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

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Capability building for MSC data collectors Copy

Aliki September 23, 2019

Getting project staff to understand MSC is a frequent stumbling block. While MSC is relatively simple in practice, for many people, it is a radically different way to monitor and evaluate. It is often implemented in cross-cultural and bilingual contexts, where basic communication can be a challenge.

To overcome this hurdle, think about how MSC can be communicated best in the context of your program, and how participants can acquire enough knowledge and skills to be able to participate.

Remember the metaphors we told you about earlier? These can be a big help. There are two main options available for building the capability of program teams in MSC:

  1. Training
  2. Practice and improvement

In most cases, one person takes an active role in disseminating the technique across the organisation, and may also train the program staff. Since you’re here on the course, that person might well be you!

Training

To train others in MSC, you’ll probably need to schedule one to three days of in-house training. This can be led by an external consultant or an internal monitoring and evaluation (M&E) specialist. 

There are no foolproof ways to do this, but here are our tips:

1. Use plenty of hands-on exercises. Jess Dart often invites groups, early in the training session, to take part in a role-playing exercise where they read through some stories from a different program context and select those that they think are most significant. Many people find it easier to understand the process when they see it used in a different context – otherwise people tend to focus more on the content of the stories. Having a go at selecting stories for themselves helps people to get a feel for MSC.

2. Ask participants to document their own stories in the training session. An effective training technique is to put participants in pairs and encourage them to interview each other to elicit their MSC stories. Choose a topic that everyone will relate to, such as ‘the most significant change as a result of a training you have attended’, or if they are all working on projects themselves ‘the most significant change in your project participants’.

3. Compare MSC with other techniques such as case studies and conventional monitoring systems to help participants understand the differences.

4. Explain how MSC fits into the project or organisation monitoring and evaluation framework; it is not a stand-alone technique and is unlikely to satisfy all the accountability requirements of funders.

5. Offer plenty of opportunity for questions and discussion. People often need time to absorb MSC.

6. If possible, run the training in conjunction with a facilitator who can focus on how the participants are feeling.

7. Once the initial training has been conducted, it helps to have a refresher session after the first stories have been collected and selected. This might be just a few hours long.

Practice and improvement

If training isn’t an option for you, you could try implementing MSC by trial and error.

For example, you could ask staff to document stories and then give them feedback on how they did, along with examples (the selected stories), which will give them a good idea of what to do next time.

Initial training can prevent much of the confusion and frustration that program staff sometimes feel when they are thrown into MSC without being fully orientated, but MSC has a built-in improvement cycle so it can work without training. If you choose the path of practice and improvement rather than training, it helps to have someone with a good understanding of MSC who can answer questions, address confusion and design systems to minimise frustration.

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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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