Most Significant Change (MSC) is a method for Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation [M.5] using storytelling. It can be used to understand unpredicted impacts and help plan for future activities.
MSC is a method for qualitative impact Monitoring M.2, Evaluation M.3 and Learning (M.6, M.7, M.8). Significant change stories are collected from the target group and other relevant stakeholders. The most important change stories are systematically selected by vetting panels of designated stakeholders through in-depth discussion and analysis about the value of the changes reported in the stories. Changing (hygiene) behaviour is often difficult and the impact of specific project activities is highly dependent on the context. MSC permits a better understanding of which activities are most relevant to affected communities. It also influences future activities to be more context-specific. The MSC focus on listening and taking the opinions of communities seriously often leads to an increased sense of ownership and acceptability of the activities. MSC can also be used to monitor and evaluate bottom-up initiatives that do not have predefined outcomes against which to evaluate. It can give insight into what triggers change in general and, specifically, in relation to hygiene behaviour change. The method is relatively easy to implement across cultures as explanations about indicators are not required; it encourages analysis and data collection because people have to identify why they believe one change is more important than another. MSC can foster a shared vision of the programme between communities, decision-makers and other stakeholders. It provides a rich overview of the changes achieved, including unexpected changes and indirect outcomes which cannot always be captured by indicator-based evaluations.
MSC is mainly useful in contexts when it is difficult to predict in detail, or with any certainty, what the outcome of a project or programme will be, where outcomes vary widely across community groups, where there is no agreement between stakeholders about which outcomes are the most important and when interventions intend to be highly participatory and focused on social change. MSC is particularly suitable for large or complex programmes focused on social change, including hygiene promotion programmes.
Allow a considerable time between implementation and the collection of change stories
Ensure that participants are representative of the target population and that the process is transparent
Ensure that stories are verified and triangulated
Do not forget to define the selection criteria and record why the MSC stories are selected, making sure they are selected through a systematic and transparent process
MSC has been used in 20 districts in Suaahara, Nepal for behaviour change interventions on maternal and child feeding, hygiene and sanitation and agricultural practices. Significant change stories were collected and analysed. One story was told by a woman who had gained knowledge on nutrition and health practices through the programme that she passed on to her daughter-in-law and other mothers. The vetting panel liked that she was a role model encouraging mothers to adopt new behaviours and decided to explore the role of other mothers-in-law in the community to understand if her story was unique.
Davis, R., Dart, J. (2005): The ‘Most Significant Change’ (MSC) Technique. A Guide to Its Use
USAID, Suaahara (undated): Most Significant Change (MSC) Stories