Evaluation5's Blog

July 15, 2010

Using MSC in the Netherlands: Are Dutch people able to tell stories?

Filed under: evaluation5.0, learning — Tags: , , , — evaluation5 @ 10:44 am

Posted by Marlen Arkesteijn/CapturingDevelopment

After having worked for International Cooperation for more than 20  years in China, Bhutan and the Netherlands, in the field of monitoring and evaluation, I am actually still surprised how well developed M&E in International Cooperation is, and how much use we can make in the Netherlands of this expertise!
Over the last 5 years I have been able to make fully use of my ‘foreign’ experience within the Netherlands, in sustainable agriculture, protection of wildlife, in healthcare and lately, in rural community development as well.

Currently I am coaching a group of young professionals to perform an evaluation using the Most Significant Change method in the East of the Netherlands. It makes me realize what a wonderful profession I have and how much fun it is to work with people with energy and enthusiasm.

The first issue we ran into was “Do the Dutch have an oral tradition, are they able to tell stories?” When I joined the group of young professionals (YPs), they had already started with the interviews, and stated that people were not able to tell a story, only one-liners with very general remarks. When we probed deeper into the question, a few issues came up:
a) Letting people tell a story and a most significant one as well, is something different from doing an in-depth interview.
b) Some of the people that were interviewed were actually not involved in the project and thus had no story to tell indeed.
c) The question arose: ‘What is actually a (MSC) story?” (A good question indeed!)

To unravel the issues we worked at two levels: At a technical side and at the content side.

At the technical side, it is sometimes really difficult to make people talk and to invite them to tell a story that matters. One of the most important techniques is the art of listening in combination with ‘probing further’. People may tell 10 short one line stories about changes, but when asking about the most significant, there are 1001 questions to ask. If there is a MS change, invite people to tell the change in detail, what is the change, how does it look like? It also requires “recognizing a story when it passes by”. For many of us changes are part of our daily life and therefor we tend to forget how important the details are. How did the change come about, what happened, and what happened afterwards, and then and then? Why is this change for you the most significant, why do you choose this story?

At the content side, I did a collective interventionscheme (theory of change) exercise with the young professionals to make their assumptions on how the project works explicit. This was a real revelation! They analysed various levels of results, all kind of causal and non-causal links, connections, loops etc. Especially the various levels of results made it for the professionals easier to ask relevant questions during the ‘interviews’ , they found clues for talking to people!

At the end, it appeared that also Dutch people, at least part of them, love telling stories and do so with a lot of gusto! It is a matter of approaching people that have a story to tell indeed, and a matter of proper facilitating. I saw life in people’s eyes and enthusiasm during the interviews and discussions, an essential ingredient for evaluations, since it are these people that need to work with the outcomes of the evaluation.

Next time more about MSC in the Netherlands!

Marlen Arkesteijn

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