About Us

The Harmony Institute (HI) is an interdisciplinary research center that studies the impact of entertainment on individuals and society.

Stories are powerful tools for creating social change. The Harmony Institute works to understand the impact of films, journalism, television, and games on audiences and pressing social issues. Our emphasis on impact brings together research methods from across the social sciences. We apply these frameworks and collaborate closely with media makers and stakeholders to study the impact of entertainment.

As data sources and distribution platforms proliferate, methods for measuring the impact of entertainment have evolved. The challenge is extracting meaningful insights from a multitude of sources. Too often, more data mean more noise. HI has adapted to this new landscape with creativity and methodological rigor, balancing quantitative with qualitative analysis. Ranging from data scientists, to media scholars and visual designers, our core team works with a constellation of domain experts and research fellows to measure and understand the social impact of entertainment. HI develops creative, scientifically grounded methods for studying impact, and applies these to original research projects, entertainment evaluations, and product and tool development.

Our History

HI was founded by John S. Johnson (BuzzFeed, EYEBEAM, and the Screenwriters Colony) in 2008. After years in the film industry, Johnson recognized the need to better understand entertainment’s impact on audiences. HI was formed out of a desire to see entertainment meet the pressing needs of society and to build a bridge between the worlds of entertainment, science and technology.

Since its inception, HI has worked with leaders in the arts and academia to develop rigorous methods for understanding impact. Our entertainment evaluations of Waiting for “Superman” and (DIS)connected combined social science research methods to answer complex questions of audience impact and social change. Combining quantitative approaches like surveys and web data analysis, to structured qualitative studies of participants and issue experts, these evaluations measured impact results and suggested new, actionable strategies for audience engagement.

HI’s original research has looked beyond marketing and box office metrics for indicators of how, why, and when media messages trigger individual and social change. Our approach is fundamentally interdisciplinary, and we’ve drawn on emerging research in fields such as neuroscience and data science to build our understanding of impact. For example, our study of The Walking Dead linked neurological and social media response to the popular television series. In our study of Bully we explored online activism drawing on recent academic work in the field of online influence.

The Harmony Institute has conducted research on behalf of Ford Foundation, MTV, DARPA, and Free Press, among others. We have partnered with arts and community organizations such as the Bay Area Video Coalition, and Orange Duffel Bag, to support impact measurement. Media coverage of our work has included profiles in Science, The New York Times, Fast Company, GOOD, WIRED and others. Moving forward, HI will continue to explore new research methods, develop platforms to visualize and analyze impact data, and collaborate with media makers working in the field.