The Project: Power Up
Power Up (2017-2020) was a project in Oxfam Canada’s work on women’s transformative leadership. In collaboration with three local partners, we aimed to empower women and girls in Indonesia to take part in local democratic processes and exercise their rights.
Before Power Up, women were largely excluded from any meaningful participation in West Nusa Tenggara, the province in Indonesia where the Power Up project was based. Despite strong laws designed to empower Indonesia’s citizens to oversee the planning for village development budgets and obtain information from the government, women had been effectively excluded due to patriarchal social norms.
Using technology to gain more information and understanding of the village development planning process, women worked together to become more involved in local decision-making and to ensure that village resources were being invested in women’s rights and needs – particularly related to the region’s extremely high maternal and infant mortality rates. Communities and officials alike identified high-risk pregnancy as a key local health concern that required more attention and investment.
This project took place in Indonesia:
Power Up’s final learning review in 2020 aimed to gather information on the project’s outcomes and build collective knowledge on how changing social norms can promote women’s transformative leadership.
The challenge inherent in applying a feminist approach to evaluation work is that the communities involved in our projects have usually not participated in designing project evaluations. In the case of the Power Up final learning review, this meant taking several steps before being able to design and complete the evaluation, including introducing ideas about feminist MEAL, developing the capacity to participate in these processes and then applying these new ideas and skills to the evaluation itself.
We overcame this challenge by bringing together our partners and participants for a four-day workshop in which we discussed issues related to feminist MEAL, introduced the specific methodology that would be used in this study, developed a set of project evaluation questions related to their experiences with the project, and practiced collecting, writing and selecting Most Significant Change stories.
The Power Up final learning review used a Most Significant Change (or MSC) approachThis term means The Most Significant Change (MSC) approach involves generating and analyzing personal accounts of change and deciding which of these accounts is the most significant – and why. There are three basic steps in using MSC: 1) Deciding the types of stories that should be collected (for example, about practice change or health outcomes or empowerment) 2) Collecting the stories and determining which stories are the most significant 3) Sharing the stories and discussing values with stakeholders and contributors so that they can learn about what is valued. For more information, refer to this discussion on Most Significant Change on the Better Evaluation website. . This means that participants collected stories about the project from local government leaders, religious leaders and community members who worked with Oxfam and its partners over the course of the three-year project. One of the main strengths of the MSC approach is that it helps us to identify the unexpected. The intention behind gathering these stories was to identify the changes that the project helped to set in motion at the individual and community level, and the women’s leadership it helped to spark.
As a first step, Oxfam facilitated a Focus Group DiscussionThis term means Focus Group Discussions (FGD) gather people to discuss a specific topic of interest. An FGD facilitator will allow participants to agree or disagree with each other so that the discussion can provide insight on how the group thinks about an issue. FGDs can therefore be used to explore the deeper meaning behind survey findings, gain perspective from a range of views and better understand local context and terminology. For more information, refer to this discussion on the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) website. to better understand participant expectations and skill sets. We discovered that very few participants were familiar with the MSC approach, but they were quite willing to learn. During the focus group discussion, we discovered that several participants had a natural talent for interviewing and storytelling, and that was a good foundation for the MSC process.
Participants practiced interviewing each other in a workshop setting to learn the techniques they would later use to collect stories about experiences in the Power Up program. Sixteen participants then collected a total of 56 significant change stories over a six-day period across the four Power Up project districts. Story collectors used an interview guide based on the questions identified in the original workshop. All stories were written in the first-person perspective, considering that this has less possibility of being contaminated by the opinions of the writers, and thereby diminishing any potential distortion of the stories. In addition, the first-person perspective was deemed easier in terms of composition by the partners.
The selection of MSC stories is the most important part of this methodology. After collecting the stories, participants from the original workshop, plus eight women leaders from the Power Up project, met to identify and select which of these stories were most significant. From their own perspective, participants explored the significance of the individual and community-level changes detailed in each story. In going through the selection process, the participants were able to absorb the methodology of MSC, and see it as a series of processes and not just a matter of writing stories – it’s also about identifying unexpected changes as well as connections between different experiences and trends across the project. You can read the final set of selected stories here.
