This report was prepared by Julie Fischer, Research Assistant for the Video for Change Impact Research and Intern at the MIT Open Documentary Lab. This is based on the interview she conducted with Yoav Gross, Director of the B’Tselem Video Department.
As described on their homepage, B’Tselem is “an Israeli human rights organization, [which] acts primarily to change Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories and ensure that its government, which rules the Occupied Territories, protects the human rights of residents there and complies with its obligations under international law.”
B’Tselem’s Video Department was founded in 2005, bringing a new and powerful component to their work documenting human rights violations.
B’Tselem and Video for Change
Yoav Gross spoke first about the way Video for Change (V4C) is conceived at the organizational level of B’Tselem. First and foremost, he notes, “B’Tselem is a human rights org, meaning this is the only spectrum it looks at V4C through – which in some senses is limiting, but it also makes us very focused on change at the immediate level – e.g legal accountability. We are much less interested in empowerment, community, etc., even though it might be a part of our work, and a personal interest of some, like me.”
While B’Tselem does not align its mission with the second type of vision of Video for Change Yoav mentions, it seems worth noting that he and others at B’Tselem recognize this as a one approach that falls under the V4C definition in the field – a useful insight for continuing to think through the definition of the term and the benefits of a broader term that encompasses many different organizational approaches.
Further describing B’Tselem’s own approach, Yoav notes, “B’Tselem is interested in two aspects of V4C, mainly. One is legal, via video as evidence and encouragement for opening investigations against authorities violations, as well as using video as a tool for lobbying or educating authorities – the army, police forces, etc. And the second is raising awareness, mainly to the Israeli public, mainly through mass media but also new media.”
B’Tselem and Impact Measurement
“We measure our impact mainly through data, stats.”
B’Tselem has created an extensive database of the videos created by their volunteers in the field. In as much as the documenting of human rights violations is core to their mission, Yoav says of the database, “In some ways, it is B’Tselem.” Each video item must be tagged with particular information about the video’s creation and creator, its distribution, use, and the outcomes it can be tied to.
Yoav discusses some of the information their database covers: “For every ‘event’ in the field, we list the relevant tapes, their use, and also the correspondence with authorities about them – and by tape I mean video item, this is our name for it since we began in the DV age. So the people who operate this database are the people who insert the data, most are B’Tselem people, and some our B’Tselem video department (my department). We also gather data on volunteers (meaning our citizen journalists), like number of tapes they’ve filmed, workshops attended, etc.”
B’Tselem is able to use this database to gather stats on the outcomes of their videos. “We collect the outcomes as stats – if an investigation was opened because of a specific video – it’s cataloged and we can pull it up in the end. So when a video enters the database, then it is listed as “sent to army”, then ‘investigation opened’, then ‘used by media’, etc. So we can run a query on the database for, for instance, all investigations opened this year with video, or, video items volunteers from Hebron filmed, for example. And thus assess a certain paradigm or phenomenon.”
Challenges to Measuring Impact
Along with the benefits B’Tselem accrues through the database they have constructed, Yoav also mentions what this strategy for tracking and reporting impact statistics leaves out, and where he sees a need for better impact assessment.
“These [measures built into the B’Tselem database] are the ones we’ve discovered help us most. I think that a place that we’re more frustrated with is community coordination, personal involvement and input of volunteers, these are things that are hard to come by using a database, and are much more conversation-based.”
Yoav frames this issue both as a methodological challenge of how to gather and track more anecdotal impact data, as well as a lack of resources to invest in this kind of qualitative community research.
Echoing his initial definition of B’Tselem’s framing of Video for Change, he states:
“That’s also a minus of a human rights org – getting budgets for ‘community support’ or something like that will not be obvious; still, we do it on a small scale.” He notes, “When I say community, I mean the community of V4C activists.”
“I would maybe divide it to two different kinds of change you want to measure – a change in the human rights policies of the authorities, for one, and change, or process, in the personal, family and community level. These are two different levels of change that in [B’Tselem’s] case don’t always go hand in hand. The second one doesn’t have to do with human rights, but with the daily life of the community you are working with – who aren’t necessarily the beneficiaries of your struggle.”
Despite limitations, Yoav describes the type of work B’Tselem is currently able to do in this arena, the structure on which more formal impact assessment initiatives could be extended:
“We hold a large meeting every year for every community (our project is divided to a number of geographical communities), and reflect and watch materials together – but that’s not enough. We also have local coordinators, and hold group talks once in a while, and have even cooperated with an organization of psychologists, but that’s still not enough, and I feel that we need much more, that we should be able to give back more to the community. At this point we do a lot of legal support for our volunteers, and a bit of moral support, like holding screenings, lectures, etc., but we need much more of that – strengthening them in front of their own community or even family.”
- B’Tselem locates their work in a particular area under the Video for Change umbrella term: producing human rights video that can aid / provide evidence in legal actions and to raise issue awareness of human rights abuses within the Israeli public.
- While not specifically focused on community empowerment of their volunteer Video for Change producers, B’Tselem both recognizes this as a part of the overarching Video for Change definition and commits some organizational resources to working with their communities of volunteers (interviewee Yoav Gross expressed a latent opportunity for more impact assessment in this element of B’Tselem’s work).
- B’Tselem has created a database with particular metrics for tracking the creation and distribution data associated with their videos, which is also used to track particular outcomes associated with each video item. This is their main tool / process for measuring impact.
- Generating a more robust research network – amongst Video for Change organizations, academic institutions, and through the encouragement of more research / critical assessment on behalf of individual human rights workers – were recommended as ways forward in improving impact assessment across the field.
- Yoav stresses the need for open, shared discussion as tools and methodologies development; despite the unique situations of each V4C organization, he sees a community-wide dialogues on these issues as a key factor in increasing the efficacy of Video for Change organizations.