Assessing Creative Media’s Social Impact

Resource Details
Publication Date: 
December 2007
Diana Barrett and Sheila Leddy
Number of Pages: 

In order to better understand film as an agent of social change, this article offers examples of documentary films that have led to change in viewer behavior, public policy, and discourse.  After examining the successful impact of these examples, the authors offer planning tools for outreach campaigns, an approach to assessing impact, and lessons learned.  This article may be useful to the strategic design of programs and outreach efforts that aim to affect change. Although documentary films reach fewer people than their mass media counterparts, they still have the power to inspire action and ignite social change, especially when the film making process itself is considered as a change agent.  Technology, community engagement activities, and outreach campaigns add to a film’s ability to make an impact on its audiences.  The authors analyze three documentary films that possess the components of successful outreach and engagement campaigns.  These components include: clear goals, a specific plan, an appropriate level of partnership, sufficient expertise and resources, a defined timeline, and a plan to track impact.  In Figure 1, these components are placed on a continuum ranging from simple promotion to more complex community engagement. Moving from an intuition to more concrete measures that show the impact of film and media on social change, the authors note that it is important to “look at a variety of data sources such as survey results, case studies, and anecdotal data.”  They suggest using website technology to track output (number of screenings) and outcome (results of those screenings) measures.  Figure 2 shows the Fledgling Fund’s “Dimensions of Impact” framework that the organization uses to assess its funded projects.  The authors discuss the importance of each dimension and offer sample measures of impact (e.g., audience size, blog participation, mention in policy discussion, etc).

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