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Evaluating systems change and place-based approaches – Online Course – November, 2019

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Lesson 8, Topic 44
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Selection methods Copy

Aliki September 23, 2019

The selection process starts with reading stories out loud or individually. If you can, read the stories aloud as it brings them to life. If the stories have already been sorted into categories or domains, then consider the stories in each one together.

Once you have read the stories, ask:


From among all these significant changes, which do you think was the most significant change of all? Why do you think this is significant?

Here are some different ways to help groups choose the most significant story:

Facilitated selection Negotiation Secret ballot Scoring Facilitated selection

This facilitated process involves a number of rounds of voting with facilitated discussion during each round. The facilitator elicits key information and comments about the stories, then the group votes on which they consider to be the most significant. After the first vote, people discuss why they voted the way they did. Follow this with a second and third vote, moving towards consensus. Sometimes, people who disagree with the majority view will eventually agree, but if they are not willing to do so, record their views as an important caveat to the group’s main judgement. If the group is more evenly split in opinion, you could choose two stories. Facilitated selection can be time-consuming, but it fosters good quality judgments. 


Each person states which story they want to choose and why. Follow this up with a discussion of the merits of each story and the reason for choosing it, until consensus is reached. As above, record any diverging views. Using this process, participants need to build skills in arguing their case. Be aware that the people who are more outspoken during the discussion or who are better negotiators might end up making the final determination with this process.

Secret ballot

Have each person write their choice of a story on a piece of paper and then tally the votes. Follow this with a discussion about the reasons for choices. This process can be helpful where there are power inequalities or where people are initially reluctant to publicly cast a vote. Transparency is important in MSC to make subjectivity accountable, so be sure to add the second step of capturing and discussing reasons for choices if you use this process.


Ask participants to rate the value of each story, and then aggregate the ratings so that the story with the highest rating is chosen as the most significant. This is a more discriminating way of summarising judgments than a show of hands. This is a useful method for meetings that are conducted remotely, as well as in face-to-face meetings, but there is limited opportunity for dialogue, though you can ask for explanations when people give their ratings. Explanations are particularly important when a participant rates a story much higher or lower than others have. 

Documenting reasons for selection

You will need to document the reasons why people chose a story as the most significant, and attach this to the story. This is usually the last task in a selection meeting, so sometimes this step is rushed and does not do justice to the depth of the discussion. Be sure not to make this mistake. Write out full sentences to explain what was significant, rather than just a few key words, like “more sustainable’ or “ gender equity”. If multiple criteria were used in the selection process, list these along with an explanation of their importance.

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Dr Jess Dart

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Inventor of practical methodologies and highly demanded facilitator, Jess navigates complexity with comfort and helps her clients to become clear about their desired outcomes and how to get there.

Recipient of the 2018 AES Award for outstanding contribution to evaluation, Jess has over 25 years experience in evaluating and designing social change initiatives and strategies in Australia and overseas.

In October 2005, Jess founded Clear Horizon Consulting and is now CEO. She is also a board member of the Australasian Evaluation society.

Jess is passionate about developing and designing real world evaluation and strategy for social justice and sustainability. She particularly works with systems change interventions, large scale strategy and social innovation. After completing her PhD she co-authored the Most Significant Change (MSC) guide alongside Dr Rick Davies, which is now translated into 12 different languages.

MSC is well suited to evaluation in the complex emergent context. The latest innovation by Jess, Collaborative Outcomes Reporting (COR), is a collaborative form of impact evaluation.

Jess is also an active mum and has two teenage boys. In a quiet moment, she loves reading far-future science fiction and enjoys long distance running.

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