PyGotham 2015

HI Labs researcher Corinne Brenner was invited to attend PyGotham 2015, here are a few of her key reflections. 

This weekend’s PyGotham conference renewed an appreciation for all things Python in NYC. Python is a programming language known for being concise and easy for humans to read. As the R-using sole holdout at Harmony Institute, I’m still getting used to Python’s conventions and approaches to data gathering, analysis, and presentation. PyGotham was a chance for me to see what others are doing, and get excited about new possibilities.

The range of topics, industries, and goals represented by different users at PyGotham was impressive. From detecting sarcasm in speech to developing a database of NYC boiler information, presenters discussed how they’re using the seemingly infinite flexibility Python to attack their problems. The audience also had a diverse range of expertise required, from the newer users wrapping heads around constructing a web app (Thanks, Kat Chuang) or a data pipeline (Thanks, Joe Cabrera), to more experts debating the relative merits of running applications on cloud container services (Thanks, Jeff Uthaichai and Chris Becker) and scaling automated recommendations in real time (Thanks, Brian Muller).

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Closing the loop between lab and field: Reflections on APS 2015

The Association for Psychological Science (APS) held its 27th annual convention in New York, May 21-24. Hundreds of presentations offered the latest insights moving psychological science forward.  APS, and conferences like it, are a great way to connect researchers across different points of view within psychology. But the vision for connection across traditional boundaries took on a larger scope than ever.

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Measuring Film Impact: HI Speaks at 2013 IFP Film Week

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Last week, IFP held its annual Filmmaker Conference as part of IFP Film Week. One of the themes that emerged from the conference was the rising drumbeat in the film community around the need for greater access to data. This is the same call for open access to film data we heard at TIFF earlier this month.

On the closing day of the conference, HI was able to contribute to this conversation by giving a talk on data-driven storytelling and impact measurement. We discussed HI’s vision for combining creative expression and a moving experience with a system for measuring true social impact.

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Impact for gamers: HI speaks at 2013 Games for Change Festival

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Last week Games for Change held its tenth annual festival. The forum celebrated the year’s most innovative and impactful serious games and brought together leaders in the field to discuss new challenges. Keynote speaker Leigh Alexander challenged the industry to emphasize inclusivity, a topic we’ve explored in this space. Scholar Ian Bogost discussed the limitations and past failures of serious games. He argued that, too often, serious games neglect gameplay in the service of an underlying idea. In his call for “earnest” (as opposed to “serious”) games, Bogost implored designers and funders to take gameplay seriously, not to use games simply as window-dressing to discuss social issues.

Echoing these concerns, HI’s presentation on impact focused on the specificity of games as a medium. Measuring social impact doesn’t need to be tacked on to rationalize gameplay experience. Rather, game designers can capture and analyze data that players generate naturally, taking advantage of compelling gameplay to learn about their players’ experience. We took ideas developed for filmmakers in the Impact Playbook, and adapted them for game designers. Here are seven key takeaways from our talk.

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Real-time impact at Hot Docs

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Normally, the process of measuring impact requires careful planning and long-term thinking. What would happen if we condensed this entire process into a series of panels and developed it with participation from a live audience? Last week, Harmony Institute modeled impact and engagement strategies for two of the documentaries in competition at the Hot Docs Canadian International Festival in Toronto, Canada. Although we recommend you take more time to develop and implement these strategies, the filmmakers and audiences at the sessions taught us valuable lessons for developing efficient and effective impact plans.

Impact Stories: Designing and Measuring Engagement

In the first panel HI Deputy Director Debika Shome participated in live case studies of engagement and impact strategies for two films: Tales from the Organ Trade and The Secret Trial 5. Since Tales from the Organ Trade has just been released and The Secret Trial 5 is still in progress, the filmmakers had very different strategy needs.

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Highlights from TFI Interactive

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TFI Interactive is an event that ties together the platforms, ideas, and stories at the leading edge of documentary media. Held at the shimmering IAC building in Chelsea, the day-long conference featured a revolutionary manifesto, robots in residency, and Play-Doh prototypes of our wishes for the future. Here are some of our takeaways from the forum:

NFB: Interactive documentary

The National Film Board of Canada has a storied history of documentary production, as evidenced by its long list of Academy Awards. Today the NFB is a is a leader in interactive documentary and an example of innovation in public media.

