This post was originally published on MediaShift.org.There are thousands of meaningful ways to create positive change with storytelling, and metrics to measure the success of those changes. With all of these possibilities, where do you even start thinking about measuring impact? This was the problem we had in mind when we created StoryPilot, an online platform that tracks the creation and impact of over 500 social issue documentaries. We used a few simple questions to organize information and provide a starting place for thinking about the difference that a film can make in the world:
- What issue is the film addressing?
- How was the film made?
- Who was involved?
- What changes were we able to observe?
Knowing that every film’s story is different, we gathered publicly available data that speaks to broadly applicable types of impact. Here are three things you can look for on StoryPilot and how to to interpret what the data is telling you.
As we observed in a 2012 blog post, the last 14+ years have seen a substantial rise in the number of documentaries produced, particularly documentaries that focus on social issues.Given this trend, we wondered: what issues or topics are most prominent among filmmakers working in the field? Does coverage of a specific issue ebb and flow over time? What can we learn from looking at the field in aggregate?We turned to the growing database that will fuel StoryPilot to find out. (At the time of writing, the collection includes detail on 433 social impact documentaries released between 2000 and 2014.)This post kicks off a series in which we’ll share some of our early findings about the social issue documentary landscape, in order to put data about documentaries and social issues into the hands of storytellers. Our goal is to help everyone find meaning in the data, and shed light onto the intersection of film, social issue campaigns, and society.
For documentaries that tackle social issues, financial bottom lines may not be the best indicators of impact. Social issue documentaries have other benchmarks of success: filmmakers want to know if their film reached its audience, changed the way people think about an issue, or inspired change in the real world. Our experience working with filmmakers has illuminated the unique challenges of measuring the impact of social issue documentaries. We see the need to clarify what “impact” might look like—without boxing in filmmakers by using overly-specific methods or definitions that don’t apply to a wide range of projects and goals.
At Harmony Institute, we’ve been working on a better way to analyze the social impact of narrative media. In the past, we’ve researched and reported on social impact on a case-by-case basis. But media projects don’t exist in isolation; they are released into a discursive universe and reverberate within that social space. We recognized the need for evaluating impact in a broader, fundamentally comparative sense, and the web app we’ve been developing aims to do just that. It’s called ImpactSpace. By bringing together big, credible data on films and social issues, enabling comparative, longitudinal analysis, and presenting a fun, user-friendly interface, ImpactSpace is a platform for insightful impact assessment. We’re excited to reveal what this new tool offers to media makers, funders, and researchers, as well as social issue advocates.