Making data evocative

Tribeca Film Festival isn’t the first place you’d expect to find an art installation that plays with sensory deprivation, virtual reality, and biometrics, but that’s exactly where the UK-based creative agency Anagram chose for the Stateside debut of their immersive documentary experience, Door into the Dark. Those participating were asked to “replace the visual with the sensual”  by blindfolding themselves, donning heart-rate monitors and headphones that would provide narration as they moved through an unfamiliar, staged environment.  HI joined forces with Tribeca and Anagram to analyze the biometric data collected from participants throughout their avant-garde narrative experience.

In this post, our Director of Design and Technology Clint Beharry and in-house designer Sher Chew chat about their experience creating meaningful visualizations from the biometric data provided by Door into the Dark participants.

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What is data?

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We often talk about “data” at the Harmony Institute — previous blog posts have discussed “data-driven storytelling,” and our forthcoming web platform StoryPilot (formerly ImpactSpace) will feature data and impact metrics on films and social issues. In presenting our work, we’re frequently asked,“What is data, really?” In response, we’ll be addressing this question in a three-part blog series. This first post defines data in the context of storytelling. The next post will delve into work at the intersection of art and data. The third and final post will introduce HI’s StoryPilot platform as a tool that that can help users navigate rich datasets to inform future creative projects.

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Measuring shifts in national discourse: a case study

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In a fundamental sense, impact implies a change in the state of a system. In order to measure the impact of a media project, then, we might compare the state of a system before the project’s release with its state after, and note any differences. In practice, however, impact assessment is much more complicated; establishing a singular cause for social change is notoriously difficult. Fortunately, new sources of data and analytical techniques allow us to observe forces of social change at larger scales and higher resolutions than ever before.

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Measuring the impact of a purposeful story


Much of the research on the impact of entertainment designates the audience as interpreters. They react to entertainment through changes in their attitudes or behavior. How might engagement change when audiences participate in narratives? How can we measure the impact of these immersive stories? 

We set out to explore these research questions by participating in the creation and performance of an immersive narrative, led by by renowned storyteller Lance Weiler and creative director, Atley LoughridgeOver the course of six months, HI collaborated with Reboot Stories, the Orange Duffel Bag Initiative and a graduate film class at Columbia University on the development of the purposeful story, My Sky is Falling (MSiF). Purposeful storytelling draws on new technology and a collaborative process to explore real world issues through stories. Specifically, MSiF uses science fiction and elements of immersion and participation to introduce audiences to the experiences of a child in the US foster care system. HI researchers were interested in understanding the impact of such an innovative style of storytelling.

Further analysis can be found in our full-length report, which is available for download here.

HI’s analysis was also cited in Lance Weiler’s most recent Culture Hacker article in Filmmaker Magazine.

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Introducing the Impact Playbook


Last fall, HI participated in the 2012 Producers Institute for New Media Technologies hosted by the Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC). We worked with a diverse group of filmmakers, designers, developers, and nonprofit partners to create new platforms, tools, and stories to inspire social change. Throughout the Producers Institute, we developed our understanding of this collaborative, networked field.

Following the on-site event, we have continued to work with BAVC and the Producers Institute participants to build their understanding the social impact of their work. Now, we are proud to introduce the “Impact Playbook” a guide that shares these lessons with the wider field. Specially designed for today’s media makers, the Impact Playbook features applied strategies and best practices to make sense of new data sources and social impact.

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HI measures the impact of (DIS)connected, MTV’s original film about digital abuse


For more than 30 years, MTV has engaged youth audiences with compelling content. From music, to reality programming, to social media, the iconic brand has evolved with the media landscape. MTV uses its considerable influence to help teenage audiences deal with the issues that affect them through programs that feature relatable, authentic characters. In 2011, the network produced (DIS)connected an original TV movie focusing on the issue of digital abuse.

Not satisfied with traditional metrics like TV ratings, MTV partnered with the Harmony Institute to measure the impact of the film on audiences over a six-month period before and after the film’s release. This was the first time MTV attempted to connect the dots to see if its television programming could lead to real world action on a pressing social issue. Fast Company’s Co.Create website, which covers emerging cultural trends, featured the report in a recent article, highlighting a number of key findings:

  • 82% of viewers reported that digital abuse was a more serious problem than they previously thought before seeing the film.
  • One in five tweets made by people watching the film called for an end to digital abuse.
  • 66% of viewers said they were more likely to intervene and support friends experiencing abuse online after seeing the film.

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Followers and Film: The Hunger Games and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo


The intersection of entertainment and social science is an exciting space to work. Not only can we measure the effects of big Hollywood blockbusters, but we can also apply some of the latest research methods to study phenomena that would have been unmeasurable just ten years ago.

Social media has emerged as a key source of data to drive this research. Recently, filmmakers and marketers have employed social media to drive attention and visibility. Our study of Bully’s successful petition provides one potential model for the spread of information. On the other end of the filmmaking spectrum, we are interested in how social media strategy and engagement can affect giant Hollywood franchises. Some of our findings support a surprising new model of influence on social networks.

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