Most Significant Change

Brief Description:

From: by Rick Davies and Jess Dart
The most significant change (MSC) technique is a form of participatory monitoring and evaluation. It is participatory because many project stakeholders are involved both in deciding the sorts of change to be recorded and in analysing the data. 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.


When to use:

  • Program evaluation.
  • Organizational review and evaluation.
  • Building community ownership through participatory evaluation.

How to use:

The process involves the collection of significant change (SC) stories from the field level, and the systematic selection of the most important of these 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, various people sit down together, read the stories aloud and have regular and often in-depth discussions about the value of the reported changes. When the technique is successfully implemented, whole teams of people begin to focus their attention on programme impact.

MSC has gone by several names since it was conceived, each emphasising a different quality. It is an emerging technique and has already acquired many adaptations, discussed in Davies and Dart (2005).Examples are: ‘Monitoring-without-indicators’ – MSC does not make use of predefined indicators, especially ones which have to be counted and measured; or the ‘story approach’ – the answers to the central question about change are often in the form of stories of who did what, when and why, and the reasons the event was important.

These ten steps are usually included:
• Raising interest at the start.
• Defining the domains of change.
• Defining the reporting period.
• Collecting SC stories.
• Selecting the most significant of the stories.
• Feeding back the results of the selection process.
• Verifying the stories.
• Quantification.
• Secondary analysis and meta-monitoring.
• Revising the system.

Tips and Lessons Learnt

  • Make sure everyone understand the approach
  • It is also necessary to make sure everyone understands and 'buys-in' to why this approach is being used and what purpose it will serve. If people are going to put time, energy and knowledge into it they should know why, what it contributes to and what will be done with their stories.
  • Try to make it a team/group effort--something which 'we' will do together--rather than a top-down effort in which people have to comply and produce something (not much different from reporting!)
  • Need to be very clear about the domain of change and how it is defined. The question you ask is really important for the stories you will get. Make sure the question is clear and to the point of what you want to find out. May be good to test it out on someone to make sure what you are asking is what you want and that it is understood by others the same way.
  • Sometimes good to have an example to share with others to give them a kick-start; but beware-you may also get replicas of your example with certain details changed. It is up to you to decide what will work with the group you are working with.
  • You need to handle the selection of 'best stories' process carefully. Everyone who has written and shared a Most Significant Change story will feel very attached to their story and their effort and story should always be respected. It is necessary to understand your group and find a way to instill a team feeling about choosing the change stories which are 'best' for the project/program/activity etc. Sometimes all stories can be used also for certain things, with the selected ones being used for other purposes.
  • Stories can still go through a process of discussion, revision and refinement before being finalised-both before submission and even after selection. The process can help to make an even better story around a key change identified. After all we aren't all good at storytelling and writing and there may be differences in capacity, literacy and language which must be taken into account.
  • While MSC is associated with and used for monitoring, review and evaluation processes, you can get alot more out of it if you link MSC and the stories produced to other parts of a project, activity, program or initiative. MSC and the stories produced can be linked to communication, dissemination, media, and future planning activities to name a few.
  • From KM4Dev discussion:Jan 9 2007 - Lucie
Here is an interesting publication that was sent to our Pelican "sister" forum. This paper covers INTRAC and CABUNGO's experience in using the Most Significant Change (MSC) methodology to evaluate capacity building services in Malawi:
From the Executive Summary:
"MSC is a story-based, qualitative and participatory approach to monitoring and evaluation (M&E). INTRAC and CABUNGO worked collaboratively to adapt and implement the MSC approach to capture the complex and often intangible change resulting from capacity building, as well as to enhance CABUNGO’s learning and performance.The key findings of the evaluation are that:
• CABUNGO has achieved significant impacts on the sustainability and effectiveness of the NGOs and community-based organisations (CBOs) with which it has worked. • The most significant changes in organisational capacity involved shifts in attitudes, skills, knowledge and behaviour, but changes were also seen in relationships and power dynamics. • Of the 23 stories, 21 described shifts or improvements to the relationships within the organisation, and of these, 12 also described improved external relationships with the wider community and donors. • Achieving the impacts described depends on preserving the time, resources and expertise that quality capacity building interventions require. • Capacity building providers like CABUNGO face specific challenges in maintaining both the quality of their practice and their long-term financial sustainability."
Best, Lucie

Who can tell me more?

  • Nadia Manning (n.manning [at]

Related Methods/Tools/Practices:

More Information/References/Related Resources:

Page Authors

  • Brenda Bucheli
  • Nancy White

Photo Credits

  • Rick Davies and Jess Dart


  • most_signficant_change, method, evaluation