The Impact of Impact

Video for Change practitioners can no longer get around impact. Donors require video-makers to measure their impact and lately, a lot of attention has been given to video’s role within society and civic movements.

Britdoc’s Impact Guide is probably the most used guide at the moment, but websites such as that of the Fledgling Fund, the Collective Impact Forum and Working Films also offer a wide range of information. The Video4Change network is also currently working on a Impact Cookbook. And for something fresh and different, there’s the “How do we know if we’re making a difference” website, which uses garden tools as impact metaphors and makes talking about impact much easier.

More in-depth information can be found on a webinar on Video for Change and Impact, which EngageMedia hosted together with New Tactics. The webinar discussions between leaders and experts in the field are a valuable resource. The Video for Change and WITNESS websites are worth visiting regularly for blog posts, news and guides. Although gaps exist and not all information is relevant in all contexts, getting informed about impact isn’t all that hard now.

Of course, just reading and thinking about impact doesn’t change much. We need to do things in order to make an impact; we need to put our knowledge to practice. Giving hands and feet to impact is complex and quite often overwhelming, but seen positively, the fact that it simply means everyone can relate to it. It also implies that impact will mean something different to everyone.

Talk about impact to filmmakers and you might discuss different ways of telling a story. Producers, on the other hand, will get excited about creating better concepts for framing films. Then there are activists who perhaps see impact’s practical application as hosting public screenings to gather momentum and build communities. NGO staff members will get inspired to develop screening packages and set up grassroots-aimed distribution plans. If you were talking to me, I’d be sharing my ideas on empowering communities through collectively creating shared viewing experiences regarding local issues. While our approaches differ, our aims are the same: we want to enhance our video’s potential to produce impact.

At EngageMedia, I’m hosting a series of internal discussions on video for change and impact. Those partaking in the discussion come from different backgrounds, but are all familiar with using video for change. Upon introducing various aspects of impact, mostly based on the sources I previously listed, everyone was able to easily relate and reflect on their own work; albeit in quite different ways (just as I mentioned above). What was most striking was that everyone realized they were not giving enough thought to impact. It seemed that impact was a given thing. Holding a discussion after a screening, or hosting a video workshop have become “part of the impact game”.

However, let’s not forget that the rules of this game have not been written. Even academics are still trying to figure out what video’s actual role within social change is. Kate Nash’s enlightening article on strategic impact documentaries for the European Journal for Communication is a great stepping stone for those interested in a more academic discussion. The list of references at the end of this article is particularly helpful. And if academics are calling for more research, it means something is definitely happening, something is being stirred. All of us are in the midst of it: creating, experimenting, falling down, energetically, steadily, but surely moving forward.

Getting back to the impact discussions, other than participants realizing that they’re not paying enough attention to it, our talks have also encouraged everyone to re-think what they’re doing. As an example: upon addressing the need for a discussion after a video screening I should be asking:

  • What do audience members get out of a discussion after a screening?
  • How are you currently capturing the results of the discussion? Are there other ways?
  • What are you currently doing with the results of the discussion?
  • Are there more ways the results of the discussion can be made useful?
  • Should the subjects of your video be part of the discussion? If so, what is their role?
  • Why are you even using video before holding a discussion? Can’t you just talk?

Post-screening discussions are just one step in a video for change process, but as you can see, there’s a lot to think about already. Through trying to answer the above questions, sharing experiences and adding examples from the available resources, our talks brought out unique and interesting insights. We created ideas for real-time measurement of audience perception and discovered ethical implications regarding subjects of a video joining post-screening discussions. At the end, participants were forced to reassess why and how they go about having discussions after a screening.

The point I’m making is that between being knowledgeable about video for change and impact and actually getting practical with it lies an important step. And if you think this step is free of risks, straightforward, or about imitating what everyone else is doing, you are mistaken. The “impact game” is easy to join, and if you’re passionate about something you should definitely go for it, but realize that creating and measuring actual impact with your videos is not a simple feat. We are only at the beginning of discovering video’s role within society. Or as Kate Nash puts it more eloquently in her article:

“Strategic impact documentary is therefore complex with both its ethics (notably the play-off between its tightly calibrated instrumentality and the proper deliberative space of the citizen) and its levels of efficacy still open to assessment. Just what array of issues it’s pragmatic affordances carry through into parts of the public sphere and with what political and social consequences it is still too early to judge.”

Ultimately, the best way to make decisions on how to get practical with video for change and having impact is by starting to share your plans with others. Through acquiring feedback, getting critique and answering questions you will become more vigilant, better informed and better equipped for starting your journey.

If you require any more materials, have questions, or would like to host your own impact discussion, feel free to contact me.