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.
This is the second in a two-post series by guest blogger, Rafa Kern. Read the first post here.
In my first post, I wrote about how games can be helpful in training our internal elephant—that is, how games affect our automatic processing and can help us develop new habits. In this post, I’ll explore how games can also affect the elephant’s rider, which represents our conscious reasoning. Before I do that, though, I would like to provide a disclaimer along the lines of the one Daniel Kahneman provided in Thinking Fast and Slow (2011): I don’t think the rider and the elephant are necessarily “true,” strictly speaking. It is sometimes hard to distinguish these two processes and harder still to map them onto physically distinct entities in the human brain. They simply stand in for two generally different ways of processing information. In essence, they are “useful fictions” that we can use to better understand how games can impact our habitual behaviors and identities.
Rafa Kern‘s research bridges the fields of design, interactive media, and education. Kern is a member of the Real World Impact Games Lab at Columbia University Teachers College, an initiative focused on designing and studying games for social and educational impact.
If you’re like most other people, there are two voices in your head. Try it: tell yourself to be quiet. See? Two voices. In psychology, there’s a pretty handy metaphor used to describe the relationship between these two. Think of it like an elephant and a rider (Haidt, 2006). In this metaphor, the elephant is the voice that reacted to your telling yourself to be quiet. It represents the automatic mental processes, which are responsible for quick and reliable action and controls basic pleasure and pain. The rider, on the other hand, represents our conscious reasoning, or controlled system of thought—it’s the voice that did the telling. This system can project into the future to assess the consequences of our actions, and prompt further inquiry into the conditions that shape our reasoning. The elephant can be trained and guided by the driver but, at the end of the day, the elephant is the one in control.
Recently at HI, we’ve been doing a deep dive into studying storytelling in video games. We’ve sampled games from Grand Theft Auto V to Journey to The Unfinished Swan, and engaged in long debates about what makes a game feel “real” and what makes a “good” game. As part of our inquiry, we’ve been doing more reading than usual about games and how they work. The past decade has brought about a proliferation of literature (both popular and scholarly) on how video games are changing society. These articles come in two varieties: Video games will save the world and video games will make it more violent. After all of this reading though, we thought that it might be valuable to back up and start with some more fundamental questions that often get passed over in the popular press: What are games and how do they teach us? We put together the following primer to help place these questions within a basic theoretical framework.
Impact measurement can be an intimidating challenge for film professionals. Social impact is a complex concept with near infinite variables and measuring change in a rigorous way can be a time consuming task that requires a host of specialized skills. On the other hand, the low hanging fruit (Facebook likes, BOX office revenue, etc.) may not be meaningful metrics for a film’s social impact goals. At Harmony Institute, we frequently hear questions like: What’s behind all the buzz about impact measurement? Is it fair to expect or require filmmakers to be held accountable for this type of work? What are some best practices from the field? With all of these concerns, it’s easy to understand why impact measurement can be overwhelming.