In the Power Up final learning review, women were involved as storytellers (collecting stories), validators (making sense of the stories) and panelists (setting criteria for story selection and selecting the stories used in program reporting). Collecting stories in Power Up communities allowed women participants to express the changes they experienced, as well as the struggles and challenges they faced at the family level and the village level as they worked to influence social norms or voice women’s needs. For Oxfam partners and staff, the MSC process revealed previously unseen and unexpected changes.
Ibu Dewi's team of midwives worked with community health workers and public health bureaucrats from the district Health Office to develop the "26 signs" document, which was very helpful in increasing community-level awareness about maternal and child health, pregnancy planning and childbirth. She said that the most significant change that happened as a result of the Power Up project is that, recently, there have been no cases of women giving birth at home – instead, they’re giving birth at healthcare facilities where risks can be better managed.
This massive shift was only possible because community health workers, or Posyandu cadres, have developed a much deeper understanding of high-risk pregnancy through Power Up, and as a result they have taken an active role in disseminating information about risk factors and warning signs during pregnancy and childbirth. Now community health workers accompany expecting women to regular examinations and provide hospital referrals, when needed.
Community health workers have been discouraging women from giving birth at home due to the high risk of maternal and infant death, which marks a big shift in the approach to birthing in the community. There were a number of initiatives that made this change possible. For instance, each village in West Nusa Tenggara that was involved in the Power Up project allocated budget for maternity classes, enabling midwives to reach out to more pregnant women. Thanks to Power Up, the village administration has been more open and welcoming of midwives, allowing them to plan and coordinate these maternity classes to ensure the quality and accuracy of the information. The three-day-long maternity classes provide pregnant women with information and materials on things like risk, labour preparation and techniques for pushing during labour. On the third day, the women’s partners are required to attend the class, as well so that they can learn and be better prepared for labour.
The ability to disseminate maternal and child health information through technology-based trainings has also played a significant role in these changes. Since early 2019, village midwives have been offering digital trainings on the 26 signs of risk in pregnancy and childbirth to married and pregnant girls and women in the community and, later in 2019, also started training other Posyandu community health workers in their respective villages, which has led to much more extensive public health education and outreach.
Midwives and maternal and child health workers have also created a WhatsApp group together that includes pregnant women, cadres, midwives and nutrition officers. It acts as a forum for information sharing, but it also allows pregnant women in the group to identify, talk about and get support on their pregnancy issues. At the Puskesmas (health clinic), midwives have also started to embrace offering consults by mobile phone and video call.
The use of digital trainings, maternity classes and virtual consultations and information sharing all aim to assist women with childbirth and improve referral processes so that fewer maternal and child health issues fall through the cracks. This work has created better working relationships between and among health workers and midwives, which means a better all-around experience for pregnant women in West Nusa Tenggara.
Learn more about how we did it, and explore how our MEAL approaches and methodologies impacted the outcome.
Our Methods Explained
The Most Significant ChangeThis term means The Most Significant Change (MSC) approach involves generating and analyzing personal accounts of change and deciding which of these accounts is the most significant – and why. There are three basic steps in using MSC:
1. Deciding the types of stories that should be collected (for example, about practice change or health outcomes or empowerment), 2. Collecting the stories and determining which stories are the most significant, 3. Sharing the stories and discussing values with stakeholders and contributors so that they can learn about what is valued. For more information, refer to this discussion on the Better Evaluation website. (or MSC) approach is a form of participatory monitoring and evaluationThis term means Participatory MEAL includes a range of approaches that engage stakeholders (especially the people with whom we work in projects) in conducting, monitoring and evaluating activities, as well as in validating data and making decisions about how to use the resulting knowledge within future programming, policy change and community initiatives. For more information, refer to this discussion on the Better Evaluation website. that involves several project stakeholders, including community members, government officials, partners and Oxfam project staff. They’re involved both in deciding the sorts of changes that should be recorded and also in analyzing the data that’s collected. MSC can be a form of monitoring, in that it can occur throughout the project cycle and provide information to help people manage the program. MSC can also contribute to evaluation, in that it provides data on impact and outcomes that can be used to help assess the performance of the project as a whole.
