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

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  • Jen
  • Zazie
  • Ellise
  • Anna
  • Jess

Know your purpose

Like all monitoring and evaluation approaches, you’ll need to know your purpose for doing it before you dive in, and double check that it is the right tool for you.

Then, you’ll need to gain approval to use it on your project and you might also reach out for champions who can help you design how it will be used in your organisation or group.

As you may have found out, getting started can be tricky! Sometimes, people are sceptical about the validity of the technique or are worried that it will take too much time, so you may have some resistance to overcome. Often, it takes an enthusiastic person or small group to raise interest. If possible, teaming up with some colleagues can help.

At this early stage, visit key people and groups to show them the methodology, stories and example reports from other programs. Let them know that MSC is simple to implement and explain its purpose in your organisation.

Emphasise that it is not a standalone technique for monitoring and evaluation, and can be used alongside other methods.


When you’re getting started with MSC, start small. It is a risky exercise to implement a complicated MSC plan without first piloting it on a smaller scale. Every organisation is different, so MSC will have to be moulded to your particular organisation. First, we recommend conducting a pilot to find out what works and what does not work. Start with the people and sections of your organisation that are most interested and enthusiastic about its potential.


Once you know there is enough interest, work out where MSC will fit best in the organisation. Early on, identify the key people who are excited about MSC and want to champion the technique. They can be involved in designing how MSC is implemented across the organisation.

These champions will need to understand MSC in more depth so that they can respond to questions that will come up. The role of champions is to:

  • Excite and motivate people
  • Answer questions about the technique
  • Facilitate selection of significant change stories
  • Encourage people to collect significant change stories
  • Ensure that feedback occurs
  • Ensure that the stories are collected, organised and sent to review meetings
  • Develop protocols to ensure confidentiality where necessary

If you’re championing the adoption of MSC, it can help to use a metaphor to explain it. 

Select the tabs to find out what metaphors have worked well for us:

School of fish
Holiday memories

A newspaper doesn’t tell us what happened yesterday using pages and pages of ‘Indicators’, but by using news stories about interesting events. Papers are structured into different subject areas like MSC uses domains. The most important stories go on the front page, with the most important of all at the top.

School of fish

In a social change program, many practitioners (fish) are swimming in slightly different directions, each with its own values but with a common goal. MSC helps them to communicate with each other: ‘Where do we really want to go? This communication helps all the fish to swim in roughly the same direction, away from what is not good and towards what is good. It helps them swim as a school towards a commonly valued destination.

Holiday memories

What do you remember from your last overseas holiday? Do you remember the average things or the wonderful and terrible things? MSC helps teams of people focus on the memorable events and uses these events to help realign effort towards achieving more of the wonderful things and less of the terrible things. When the focus is on learning, we need to capture more than just the average experiences.

Overcoming resistance

When you are trying to adopt MSC into your organisation’s approach to monitoring and evaluation, you might find that some people are resistant towards it at first. People naturally resist change, so don’t be surprised by this, but it can help to have some responses ready for common hesitations. Be ready to address questions about the validity of the approach, or concerns about bias.


MSC Step 1 (Video transcript)

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Jess Dart sq

Dr Jess Dart

CEO & Founder

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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