puerto Rico and would like to have you as a facilitator. Could you please let me know about availability in April-May 2017 and your rates?
    Thanks a lot,
    Monica Vigo
    (Center for Evaluation and Sociomedical Research – University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus)

    By Moónica Vigo on Jun 10, 2016

  11. Please email me directly at rick.davies@gmail.com

    By rick davies on Jun 16, 2016

  12. Hello All,

    First just wanted to say that thanks to Rick! For this is a great site with lots of M&E tools, tips, and guides!

    Also, just a question on implementing the MSC Approach. I’m currently an intern in Mongolia looking to implement a qualitative M&E method and was flirting with the idea of the MSC approach. Regarding the process of selecting the stories, I just wanted to know if the stories eventually get filtered down to 1 MSC story? Or perhaps 1 story per domain of change?

    I’m just a little confused at how many stories we would be left with at each level of selection.

    Please let me know what you think!

    By Ken Umali on Oct 26, 2016

  13. One story per domain would be the most common approach, but the process could be designed to then select one story from a number of 1-story-per-domains

    By rick davies on Nov 5, 2016

  14. Hi Rick and others. I’m wondering if anyone knows of examples where UN agencies especially WFP have tried MSC either directly or with/by NGO partners. Particularly interested in MSC in complex protracted emergencies like Lake Chad but that’s be a bonus. Thanks for any help!

    By Barney on Nov 10, 2016

  15. Thanks for the response Rick!

    Also seeking opinions regarding the selection process again: a hierarchical selection process was suggested, but would it be feasible to go through the selection process as one group? Especially if the organization is smaller?

    Thanks again

    By Ken Umali on Nov 24, 2016

  16. Short answer: Yes. Hierarchical process is only one of many options, not compulsory and better suited when there are large numbers of studies to review

    By rick davies on Dec 26, 2016

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