Most significant change technique

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The Most Significant Change Technique (MSC) is a monitoring and evaluation (M&E) technique/ method used for evaluating complex interventions. It was developed by Rick Davies as part of his PhD associated the monitoring and evaluation of a rural development program in Bangladesh. At that time Davies named it "the evolutionary approach to organizational learning". Later Jess Dart experimented with MSC as part of her PhD and in 2000 Davies and Dart coined the term "Most Significant Change Technique" and wrote the User guide.[1] This relatively new method is based on a qualitative, participatory approach, with stakeholders involved in all aspects of the evaluation and is therefore a shift away from conventional quantitative, expert driven evaluation methods toward a qualitative participant driven approach, focusing on the human impact of interventions.[2]

In essence, MSC involves the generation of significant change stories by various stakeholders involved in the intervention. These are stories of significant changes caused by the intervention. The more significant of these stories are then selected by the stakeholders and in depth discussions of these stories take place. These discussions bring to the stakeholders attention the impacts of the intervention that have the most significant effects on the lives of the beneficiaries.[3]

Steps involved in the most significant change process[edit]

There are 10 steps involved in the most significant change process [4]

  1. Starting and raising interest
  2. Defining the domains of change
  3. Defining the reporting period
  4. Collecting significant change stories
  5. Selecting the most significant of these stories
  6. Feeding back the results of the selection process
  7. Verification of stories
  8. Quantification
  9. Secondary analysis and meta-monitoring
  10. Revising the system

Benefits and limitations of the MSC technique[edit]


The focus is on learning rather than accountability. This means that the evaluation managers, as well as the field workers are forced to reflect on and openly question the intervention programme and their interactions with the community in which the intervention takes place. It is also able to inform other M&E processes, identifying the significant aspects of the intervention to allow for more quantitative evaluation processes. In addition, the process gives the evaluators a heightened sensitivity to the beneficiaries, which it could be argued, is more conducive to successful outcomes.[5]


Although the impact of the evaluation emerge in stories gathered from the community and other stakeholders, only certain individuals can be part of the story generation process. It is inevitable that some stories will not be considered and that the stories may not necessarily be representative of the entire community’s feelings. It is often the marginalised people within a society that are under-represented, and their significant stories may differ from those less marginalised people. A second issue that has been identified is the generation of socially desirable stories by the community members. In addition, the community members may not understand the concept of a significant change story which may lead to valueless data.

The terminology can cause confusion as in statistics and quantitative evaluation methods, the term ‘significance’ is linked with ‘statistical significance’. [5]


MSC is now widely used by development aid agencies, especially 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), typically by organisations working within those language groups.[6]

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 1640 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


  1. ^ Dart, Jess; Davies, Rick (2003). "A Dialogical, Story-Based Evaluation Tool: The Most Significant Change Technique". American Journal of Evaluation. 24 (2): 137–155. doi:10.1177/109821400302400202.
  2. ^ "Most significant change". Government of Australia. 7 May 2010. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
  3. ^ Rick Davies,Jess Dart The Most Significant Change (MSC) Technique: A Guide to Its Use (2005) [1]
  4. ^ McDonald, David; Gabrielle Bammer; Peter Deane (2009). Research Integration Using Dialogue Methods. Canberra: ANU E-Press. ISBN 978-1-921536-74-8.
  5. ^ a b Willetts, Juliet; Paul Crawford (2007). "The most significant lessons about the most significant change technique". Development in Practice. 17 (3): 367–379. doi:10.1080/09614520701336907.
  6. ^ "Translations of the "Most Significant Changes" Guide". Retrieved 6 November 2013.