By: Sophie Dresser
What a year 2016 was for OneVillage Partners (OVP)! We continued our ambitious expansion into six new villages in Sierra Leone. We also rolled out an innovative participatory monitoring and evaluation strategy which included implementing a new process called Most Significant Change (MSC). MSC is a participatory evaluation strategy, which uses stories from participants to assess the impact of programs. The stories we hear from our Partner Villages are so important – they lead us to better understand our impact and target our strategies to be really effective. OVP’s Partner Villages lead the process by telling stories about the changes they have experienced through their involvement from OVP. We open this process to everyone in the community. Stories are told by community members, volunteers, participants and Village Authorities. By simply telling these stories and explaining their significance, individuals from OVP’s Partner Villages play a valuable role in the selection of stories that highlight OVP’s impact.
Here’s how it works…
First, OVP builds excitement for the process by engaging Program Participants (e.g. Community Action Group volunteers and Nurturing Opportunities for Women participants) in the development of “Domains”. Domains are categories of change experienced by the participants throughout the program. We take Participants through some activities to get them thinking about change and what they have experienced since partnering with OVP.
Last year domains were developed around leadership capacity, financial literacy, civic engagement and problem identification and solving. At this stage, we ensure that the domains that are developed come directly from the voices of the community and not from what we want to hear. Not all stories fit in a category though, so that’s why we always include a ‘Catch-all Domain’. This domain captures unique stories and also those about negative change that may have occurred. Through this domain, we ensure that the process is entirely transparent and informative – learning not just from our successes but also from our shortfalls. OVP then holds a community-wide meeting to engage everyone in the purpose of the MSC process and invite people to share stories throughout a week-long process. During this meeting, the community is introduced to the domains through images drawn by a local artist. Stories are heard and recorded by OVP’s talented Program Coordinators and Project Officers. Then, the team heads back to the office where they score each story based on set criteria. Scores are tallied up and the top stories from each domain are moved on to the next round of MSC Selection.
As soon as MSC wraps up and the Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Team reviews the data, we share the results of the process to the community. Like all M&E processes that OVP undertakes, we prioritize sharing results with Partner Villages because we believe that it is not only important to our values as an organization, it just makes sense. Communities learn from this information and it is another way that we can support their visions for the future. We share key themes that came up during MSC – like how engaged women are now in development due to OVP’s inclusive platform or how young people are now united under the direction provided by the Community Action Program. This feedback meeting is an important step in sharing results of the process and also building understanding of behavior change. We also use this meeting to kick start Cycle 2 of the Community Action Program, this ensures that these positive changes are reinforced through future engagement with the Partner Village.
At the end of the year, once we’ve conducted MSC in numerous villages (9 this year!), OVP’s Leadership Team scores all the top-scoring stories in order to generate the top story from each domain. These stories represent the impactful work taking place in Sierra Leone. The data collected during the process guides the OVP team to continue adapting to challenges in the field and ensuring that our Programs are truly effective and sustainable. We learn so much from the stories told in the communities; for instance, we learned how powerful it was to engage husbands in the NOW Program, something we are now incorporating even more in to the Program. We learned that social cohesion was emerging in our Partner Villages as a result of our focus on inclusion – pushing us to work harder each day to ensure that all voices are heard.