At TFI Interactive, NFB head of digital content Loc Dao discussed recent (Bear 71) and upcoming projects, as well as the organization’s philosophy for creating compelling interactive content. Dao and his colleagues have followed recent trends in technology adoption that show that audiences are increasingly using mobile and tablet devices. The NFB uses this information to match their stories to a platform, an idea that was echoed throughout the conference.

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My Sky is Falling: Testing the principles of data-driven storytelling

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On Thursday, April 11, HI researchers will collaborate with Lance Weiler and Reboot Stories to produce an immersive and participatory narrative experience at Envision 2013, an annual event hosted by both the Independent Filmmaker Project and the United Nations Department of Public Information. The partnership brings together experts from the UN and NGOs with creative storytellers, filmmakers, and new media artists to develop new platforms for addressing social issues.

For HI, these emerging platforms present new opportunities to study how participants interact with social issue narratives. In the immersive narrative, My Sky is Falling (MSiF), participants explore a theatrical, narrative world. The story centers on the issue of the foster care system in the United States using science fiction metaphors. To understand the impact of this compelling and informative story, HI researches will analyze real-time user engagement data, which is collected as participants move through the experience wearing an Affectiva Q Sensor. This physiological data will be mapped against an evaluation framework that assesses changes in audience comprehension, attitude, and response. Our goal is to merge creative design with data science to measure the influence of innovative narratives on contemporary social issues.

The MSiF experience was initially created as a final project for the Columbia University graduate film course, Building Storyworlds for the 21st Century, in the Fall 2012 semester. Along with the Reboot team and other creative technologists, HI researchers helped the students to create the narrative by analyzing data from classroom exercises as well as designing frameworks for data collection and measurement of the final project.

MSiF will also run at the upcoming conference, DIY Days on April 27. Data and analysis from both events will be posted here.

Stories, data, and impact at Media that Matters

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Last week, the Center for Social Media at American University hosted their annual “Media that Matters” conference. The conference brings together a diverse audience of filmmakers, nonprofits, funders, and students working at the forefront of socially engaged creative media. This year’s theme was “Measure for Measure.” While the conference included compelling stories, innovative distribution strategies, and provocative panels, two words dominated the agenda: “impact” and “data.”

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Documentary, behavior, and climate change

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One of the most exciting aspects of research at the Harmony Institute is how it brings different communities together. In October, we worked with filmmakers, developers, and designers at the Bay Area Video Coalition. This week, we spoke with a different but equally interesting group of policymakers, engineers, scientists, and advocates at the Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change Conference (BECC) in Sacramento.

What can energy wonks learn from the film community? More than you might think. The BECC organizers, including former HI Junior Science Fellow Beth Karlin, recognize that solutions to climate change are complex. While science and engineering will provide the tools, the adoption of new behaviors depends on broader social forces. Documentary film is a unique platform for sparking this type of change, and our talk focused on how we can measure its influence.

At conferences like BECC, the learning experience extends both ways. Speakers from outside HI’s usual circles helped us think critically about our research methods and models. One theme that emerged from BECC was an emerging consensus of how to model behavior change in a way that is abstract enough for analysis yet also mirrors what happens in the real world.

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Impact everywhere: HI at BAVC

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Someone listening in at the 2012 Producers Institute may have thought they were at a software startup or a design agency rather than a meeting of documentary filmmakers. “Rapid-prototyping,” “failing fast,” and “user-centered design” were mantras during the weeklong summit convened by the Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC) in San Francisco.

Documentary filmmakers have long embraced new technologies and distribution methods. At the Producers Institute—where the Harmony Institute was assigned the challenge of measuring the impact of the six participating social issue documentaries—we had a chance to peek into the future of storytelling for social justice. What became clear was that any meaningful attempt to measure the impact of these stories will demand a new, accessible set of tools.

Filmmakers are rightly asking tough questions about expectations of instant impact from their work. At Harmony Institute, we will continue to adapt to answer these questions, and are optimistic that new technology and storytelling platforms will continue to expand the influence and reach of documentary film. Here are a few of the trends that we observed while working at the Producers Institute.

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