Julie Fischer interviewed Alberto Ramîrez Martinell from SocialTIC. This post shares the results of that interview.

About SocialTIC

SocialTIC is a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering people through technology. They are based in Mexico City and Xalapa, Veracruz.  They engage in research, training, support, content generation and promotion of information and communication technology (ICT or TIC in Spanish) in order to close the digital divide, and to build social empowerment. SocialTIC believes that ICTs both reinforce the work and goals of social change and civic organizations, and represents an historic opportunity to widely promote equality and inclusion.

SocialTIC and Video for Change

For SocialTIC, the Digital Divide 2.0 is the difference between those who consume media and those who produce it. According to Alberto Ramirez Martinell, that is the framing into which Video for Change fits their mission. “It’s a time when we no longer watch YouTube or other video content websites, but also produce content for those kinds of sites. I think video, which has been the most complex medium for production, compared to audio, photographs and text, now with tablets and smartphones and low-cost cameras – everyone can produce video. It’s not about any specific technique but about content, about an idea. In that sense, it’s more about preproduction than production, so to speak.”

One of the most powerful elements of video in the work of SocialTIC, from Alberto’s perspective, is its ability to allow many voices that document events, letting people stand up to or simply point out injustices, practices, or problems that need to change. “The concept of The Cloud, it becomes a group of people being in the same place at the same time, taking pictures and uploading videos to social networking sites, seeing phenomenon through different angles and different lenses. So this contributes not just to crafting videos perfectly, but pointing out specific elements of your society and things that could be better.”

Most importantly, SocialTIC’s mission to empower people by giving them access to information and social media practices and tools makes video a single part of a much broader whole. They seek to bring about change not just through video but giving people the ability to come together online, to make their voices heard, and to seize the power of networks online and offline to organize towards change.

SocialTIC and Measuring Impact

Alberto notes, “Impact is a very tricky aspect to measure. I would say that we approach it in different ways.” Alberto describes SocialTIC’s understanding of both quantitative and qualitative concepts of impact. 

By the Numbers

“There’s the numerical way, for example people following us in social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, also funding you receive and events you visit. You can measure that from results and products.”

Aligned with SocialTIC’s mission of empowering people to amplify their voices online and generate strong online networks to lobby for change, they see one set of quantifiable impact indicators in the data from social networks. Numbers of followers, video views, website hits, and other data points collected from the web speak to the reach of SocialTIC’s advocacy.

However, it’s important to consider the limitations of these numbers as measurements of impact and reach, because many of the people SocialTIC strives to help have limited access to the web or limited knowledge of social network site use.

Alberto states, “The technology is very well-structured, but access to it, people not knowing how to access technology – how to send an email or following you on Twitter – that would be the main problem. It’s not the technology. But we have seen that being in touch with people, on social networks like Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter, some people follow us but some people don’t because they don’t know how to. And that’s why we’re trying to reach them, but there’s always a gap between those who need and those who want to help. The most complicated part is not the channel, but the way you connect offline with the people you want to help.”

The Sense of Accomplishment

Alberto also stresses the degree to which many of SocialTIC’s projects are gauged as successful by the positive reactions of workshop or course participants, or community members who have joined SocialTIC events. “But also – and this is where we really want to make a difference – we can measure the impact of our NGO by the people we touch, by the lives we change, by the people we help to evolve. And we can see that in workshops, the people who take it and who then contact us to learn further and ask more questions. That’s networking, its social networking but not the social networking sites, it’s in the real world, and that’s what helps us to measure impact.”

SocialTIC has yet to implement means of measuring this kind of sensed impact and efficacy. In part, it speaks to the power of simply seeing for oneself the people whose lives are changed by learning, access and training in communications technology and web access. SocialTIC draws direction and energy from the continued feeling of success at meetups, events, courses, etc, but they have not sought to measure that.

Alberto says, “We haven’t actually taken the time to start measuring impact in a formal way so to say it, we haven’t decided the methods to do it, it’s just this sense of relief or sense of satisfaction that shows us that we’ve done great work. But we haven’t really taken the time to do it, and it probably would be a good idea, but we haven’t done it so far.”

The “Second Level” of Impact: Passing on Actionable Skills

An additional indicator or measure of impact that was addressed in this interview is the idea that when SocialTIC trains and teaches people, impact is generated continuously by individuals’ practice of those skills and their participation online and in their communities. “At the end of the day, we may not do all the work, but if we empower people to do the work then the impact is at the second level. For example, on a particular campaign we might not produce the work but we can tell them how to use their data or how to produce videos, or how to create a website. That’s when the value becomes exponential.”

How to Improve Impact Measurement

We discussed additional tools, resources or organizational changes that could aid SocialTIC in measuring impact. Alberto reiterated that much of the problem was simply prioritizing the time to generate methods of impact measurement, suggesting that shared tools and practices across V4C / social change organizations could increase impact measurement and reporting by decreasing the need for organizations to develop their own.

Alberto notes, “We haven’t done [impact assessment] because we haven’t had the time to think about what’s important, but it’s interesting to keep track of these things. I think we have gathered the data [from social networking sites] but haven’t had the time to think of the impact in those terms.”

Key Learnings

  • As an organization working to empower people to participate in online culture and to produce content for the web, SocialTIC understands video as one possible medium to engage people and reach that broader goal;
  • SocialTIC includes in their vision of Video for Change the notion of a documentary video element of “the Cloud,” with change, empowerment and alternative points of view emerging from mass uploading of video content that has been made feasible by the wide availability of tablets, smartphones and inexpensive video cameras in recent years;
  •  While SocialTIC has not yet attempted to rigorously measure their impact, they locate indicators of impact in two areas: (1) the numerical indications of audience size and content spread that can be gleaned from social media hits and numbers of events and attendees and (2) the positive feedback SocialTIC has received from workshop participants or event attendees, which has the potential to be assessed or measured with qualitative measures;
  • Similarly to other video4change network members, SocialTIC also sees a “second level of impact” in the fact that their work is aimed at empowering people for life, with each SocialTIC workshop or event allowing their participants to then continually engage with the web in new, more informed and more skill-driven ways;
  • Impact measurement for organizations like SocialTIC could be moved forward with the creation of shared tools among the V4C / NGO community. Suggestions include (1) a tool to allow for tracking and aggregation of social network data (2) a web-based resource for listing and comparing the work, funds, successes and challenges of the V4C / NGO community to allow for a shared understanding of who is having success, and how success or impact is generated.