For projects to be successful they need to be monitored and evaluated efficiently and effectively. Several techniques are applied during the whole process of project monitoring and evaluations development. The most common is the most significant change technique (MSC). The MSC technique “is a form of participatory monitoring and evaluation” (Davies &Dart 2005, p.8).
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It is preferred as participatory because it involves different stakeholders who are involved in making decisive changes being recorded as well as analyzing the collected data (Ramalingam 2006, p.17; Dart & Davies 2003, 157). It qualifies as a monitoring technique because it is applied along the program cycle through the provision of valuable management information.
On the other hand, it is considered as an evaluating technique because it able to provide required “data on impact and the outcomes” (Davies &Dart 2005, p.8; Serrat 2009, p.1) that is important in assessing a program performance.
The MSC technique revolves around the gathering of vital changes that occur from the field and the significant stories (Mcdonald, Bammer & Deane 2009, p.57) are selected by the field staff. Upon the capture of the stories, the stakeholders sit down, loudly read the stories and engage in in-depth discussions.
The MSC was developed by Rick Davies in 1996 (Coy n.d, p.3; Lunch, 2007, p.28) as way of monitoring and evaluating participatory “rural development programme in Bangladesh” (Willetts & Crawford 2007, p.367; Le Cornu, Peters, & Foster 2003, p.3).
It was seen as the alternative for the complex monitoring and evaluation techniques. Lastly, when the techniques have been successfully implemented the teams focus on the impact the program would have. The essay explores the challenges that face successful application of the “most significant change” technique.
Like any other technique, the most significant change technique is faced by numerous challenges. One of the challenges that face successful application of the MSC is the ability to make the staff in a project to adequately and fully understand the MSC (Davies &Dart 2005, p.55).
Although it seems like a simple technique, most of the people find it challenging as it uses a different approach of monitoring and evaluating a project. This is because it is carried across multi-lingual and cross-cultural contexts with the aim of collecting the most successful stories. In these contexts, it may be difficult to implement the MSC because of the communication barrier created.
Because of its inclusivity procedure, the Most Significant Change technique does not discriminate people across ethic or language divide. The communication barrier created by this inclusivity and context makes it hard to decide on the basic indicators and domains to use. Other than communication, training the project staffs to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge could be very difficult (Davies &Dart 2005, p.55).
Training the participants to fully understand the participatory monitoring and evaluation, the trainers are faced with the challenge of deciding what skills to prescribe (Estrella 2000, p.218). This is because the different people used in capacity building are of different levels.
For instance, there are those who already have the required skills and need to improve while others are new in the capacity building program and need to acquire the basic skills (Coninck 2008, 144). The choice becomes very difficult because the stakeholders should be at the same level skill wise for the MSC to be successful. The different levels of capacity mean that differing perspectives and capacities are brought onto the table.
The implication of this is that at the community level, the stakeholders could be hindered by the powerbase. The stakeholders with much strength could use their influence to control the resources meant for all people. Participatory monitoring and evaluation would be compromised because only few people’s stories would be recorded.
Another challenge faced during MSC application is capacity building. Capacity building entails the identification of the participants to be involved in a participatory project monitoring and evaluation. Capacity building consists of different participants who have different level of understanding, skills, and education.
Therefore, it becomes challenging to fully accommodate all the people and train them on the same domain without conflict of interest. The need to build the capacities of the participants collectively (Estrella et al. 2000, p.218) could be very challenging making it difficult to successfully apply the participatory monitoring and application. Like development research, MSC requires the proper outlining of the motives (Akker n.d, p.1).
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Dominant shareholders may have negative influence on the implementation of a successful MSC. This is because their willingness to share their resources and power may be compromised. They may not be willing to share their resources and capacities with the other participants or shareholders which compromises the whole project monitoring and evaluation process.
For examples, donors may only require the local people to participate at the initiation phases which make the locals participation somehow superficial (Estrella 2008, p.221). This may jeopardize the success of the MSC as more time would be required to negotiate the participants and reach a common operative ground.
The fact that capacity building entails different participants as it is based on the wider range of people inclusion principle means that the participants and stakeholders involved share different expectations (Estrella 2008, p.219; Mikkelsen 2007, p.281). This translates that their access needs are totally different which makes it difficult to decide on which stakeholders to start up with.
It also brings the challenge of choosing what concepts and skills to use and deciding the initiation point for the MSC implementation. However, it is argued that capacity building should be started with stakeholders who have been occasionally excluded from participatory monitoring and evaluation.
This ensures that the needed skills and confidence are build. This may be difficult in choosing the people because as noted the people are from different cultural and lingual backgrounds making communication a barrier.
The wider range of the people included in a capacity building means that the people have different visions. This can make it difficult in negotiating the shareholders to accommodate the prescribed vision. It may take a lot of time in deciding the most appropriate and accommodative ground.
