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 aloud and have regular and often in-depth discussions about the value of these reported changes, and which 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 monitoring and evaluation 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 and its use in Bangladesh: Order and Diversity: Representing and Assisting Organisational Learning in Non-Government Organisations
  3. Rick Davies andJess Dart’s 2004 ‘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. A comprehensive online bibliography of publications about MSC , hosted by Zotero
  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 trialed it on a few projects and 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, and add additional layers of meaning to the stories (i.e the descriptions they give to their groupings). Summary-by-selection and categorising (by grouping) are two different way of summarising qualitative data, which are not mutually 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

71 thoughts on “Most Significant Change (MSC)”

  1. 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

  2. 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.

  3. 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

  4. 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

  5. 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

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

  7. 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)

  8. 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!

  9. 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

  10. 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!

  11. 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

  12. 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

  13. MSC TRAINING

    Most Significant Change (MSC) is a qualitative, participatory, approach to monitoring and evaluation which supports discussions between stakeholders about the actual impacts of the activity (both positive and negative). It facilitates change management and organisational learning. It is one approach which helps capture the uncountable things that count!
    This two-day hands-on training will allow you to plan and implement MSC as one tool in an evaluation. You will discover the situations in which MSC is and is not appropriate. The training will be practical based. We will use real data from various projects. Over the two days you will implement the MSC approach several times. At the end, you should have the confidence to plan and implement MSC yourself. On optional third day will address use of the “mscdatabase” to support application of MSC and secondary and quantitative analysis.
    The lead trainer is Dr Fiona Kotvojs. She has over 25 years experience in evaluation and has been awarded two national awards in Australia for different pieces of work. Fiona is highly experienced with MSC; she has applied MSC as part of most evaluations she designed or implemented over the past ten years; reviewed applications of MSC and presented papers on MSC at international conferences. Fiona is also a highly qualified and experienced trainer. She has trained teams who have then successfully implemented MSC on a number of programs. She has also trained trainers in MSC who now train others in this approach in developing countries.
    For further information please email fiona@kurrajonghill.com.au

  14. My apologies, I am still re-constructing the website, including links to docs like the Guide
    I hope to sort it out in the next day or so. Please revisit the site then

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