Thursday, May 8, 2014

Creating An Impact Community

Lindsay Green-Barber is the Media Impact Analyst at The Center for Investigative Reporting. We're pleased to share her thoughtful reflection on the issue of assessing impact within the fields of media and journalism. The point she raises at the end of her piece around the "immeasurable" value of connecting to share personal stories and lessons learned in service of creating a "true community of practice" really resonates with us here at TWI. It also touches on the ongoing question many of us grapple with in this work around how to capture the impact of the seemingly immeasurable. 

Creating An Impact Community 
By Lindsay Green-Barber
Since I began my position as media impact analyst at The Center for Investigative Reporting last July, I've connected with many people working to measure, analyze and maximize the impact of media. Through phone calls, Skype meetings, Google Hangouts and emails, my contacts have generously shared their strategies, best practices and frustrations. While some were already connected through professional and social networks, when I began there wasn't a coherent community of practice: journalists were in one silo, documentary filmmakers in another, foundations occupying a third, academics in the ivory tower and so on.
It was clear that my peers were facing many of the same challenges around how to define, track and measure impact. There was always a lot of "Do you know Jessica in New York?" or "Have you spoken with Sarah in D.C.?" when it came to suggesting people to talk to about measuring impact. Also, I found I was repeating myself a lot in explaining my approach to impact analysis.
To draw together these disparate conversations in one place and set a shared agenda with others committed to examining questions about media impact, CIR created and hosted its first Dissection: Impact event in Oakland, Calif., in October. Media makers, academics and foundation representatives attended the event to "dissect" both the concept of impact and tools for measuring it. The first Dissection was experimental, but the spontaneous combustion of ideas assured us we had touched on something valuable. CIR hosted Dissection B: Impact in January at Mercer University's Center for Collaborative Journalism in Macon, Ga.
A few weeks ago, CIR hosted two more Dissection: Impact events: one in New York City and the other inWashington, D.C. Participants from the first two Dissections rejoined us, along with a new cohort of individuals and organizations – especially from public media – who infused the events with new ideas and concerns. During the course of these thought-provoking gatherings there were five core strands of conversation.
1. Impact feeds sustainability
CIR's goal is to produce stories that protect the most vulnerable individuals and communities and hold powerful institutions accountable. Our funders invest in investigative reporting as a powerful and necessary force in our democracy, while at the same time expecting us to demonstrate measurable success in achieving our mission. Thus, impact measurement and analysis is increasingly essential to organizational sustainability.
"When I ran a newspaper, profit was driven by ad revenue," says CIR Executive Director Robert J. Rosenthal. "For CIR, and other journalism organizations, impact helps forge the revenue that sustains us." Impact translates into philanthropic revenue, membership, partnerships and an understanding by the public that investigative journalism is relevant to them and can touch their lives.
During CIR's Dissection in Washington, we learned from NPR that it defines impact as behavior or attitudinal change, the process by which NPR "creates a more informed public – one challenged and invigorated by a deeper understanding and appreciation of events, ideas and cultures.” When NPR successfully achieves this type of impact, its listeners will likely feel an emotionally significant bond with stations and become members, share material online or talk about programming with others who will then be exposed to NPR and/or local stations. Thus, in the case of NPR, impact (attitudinal change) is linked to sustainability.
The specific process linking impact to sustainability will be different for each organization. There was a consensus among Dissection participants that by dissecting the process of anticipating and tracking impact, we can discover new ways to translate the good we do into outcomes that contribute to our sustainability.
2. Shared language
During all of CIR's Dissections, words like taxonomy and typology came up time and again in discussions. Wonky words aside, everyone recognized the need for a shared language around impact that is both expansive and specific.
Some universally agreed-upon elements of the emerging framework were
  • Impact is change.
  • Impact is an ongoing, iterative process (not a phase in evaluation).
  • There are many types of impact, from attitudinal change to law change.
  • Impact of an organization flows directly from its mission.
  • Organizational culture must value capturing and understanding impact.
During the New York meeting, a working group formed to further the conversation around this issue. If you work in a media organization, you can help with this project by filling out this survey.
3. Big data versus thick data
We have more data than we need. Participants at CIR's Dissections recounted organizational histories in which attempts to capture all the data associated with Nielsen ratings, online comments, likes and shares, page-related analytics and other sources were so overwhelming and ultimately so useless that they quit data gathering altogether.
Rather than thinking solely about "big data," we need to think about useful data. What can we glean from the data streams to which we have access? Which data are indicators of what phenomena? How can we get not only big, but qualitative, "thick" data?
4. We need humans
In order to parse the relevant data from the "noise," impact analysis requires humans with the appropriate skill set to carry out this type of research. Analysts might need to be able to do textual, network and/or statistical analysis in order to make sense of not only the plethora of data available, but to identify other data sources not traditionally included in impact assessment. For example, if a media organization is interested in effecting attitudinal change, impact analysis might include surveys of listeners or textual analysis of online comments.
5. Community
"Keep me in the loop" has been the most common parting at all four CIR Dissection: Impact events. The value of face-to-face time to share experiences and strategies and to make the connections needed in order to form a true community of practice is immeasurable.

