Storytelling for Change: The Most Significant Change technique

Sean Howard made me aware of an innovative storytelling tool geared toward change/needs assessments, called the Most Significant Change (MSC). This technique is a form of participatory monitoring and evaluation that can be applied across a number of social issues.

The process--invented by Rick Davies nearly 14 years ago to meet challenges associated with monitoring and evaluating a complex participatory rural development program in Bangladesh-- involves the collection of significant change stories from participants and staff at the field level, followed by systematic selection of the most significant of these stories by designated stakeholders or staff. Once changes have been captured, various people sit down together, read the stories aloud and have regular, in-depth discussions about the value of reported changes and emerging patterns of focus. When the technique is implemented successfully, teams of people focus their attention on program impact.

This is the basic process:

1. Start and raise interest
2. Define domains of change
3. Define reporting period
4. Collect SC stories
5. Select most significant stories
6. Feed back results of selection process
7. Verify of stories
8. Quantify
9. Secondary analysis and meta-monitoring
10. Revise the system

I am particularly interested in the MSC technique because of its similarities to Appreciative Inquiry, a technique for change or growth strategy and organizational design that I like within in my own strategic planning practice. Also, Sean and I have been working together to create a program geared toward systemic change, using innovations in design thinking, visualization, user experience, organizational design and storytelling. We've been researching successful models of communication and evaluation- and the MSC technique is interesting in terms of systemic change. As Sean pointed out, the MSC technique has most often and successfully been applied vertically within organizations, but there are also valuable outcomes from that can arise from bringing external stakeholders into the process, such as enhanced donor engagement and partnership evaluations, which the user manual acknowledges in its section entitled "Innovation: Network Alternatives."

(Part of this comment is cross-posted from the ResistNetwork. Image taken from Rick Davies' blog.)


passitalong said...

Thanks for the hat/tip Lina.

I'd love to learn more about the overlap or similarities between MSC and Appreciative Inquiry as you see it.

Lina Srivastava said...

Hi Sean-

Appreciative Inquiry and MSC both rely strongly on exploring what works and what is positive in an organization. Each, I believe, can be used similarly in a change management situation, in assessing what needs to be strengthened and honed in an organization's operations, communications and mission-fulfilment. (In contrast with AI, MSC also allows an examination of negatives. My question is whether it might be more useful in strategically planning for growth phases, as well as program-mission alignment. I don't know enough about the process to have that answer. But when I work with the AI process, I do modify it slightly by not trying to concentrate solely on the positive, as I think some investigation into what is not working is valuable.)

Also, even though the story gathering structure and iterative feedback processes are different,
AI and MSC both rely on storytelling, i.e., experiential and/or anecdotal evidence, as opposed to solely quantitative. An assessment of actual change needs to include experiential and anecdotal parameters, so I think these processes are both effective in demonstrating impact.

Thanks for the comment!

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