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Most Significant Change (MSC) Technique

This article features a relatively new and serious contender in the M&E field; the Most Significant Change (MSC) technique. MSC is a refreshing change from the traditional M&E techniques that rely on pre-determined indicators and rigid log frames that views results as a linear causal process (where if A occurs then it leads to Y).

MSC can be described as a 'complexity-aware' method which seeks to discover results without reference to predetermined objectives, and work backwards to determine the contribution. All results, whether intended or unintended, positive or negative are captured with MSC.

An additional value of the technique is its highly participatory nature. Programme beneficiaries and implementers are at the centre of the evaluation process. This is in contrast to other evaluation methods that may be perceived as an externally driven process that is imposed by the 'evaluation watchdogs/police" at the head office or at the donor agency.

History of MSC

MSC was developed by Rick Davies in the early 1990s when he was confronted with challenges associated with monitoring and evaluating a complex participatory rural development program in Bangladesh.

The MSC technique is a form of participatory monitoring and evaluation. 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.

Significant Change stories are collected from those most directly involved, such as participants and field staff. The stories are collected by asking a simple question such as: ‘During the last month, in your opinion, what was the most significant change that took place for participants in the program?’

MSC is best used

  • With programmes that are complex and produce diverse and emergent outcomes

  • When there are numerous organisational layers

  • When you are struggling with conventional monitoring systems

  • When you are interested in the effect of the intervention on people’s lives and keen to include the words of non-professionals. In addition, MSC can help staff to improve their capabilities in capturing and analysing the impact of their work

Other Uses of MSC

In addition to its monitoring and evaluation functions, MSC can also assist in:

  • fostering a more shared vision in an orgnisation

  • helping stakeholder steering committees to steer-building staff capacity in evaluation

  • providing material for publicity and communications

  • providing material for training staff

  • celebrating success

MSC has a solid track record and is widely used by development aid agencies and Non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The original MSC Guide has since been translated into 13 languages (Arabic, Bangla, French, Hindi, Bahasa Indonesian, Japanese, Malayalam, Russian, Sinhala, Tamil, Spanish and Urdu).

MSC is also one of five tools investigated by USAID to monitor complex projects, please see the discussion note on complexity aware monitoring

Since 2000 there has been an active and global community of practice that shares experiences with the use of MSC in different settings. As of 2013 the MSC egroup has 1500 members. Members have accumulated a collection of more than 80 documents describing the use of MSC across 28 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas.

There will be a workshop on the Most Significant Change technique in Amsterdam. The trainer, Theo Nabben is a colleague of Jess Dart, co-author of the MSC User Guide. If you are interested in this workshop, please get more details on the training page of this website.

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​​​Ann-Murray Brown

Monitoring, Evaluation and