A comprehensive overview of a ‘full’ implementation of MSC might look like this:
- Starting the MEAL process and communicating with partners
- Defining the domains of changeThis term means Domains of change are broad and often relatively fuzzy categories of possible areas of change, such as ‘change in the quality of people’s lives’ or ‘changes in people’s participation’. They are used in the Most Significant Change approach to help (a) define the areas of change that are important to project stakeholders, (b) track whether progress is being made, (c) provide guidance to story collectors and (d) group stories to prepare for analysis. For more information, refer to the discussion in the Equal Access Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation Toolkit.
- Defining the reporting period
- Collecting and writing MSC stories
- Selecting the most significant stories
- Getting feedback from the communities involved about story selection
- Identifying trends and bigger picture information within the stories
- Making any required adjustments to the project in order to apply our learning
In the case of Power Up, data analysis was completed in a workshop with Oxfam and partner staff and select community members once the story collection process was complete. This happened through coding, or categorizing, the types of changes that were described in the stories to identify overall trends in the change that took place for participants of the project.
Learn more about the Power Up MSC process in the project’s final learning review here.
Learn more about MSC as a technique in The ‘Most Significant Change’ (MSC) Technique Guide by Rick Davies and Jess Dart.
In Power Up’s first MSC workshop, participants reflected on how to transform the data collected from interviews into written stories. Prior to the MSC process, participants approached story gathering from an outcome reporting and fundraising perspective rather than looking for unexpected changes outside of the outcomes for which they had planned. The MSC method made it easier for them to write stories without being burdened by ‘rigid’ data because they were involved in determining the questions that they would use in collecting stories and helped to shape the approach. Instead of focusing on set outcomes, they focused on the changes that were most meaningful to the interviewees.
We determined that partner staff often see MEAL as synonymous with reporting rather than an opportunity to focus on learning and growth. We also learned that practicing MSC skills was a key part of a successful MEAL process. Although most of the participants had difficulty writing the stories, the practice sessions did set them up for success.
In future MSC processes, Oxfam will ensure that participants have sufficient opportunities to practice their story collection skills in advance.
There were several challenges related to collecting change stories, including:
- Difficulty managing information that fell outside of the set interview questions
- Collecting an over-abundance of information, which sometimes derailed the process
- Interviewing people who were involved in Power Up as well as other projects – this complicated the process of determining whether the change originated from the Power Up project or not
In future MSC processes, Oxfam will focus on ensuring that partners understand the collectively agreed upon focus and questions, and are comfortable helping interviewees stay on track during an interview.
A challenge that arose in the process of selecting the final MSC stories was how to differentiate between wanting to choose the 'best story', versus looking at how and why a certain change made the story significant. The focus on significance is at the core of the MSC methodology, and this challenge illustrates the importance of ensuring that selection panels have sufficient time to adequately unpack and understand the initial collection of stories.
In future MSC processes, story selection and analysis will be a focused part of the training process.
Feminist MEAL Foundations
The MSC process used in the Power Up final learning review integrated all of Oxfam Canada’s feminist MEAL foundationsThis term means Feminist MEAL: Is an approach rather than a process, is an integral part of transformative change, shifts power to partners and participants, highlights the evaluator as a facilitator, values collective, context-driven knowledge generation, provides a learning orientation to evaluations, is rooted in safe programming, guided by ‘do no harm.’ Read More. to varying degrees.
In particular, the following foundations were prominent in this work:
Oxfam Canada recognizes that feminist MEAL begins with an action – the choice to undertake feminist MEAL and the realization that participation in any MEAL approach is a form of power. The use of MSC in the Power Up final learning review underscored the importance of including women and adolescent voices, which are not often heard.
Feminist MEAL means shifting ownership of MEAL processes to program partners and participants. In feminist MEAL processes, such as MSC, partners and participants are involved in every stage of the MEAL process – including the collection, analysis, writing and dissemination of data (also called evidence) and all knowledge and learning initiatives.
Using an MSC approach in the Power Up final learning review generated knowledge that felt relevant and true to storytellers, interviewees and others who were deeply involved in Power Up. The differing perspectives of the participants brought a rich, nuanced and diverse understanding of what happened in the project to the evaluation process. Such collective knowledge should be central in defining and advancing strategies to end power imbalances and gender inequality.
Learn More about Feminist MEAL Foundations
Read about our Feminist MEAL Foundations in more depth in Oxfam Canada’s Guidance Note on Feminist MEAL.