This would jeopardize the allocated timeframe making the whole process delayed thus increasing the possibilities of coming with a successful MSC.
PM&E involve a lot of stakeholders participating (Mikkelsen 2007, p.283), however the challenge that faces the facilitator is to choose which shareholder to participate at what level because they all cannot participate at the same level. This may cause delay in choosing and allocating the different levels thus compromising the P&ME success.
The inadequate availability and access to resources has been reported as major constraints in abilities building among the stakeholders involved in a PM&E (Estrella 2000, p.227). Based on this context, the resources do not necessarily mean funds but the material resources, information, and human capital.
The inability to have trained and skilled project facilitators, sufficient materials, and adequate information on the locals and the Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation makes individual capacity and institution building in the MS&E compromised. The costs incurred in the training and purchase of the required materials may significantly affect the budget allocated in the monitoring and the evaluation processes.
Project facilitators are often faced with the challenge of ensuring that they are not faced with bias which may compromise the success of MSC. For instance, the inclusivity principle requires that all people be actively involved and their change stories collected with bias (Moore & Offer n.d, p.117).
However, the facilitators may be faced with the problem of choosing between the views of the most articulate participants and those of the others. The ability to make a choice from different collections challenges the facilitators as they try not to be biased and be accommodative to all participants regardless of the abilities.
The selection process may also be biased if the facilitators do not facilitate the process across a wider range of spectrum. The challenge that is faced is coming with the most consistent and appropriate team to work with without bias in terms of gender or abilities.
Given that MSC operates under the participatory context for validity reasons, it is often faced with the challenge of measuring the impact brought about by the participatory projects (Davies &Dart 2005, p.68). The stakeholders are often faced with the challenge of choosing the most appropriate participatory M&E to adopt instead of empowering the participants.
It is utterly difficult to depend on the purposive sampling involved in MSC sampling. This is because the process involves the collection of the success stories rather than being inclusive.
This makes it difficult to record the negative aspects of a particular project. In other instances, it is hard to decide on the appropriate stories from the different cultures “therefore there would be little value to the use of MSC in such an environment” (IOD PARC 2010).
MSC is faced with entry of inaccurate data which is not time bound which may make it insignificant (Kotvojs n.d, p.6). In the most remote areas, it would be hard to successfully apply the MSC technique as the validity of the recorded information may be compromised. Since, the MSC technique depends heavily on the collected data, its success may be jeopardized if the collected and recorded information is lost.
This would make it impossible to analyze the outcome and the impact of a particular program or project. The collected data requires a lot of time to make reviews (Scott & Proescholdbell 2005, 29) and this may be hard for MSC.
The concept of the applying the Most Significant Change technique is often not well conceptualized. For example, its application in 3 Australian funded project programs was faced with overcoming misunderstanding (Kotvojs n.d, p.3). It was perceived as an alternative of replacing the monitoring and evaluation process rather than playing a greater part in the broader monitoring and evaluation plan.
Therefore, MCS is faced with misconceptions on the role it effectively and essentially plays in participatory M&E. Field officers may be challenged in explaining the importance of the technique and its application. This has the capacity of making its MSC unsuccessful because of the mixed opinions and reactions in regard to the questions asked (Outreach Evaluation Resource Center, 2009, p.1).
The evaluation of the development projects involves a lot of heterogeneous activities that may be a challenge (Kumar &Seth n.d, p.1). The people involved in project have diverse motives and views. Therefore, the use of the MSC may be compromised because the stakeholders’ motives are all different. For example, the MSC is based on storytelling technique (Groot, Toornstra &Tarla 2001, p.1) in which the success stories are recorded.
In conclusion, MSC technique which is participatory tool applied in the evaluation and monitoring of projects, is often faced with challenges that jeopardize its success. For instance, it is prone to bias as the tool depends on the selection of the most success stories from a list of many. Because of its wide range of participants with different languages and cultural contexts, communication barrier is created.
This hinders the relay of information to the participants. It also prohibits proper understanding between the stakeholders and the project facilitators. It is also faced with the challenge of disseminating the required skills and knowledge across to the participants.
This is because of the different abilities and capabilities that shareholders have. For example, the different participants have different level of education, understanding and capacity. The officer is faced with the challenge of deciding on which group to start up with.
Depending on the locality of the targeted group MSC may be hard to successfully apply because of inadequate resources and time. Some of the projects require more resources than others making its application jeopardized.
The participants involved in a MCS technique all have different expectations and it may be hard to decide on what changes need to be recorded. Other than different expectations, the stakeholders bring perspectives and capabilities which may be differing.
For instance, one of the groups may be constraint while the other may be willing to benefit from the MSC technique application. These differences make it hard to fully apply the MSC. Time constraints the facilitation of a proper MSC technique.
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