Re-posted from

Friday, May 2, 2014

Relationships Are (The) Work

Sean Thomas-Breitfield is the Co-Director of The Building Movement Project, a grantee of TWI. We're Pleased to share his recent reflection on the importance of relationships in movement building, a theme that strongly emerged from Building Movement's insightful evaluation of the New Bottom Line Campaign. It's great to see the power of relationships explicitly raised up in this way. What might happen if more funders started explicitly directing resources to building them in whatever work they are supporting?

Relationships Are (The) Work
Written by Sean Thomas-Breitfield

Lately, I’ve been thinking about relationships. Maybe it’s that my partner just proposed to me. Or maybe it was the time with our Project Team earlier this month working, laughing, and struggling together. Either way, it’s becoming clear how important relationships are in the social change sector.
Relationship building was a theme that came out of our evaluation of the New Bottom Line campaign. The success of the NBL campaign to advance innovative policy ideas and Dump DeMarco was just as important (and was maybe even a lesser accomplishment in some people’s assessment) as the deeper connections that grew between the organizations, staff and members who worked together on the campaign. One of the most telling quotes from the interviews and survey we did with NBL’s stakeholders reflects why relationship building matters:
... the long-term commitment to each other has deepened relationships. We’ve hung together through good times and bad, and as a result feel very close to the other organizations and feel like I could bring a critique to these allies, ask for their help and be vulnerable with them.
This quote reflects a surprising level of intimacy. Words and phrases like “commitment,” hanging together through “good times and bad,” and “be(ing) vulnerable” all sound like the things that would be said about an intimate relationship between friends or lovers, not coalition partners. But the reality is that long-term movement building requires that same level of trust, openness and acceptance.
The usual ways that coalition partners talk about and relate to each other doesn’t work in today’s political context. Temporary, transactional alliances between advocates are just not powerful enough to challenge the deep alignment between corporate power and a conservative governing philosophy that only benefits the wealthy. In a sector where scarcity is real and there’s not enough money or credit to go around, a strong relational grounding makes it more likely that activists and organizations will see these bad times as the very times to hang together. Stronger relationships also help activists see the connections between our struggles and deepen commitment to collective solutions.
The old theory that relationships just happen by doing the “real” work is fortunately giving way to greater focus and intentionality on building deep relationships. Here are some ways groups have started the process. Storytelling is one practice that the domestic workers movement drew on to build connections and energize their campaigns, and many other groups are weaving narrative strategies into their organizer trainings to foster a deeper level of connection between movement activists. Some groups have the resources to take retreats and cram as many relationship building activities into a day or two as is humanly possible, and programs like Rockwood’s Art of Collaborative Leadership are very strategically fostering relationships between leaders in particular movements and sectors. Creative “un-networking events” are also emerging where people commit to NOT talk about their professional identities, in order to focus on cultivating authentic relationships first and then figuring out the transactional piece of how they can work together after.
The truth is that relationships have always been important in our movements and social change work. They are the basis of trust, and the foundation of what differentiates movement building alliances from so many other (and necessary) formations. Temporary, transactional connections will always have their usefulness, but the growing recognition of the importance of relationship building is a critical Investment in connecting groups, reaching beyond organizational boundaries, and building the movement infrastructure we need to win lasting social change.