Sunday, November 25, 2007

A network approach to the selection of "Most Significant Change" stories

I spent yesterday in a day-long meeting with the staff of an NGO grant-making body, in Ghana. A year ago I had run a two day training workshop for their grantees on the use of the "Most Significant Change" (MSC) method of impact monitoring, a method of monitoring-without-indicators. Since then they had started to collect "Most Significant Change" stories, and they had asked for some feedback on those stories.

In yesterday's meeting, and in my meetings with other organisations in the past, concerns have been expressed about the appropriateness of a hierarchical selection process of MSC stories, when the grantees, and their local partners were all very autonomous organisations, and the last thing the grant making body wanted to do was to create, or reinforce, any view that they were all part of an organisational hierarchy, with the grant making body, and its back donors, at the top.

I explained an alternative way of structuring the selection process, that involved the parallel participation of different stakeholders groups, with a reiterated process of story selection, then feedback to the plenary meeting of all participants. After the meeting yesterday I thought it might be useful to document this alternative, and make it more widely available. So this is what is now available below, in the form of a graphic image of an Excel file. If you click on the image it will be enlarged. Or, click on the link below the image to download the actual Excel file

Your comments and suggestions are invited, please use the Comment facility on this blog.

If you have not heard about MSC before it would be worth looking at the MSC Guide first. Especially section 5 on selection.

Click on the image to make it bigger, or download the Excel file

Postscript: The Washington Post ( 31 Dec 07 online) has an interesting article about how being able to see other people's judgements affects one's own judgements. One of the authors of the study is a well know writer/researcher on networks (Duncan Watts). See also Valdis Krebs' paper "It's the [local] Conversations, Stupid: The link between social interaction and political choice"


  1. Rick,

    I think this is an idea that could easily transfer to the Internet. If you take the Katine project where there is multiple stakeholders.

    * The people of katine
    * Asref the people giving out the aid
    * The donators
    * The readers of the Guardian
    * The Guardian itself
    * Africans.

    Your technique could really open up the whole process of aid.

    The way the system would work is that any of the stakeholders could create a story, as well as vote on the importance of the story.

    Yes there is a danger that some stories would not be applicable to the situation, as the people that created the story lack knowledge about the local situation. But hopefully what would happen is that the comments attached to the story would correct any errors. All the stakeholders would become more informed and involved in the process.

    The cost would not be that great. One would need a couple of laptops situated in the village, but from Katine blog there seams to be many people that would love donate a used computer that they no longer have need for.

    Training for the people of the village would not be too difficult if one followed the guidelines of Tropical Tolerance. An African standard for software.

    Again Tropical Tolerant systems will work where there is no internet.

    This would really open up the whole process and make it far more open, and accountable.

  2. Yes, and no... But thanks for your enthusiasm!

    I have thought of internet-based uses of MSC a number of times in the past. There is already one application being developed by (Shawn Callahan et al) called Zahmoo, which will be used for storing and sharing MSC stories online. I am involved in that process.

    But, a very important part of the MSC process is face to face discussion and argument about which stories capture the most significant "most significant change".

    And in terms of use within Katine (with or without computers and internet), the introduction of processes like MSC has to be thought through very carefully.... It is possible that as part of my six monthly visits I could incorporate the collection of MSC stories, and in the first instance, engage AMREF staff in their selection. Involving the Katine community in a similar process could very desirable, but it would need to be a choice made by AMREF, and the community, not me

    The stories that would be most valuable would be those coming from the Katine community. Stories created by outsiders are unlikely to be useful, since unless they are fiction, they would probably about other people in other settings.

  3. In todays age does the argument need to be "face to face".. What would be wrong with a system where people can take the time to carefully think through the arguments.

    We all know the problems with group meetings, would this not be a way of getting arround the problem of group think, and leading questions.

    And on the last point about outsiders not knowing what is going on that would be a benefit as well. As the community would counter act peoples misscomprehension about the situation.

    Putting the system onto the Internet would increase the power of the community over other actors, and that must be good?

    In many situations there are too many people saying what is good and bad for the communities, a system such as this on the internet would let the community speak direct.

  4. I am sure you have had experience of how hastily people can react to postings on email lists, ...get the wrong message, ...give the wrong impression. On the internet we dont have all the non-verbal cues we have in our daily face to face life, that we need to understand each other even within our own culture

    When we get Zahmoo up and running you will hear about it here. But I would prefer to trial it with people who are not having to struggle with the more basic necessities of life,...

    Once again, thanks for your interest and enthusiasm