Another way of analysing MSC stories...

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rick davies

Jun 18, 2021, 8:37:54 AM6/18/21
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Hi all

In the early 1990s, when I was doing my PhD field work in Bangladesh, which led to the development of the MSC technique, I also developed another (relatively simple) method of inquiry called "Hierarchical Card Sorting", which is described in detail here:

This method focuses on "most significant differences" rather than "most significant changes"

I think it could be a very useful way of analysing a set of MSC stories, when one person is faced with the task, and other more participatory approaches are not possible or relevant .

The end product would be a nested classification of a group of MSC stories, possibly up to 20 or more.

Is any one interested in trying this out? if so please let me know or contact me for more information (I am assuming you will have access to a set of MSC stories, at some stage)

with best wishes, rick davies

Jaqui Goldin

Jun 18, 2021, 4:41:37 PM6/18/21
Dear Rick 

I am definitely interested in trying this out with our volunteer citizen scientists in the Limpopo, South Africa

With regards


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Fiona Kotvojs

Jun 19, 2021, 4:30:48 AM6/19/21

Hi Rick,


I’ve used Hierarchical Card Sorting quite a bit, first time was when I’d planned to use MSC but the story’s hadn’t been documented in a way that enabled them to be used for MSC. It was great – rescued a potential evaluation mess. It enabled us to do the participatory evaluation, convert several roads  engineers who thought qualitative evaluation was a waste of time, reintegrate footpaths into the design (they had been removed as seen as unnecessary and not part of road engineering).

I don’t go down to ½ cards per pile – my experience is 3 or 4 divisions is enough and after that I lose people and don’t get so much value.

I also use it when I am developing M&E capacity as it is easy to understand, do; collect and analyse data. So we can increase M&E awareness, knowledge and skills quickly using HCS.

Never had time to write it up as a paper ….


All the best




Dr Fiona Kotvojs GAICD

Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist

Kurrajong Hill Pty Ltd

Phone: 0448 453 422


rick davies

Jun 19, 2021, 4:30:58 AM6/19/21

Hi Jacqui

Good to hear

Keep in touch, I would be interested to hear how it goes

regards, rick

Rick Davies (Dr), Monitoring and Evaluation Consultant, Cambridge, United Kingdom | UK. Websites:  and | Twitter: @MandE_NEWS | Skype: rickjdavies

Some publications:

UK Evaluation Society Webinar: "Evaluating the Future" 3rd February 2021  pw: b4y9Wr02

EU Evaluation Support Services Unit, "Evaluating the Future"Podcast and paper , June 2020


Jun 19, 2021, 5:11:33 AM6/19/21
I think I may have asked you this before Rick,  but how does it differ from Q Sort?  From memory it’s less cognitive.

On 19/06/2021, at 12:37 AM, rick davies <> wrote:

Is any one interested in trying this out? if so please let me know or contact me for more information (I am assuming you will have access to a set of MSC stories, at some stage)



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rick davies

Jun 19, 2021, 5:41:12 AM6/19/21
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Hi Fiona

I agree with you re "  my experience is 3 or 4 divisions is enough and after that I lose people and don’t get so much value."

And it would be great if you could find time to write up your experiences with HCS :-)

regards, rick

rick davies

Jun 19, 2021, 5:41:16 AM6/19/21
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Hi Bob

Good question re Q-sort vs HCS

While I have never used Q-sort, this is my impression of the differences:

1. Q-sort works with statements, whereas HCS can work with just about any entity. I have asked people to do HCS with names of people, organisations, geographic locations, villages, project activities, etc. I even did one years ago in Burkina Faso, where I asked a small group of vegetable growers about the most significant differences between the  different parts of a large vegetable garden they collectively managed. One thing I remember was that they distinguished between old and new areas of ground in the garden, because the older areas had been cultivated for longer and were now easier to dig compared to the newer areas. Being a  desk-wallah, the relevance of that distinction would never have occurred to me

2. Q-sort asks people to rank items i.e. statements, whereas HCS just ask people to sort things into 2 piles. i think the latter is less cognitively demanding (but can still be very informative). 

3. Q-sort asks for rankings that adhere to a particular type of distribution (normal, I think), whereas with HCS, the two piles can be of any size.

4. it appears that in a Q-sort ranking the facilitator determines the broad criteria for ranking. Wikipedia: "a subject might be given statements like "He is a deeply religious man" and "He is a liar," and asked to sort them from "most like how I think about this celebrity" to "least like how I think about this celebrity." whereas with HCS no guidance is given on the type of differences that people should focus on

5. Q-sort involves (but may not require?) factor analysis of the sort results, says Wikipedia. But there is no statistical analysis associated with HCS. (Though you can do simple analysis of the tree structures that are developed and where items are within that structure)

6. The tree structure generated by a HCS can be used by participants for simple planning and evaluation purposes (See under General Uses here) , whereas I don't think the Q-sort results are so easily usable by the participants

If anyone has used Q-sort, please feel free to correct my views above

regards, rick
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