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Video for Change Working Paper: Creating and Measuring Social Impact

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The video4change network has been collaborating on a project with researchers to identify opportunities, needs, challenges and barriers for creating and measuring social impact within Video for Change initiatives for the past three years. This project began with the need for the network to develop a common language around impact; but over time it has developed into a conversation and practice-based project focused on what the network and the researchers believe is missing from many of the impact models and toolkits created for documentary-makers and is needed to support ethical impact in the emerging field of Video for Change.

This working paper discusses preliminary findings from our research project in order to consider:

1) what is Video for Change and what makes it a unique media-making and social change field;

2) what kinds of ethical practices are valued by Video for Change practitioners; and,

3) can ethical principles form the underlying foundation for a framework that helps practitioners both design for and evaluate their social impact?

By releasing this working paper, we hope to continue an ongoing conversation among Video for Change makers about what is required to design for and evaluate ethical impact. The final outcome of our research will be the release of the Video for Change Ethical Impact Toolkit (which is now in final draft stage and ready for a review and testing process).

Impact Pathways Framework

Key issues explored in our working paper

1. It’s about the process.

The current prevalent focus on the reception (audience) stage of impact is at least partly the result of new technologies and cultural practices that help measure online outreach and engagement. The ability to aggregate metadata, to use algorithms to interrogate large datasets, and the ongoing development of off-the-shelf analytics software, allows video-makers to analyse distribution and some forms of online engagement in new and useful ways. However, the kind of data collected from online analytics tools is also limited. Other points of interaction, engagement and outreach are not rendered visible by these tools and as a result, other ways of seeing impact can become neglected in a rush to declare success by counting online views, hits, tweets, comments and clicks. For example, online analytics tools will not help analyse the experience people had at a discussion following a private or public screening of a video or the experiences of those who were involved in a video’s production; these experiences can be critical to success and this kind of success can be much harder to understand, measure or evaluate. Also, in many cases, online analytics tools are completely irrelevant to success: participant communities and target audiences for Video for Change can be small (perhaps even just made for the video creator or for a few policy-makers) and target audiences may not be online or have very poor quality or limited internet access.

Therefore, we argue that it is important that Video for Change initiatives do not assume that more is more when it comes to audience and impact or that everyone has equal opportunity to participate in the same ways and in the same places. We also believe this acknowledgement can be used to support an ongoing conversation about the impact of exclusion where not everyone who wants to participate has the capabilities to do so due to a lack of time, money, information, skills, literacy and freedom of expression; or because of censorship or the limited language availability of content or training.

2. It’s about defining and learning from Impact Pathways.

In our research project we use the term ‘impact’ to refer to any change made to a situation or context. Assessing impact means documenting what has changed but also documenting all the things that contributed to that change; it also means capturing intended and unintended impacts as well as positive and negative impacts. Unlike feature documentaries, which often try to directly attribute substantial social change to a particular film, Video for Change approaches often focus on smaller, or more incremental forms of change. Video for Change is more often seen by practitioners as a cumulative contribution to change – part of a social change ecosystem that includes, but is not limited to, media and media-based engagement. This isn't to say that Video for Change initiatives do not have direct impacts; rather, that these specific and attributable changes exist within a conceptual framework that acknowledges many moving parts and contingencies that are contributing to (or working against) the same form of change. Our consideration of what makes Video for Change unique from other kinds of media or video-making has moved us toward adopting a more holistic a model that emphasises “impact pathways”. Impact Pathways refers to the many processes and actions throughout the duration of a project that might contribute to impact. Video for Change initiatives also often produce multiple products and engage communities and movements across the full video arc including planning, capacity building, production, outreach, usage, and evaluation. This means that our impact framework needs to consider the entire initiative – rather than only assessing the impact of a single, discreet specific video output – when designing for and assessing impact.

3. Technologies and practices are not fixed: we need to create a flexible design and assessment framework.

The Video for Change field has evolved in tandem with the movements and organisations involved, and often in-line with the technologies available for video-making, organising, and audience engagement. The latest developments that are changing and driving how video is being used for social purpose activism highlight some of the challenges and opportunities of using an ethically-driven Impact Pathways conceptual framework that emphasises the needs, aspirations, intentions, and safety of communities affected. For example, there are many challenges in applying bottom-up, participatory forms of accountability across the full spectrum of Video for Change initiatives. As we explore in our paper, remix video is perhaps the most problematic of the forms of emergent activism for the ‘Impact Pathways’ approach. The diversification of video forms will continue as technologies develop and as an increasing number of varied stakeholders start to participate at different stages of Video for Change initiatives: including capacity-building, consultation and framing, filming and editing and curation and distribution. Since Video for Change includes many diverse approaches, developing a framework and toolkit that will support both the design and evaluation of impact is proving challenging. However, we believe that a flexible conceptual framework that is underpinned by the shared values and ethics that already clearly exist in this field does provide a useful way forward.


Moving forward

One step we will now be taking with the ongoing development of our Video for Change Impact Toolkit is to test and iterate the Impact Pathways framework in a range of contexts to ensure it is appropriate and usable across the broad spectrum of Video for Change initiatives. We are also seeking feedback from Video for Change organisations and practitioners.

We welcome your feedback on this paper and invite you to become a testing organisation. Please comment on this post or email and[at]


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