Most Significant Change (MSC)

What is MSC | Core reading | Online bibliography | Translations | Email List | Trainers | Software | PowerPoints |History |

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

Core reading

  1. ‘The Most Significant Change’ (MSC) Technique: A Guide to its Use” by Rick Davies and Jess Dart, 2005. If you only want to read one document, read this.
  2.  Order and Diversity: Representing and Assisting Organisational Learning in Non-Government Organisations Rick Davies’ 1998 Ph.D. thesis, describing the method and its use in Bangladesh in 1994-5. See Chapter 8 for a detailed description of its use by CCDB
  3.  “An evolutionary approach to facilitating organisational learning” Rick Davies’ original 1996 internet published paper providing the first public summary description of the method
  4. A Dialogical, Story-Based Evaluation Tool: The Most Significant Change Technique. Dart J and Davies R (2003) American Journal of Evaluation 24(2): 137–155. DOI: 10.1177/109821400302400202. The first published journal article on MSC

Online bibliography

  • Go to the Zotero-hosted online bibliography of publications about MSC, to see a collection of 140+ documents, including journal articles, presentations, conference papers and handouts.

Translations

  • The MSC Translations blog is now the central repository for communications and updates regarding translations into other languages.
  • Here are some of the translations completed to date
    • French: With thanks to Lauren Naville <dcg@drylands-group.org>, working with the Drylands Coordination Group.
    • Spanish: With thanks to Pablo Rodríguez Bilella  for the 2011 update/revised version
    • Arabic: With thanks to Awny Morsy <awnyamer@live.com>
    • Hindi: Status of this version needs to be clarified. Hindi speakers, could you help me?
    • Sinhala: With thanks to Arunasalam Vaithialingam <spo2@cha.lk>
    • Tamil: With thanks to Arunasalam Vaithialingam <spo2@cha.lk>
    •  Japanese: With thanks to Hiroshi Tanaka <nepalippine@gmail.com>and his team of volunteers
  • Other translations underway
    • Chinese:  Yao Lu <chinaluyao@yahoo.com> is currently working on it.
    • Italian: Maria Fabiani <info@mariafabiani.eu> is currently working on it
  • Other translations that have been considered, but we have no news on
    • Malayam: Shaju Jospeh <shaju_v@rediffmail.com>  has expressed interest
    • Urdu: Ehtisham ul Hasan (ehasan@savethechildren.pk) has expressed interest
    • Swahili: Kirogo Mwangi <kmwangi@path.org> has expressed interest
    • Russian: Alexander Karpov <Alexander.Karpov@ecom-info.spb.ru> has expressed interest

Email list

  • The MSC email list (hosted by Yahoo) was established in 2000 and has a  global membership of more than 1700 people interested in and or using MSC.
  • The MSC email list also has a file repository, with 45+ folders of documents dating back to 1993. Newer contents are now being made available via the Zotero bibliography (above)

Trainers

Software

  • Most Significant Change database (online):  ” 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.

Selected PowerPoint presentations

History

[From the MSC Guide, page 9] The most significant change (MSC) technique was invented by Rick Davies in an attempt to meet some of the challenges associated with monitoring and evaluating a complex  participatory rural development program in Bangladesh, which had diversity in both implementation and outcomes. The program was run by the Christian Commission for Development in Bangladesh (CCDB), a Bangladeshi non-government organisation, which in 1996 had over 500 staff and worked with more than 46,000 people in 785 villages. Approximately 80 percent of the direct beneficiaries were women. The large-scale and open-ended nature of the activities posed a major problem for the design of any system intended to monitor process and outcome (Davies, 1996).

Rick developed the MSC technique as part of the fieldwork for his PhD on organisational learning in non-government aid organisations (Davies, 1996). Both the thesis and MSC were informed by an evolutionary epistemology. While you don’t need to know this background theory in order to use MSC, you can find out more about it in Chapter 7. It is also worth noting that Jess and others have analysed the use of MSC from different theoretical perspectives to that used by Rick. This flexibility is consistent with the underlying design of MSC. More information on the history of the use of MSC, including Jess’s role in its promotion in Australia, can be found in Chapter 8.”

74 thoughts on “Most Significant Change (MSC)”

  1. 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!!

  2. 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

  3. 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

  4. 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

  5. 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

  6. 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

  7. 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.

  8. 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

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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..

  12. 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?

  13. 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?

  14. 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)?”

  15. 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?

  16. 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.

  17. 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!

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

  19. 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:-)

  20. 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.

  21. 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

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

    thank you

  23. 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 :-)

  24. Hi Rick,

    We are implementing an intervention project on Tuberculosis in Jharkhand and We conducted MSC workshop with fieldworkers and community stakeholders. We analyzed the data but now facing problem in writing the findings in research paper form. Could you be able to give me few reference papers or an idea to proceed further?

    Thank you in anticipation

  25. HI Prashant,

    I am not Rick, but Susanne, also an MSC user. I’d like to reply to you by saying that when analysing, MSC is not that ‘scientific’. Just use the data intuitively, look for patterns in the data, changes that have been mentioned by several people, or categories of changes. When presenting, I just make little boxes where I describe the changes people have mentioned, they become ‘illustrations’ to the other data that are usually collected. The reader loves these, cause it gives a quick and indepth insight into how the program has contributed to change at a personal, institutional or community level.
    Cheers – Susanne

  26. Hi Prashant
    It really depends what kind of research paper your are writing, for what kind of audience and publisher. If it is for people new to MSC then it is important to give a very clear description of the process used, and the nature and value of the results. And in the process being honest about the difficulties and limitations as well talking about the good things.
    You might want to invite people on the MSC email list to view and comment on a draft of the paper

    regards, rick

  27. Hi Rick,

    In the “MSC, Guide to Its Use” you have indicated that situational stories can be used to demonstrate institutional changes within an organization. I’m wondering if this methodology can be used to measure systems change or improvements in institutional capacity/performance. Do you have any examples of this that you can share? Many thanks, Sonja

  28. Hi all,
    I wonder if anyone has advice for my particular situation. Given logistical constraints, we opted for a group story collection, first with beneficiaries, then with the next ‘level,’ the community implementors. All stories were heard in the same room. It was about 80 people. Unfortunately, when it came time to the community implementors selecting the most significant of the significant stories among the beneficiaries’ stories, they were universally opposed to beneficiaries leaving the room for the vote. More than that, facilitators noticed that the votes usually were cast for the stories that took place where the implementors lived/came from, rather than on a more objective basis. My question is, is this a problem? How can we get around this? Should we get around this, given that the selection is supposed to reveal certain values of the community… and it seemed to do so. I think it was not ideal. The group collection made it more of a Speech and Debate contest than anything else, with implementors competing for best story, etc. Going forward we plan to focus on individual story collection: We may not get as many stories and selection will be more challenging, but it’s a better result… in the meantime, any thoughts? Thanks, Chris from Gulu, Uganda.

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