In this post Tanya Notley reports on an interview with Sam Gregory, Program Director at WITNESS. They discuss Video for Change and measuring impact.


WITNESS is an international not-for-profit organization founded in 1992 to use video and storytelling to address human rights abuses. Since this time, WITNESS has developed their own model for doing Video Advocacy. WITNESS defines advocacy “as a process that will bring about change in policies, law or people’s behavior.” And they define video advocacy as “using visual media as a tool to engage people to create change”[1].

Sam Gregory, Program Director at WITNESS, says that although they focus on using video advocacy, they also work with organizations that employ a range of different approaches for ‘doing’ Video for Change. “We see Video for Change as a broad banner description for all kinds of ways that people use video and related media as a tool for social justice, a tool for positive social change. So we use it as a more accessible way to describe some of the things we do and also to include a broader range of people who use video but may not work strictly using a human rights advocacy methodology.”
Sam says that while WITNESS has always worked with video, it’s not their starting point. “Our question is: how do you witness human rights issues and present that in a way that compels people to take action? In 10 or 15 years time video might not be at the center of what we do. At the moment though, we believe the capacity to create, share and interact with audiences through the use of visual media is rapidly expanding.” 

WITNESS has created a range of resources to help groups develop their own Video Advocacy Plan, including an online step-by-step toolkit. Their model or arc for Video Advocacy has five key cornerstones that sets out that video should:

1. Be driven by the broader needs of a campaign or advocacy effort. This means the use of video should come out of and be integrated into broader social change efforts and not be separate from them.

2. Start with clear objectives.  So, for example, if an organization is trying to secure a resolution on a land rights case, they can start asking how video might help them move toward that goal and then create objectives based on this understanding of how change can be brought about.

3. Define a clear target audience. Sometimes this means WITNESS advocate narrowcasting (over general broadcasting). So for example, the target audience may be the UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial Killings or Californian legislatures.

4. Use targeted storytelling. WITNESS use and promote an approach that drives the audience to engage with the issue and allows them to see a space where they can take action on that issue. This approach to storytelling is also always guided by human rights principles around ethics and consent.

5. Have a plan for strategic distribution. This is about defining key goals and actions that will get the video in front of right people that are critical to enabling the desired change.

Since their inception, WITNESS has partnered with more than 300 human rights groups in 86 countries and they have trained over 4,500 human rights defenders. While these numbers are impressive, Sam explains that since 2009, WITNESS has been changing their strategic direction “in order to support potentially millions of people to use Video for Change.”

Today WITNESS has two priority areas that guide their work. The first area of their work they call “systems change”. Here they are working to interact with influential or pervasive platforms and environments that serve people working with human rights-focused goals. This means doing things, for example, like working with YouTube to implement a blurring functionality tool, engaging with Google to push for a witnessing functionality in their tools, and working with human rights justice and criminal systems to better deal with the volume and the challenges involved in working with large volumes of video evidence. Sam says: “If you make changes to an online platform a billion people use or if you can help a justice system see 300,000 videos as something positive rather than a logistical nightmare, then you can really significantly increase both number of people who can participate in human rights documentation and advocacy, and the potential impact of their efforts.”

The second core current approach of WITNESS is called ‘Video Advocacy Critical Response’.  This is about scaling-up the reach of training and direct responses to human rights issues and supporting and building video for change support networks (like the V4C network). Sam explains that one challenge for this work is that it nvolves working in less-controlled environments that involve many different actors. This has pushed WITNESS to ask: what are the useful Video for Change skillsets for people who do not think in that full video advocacy strategy arc like citizen witnesses or citizen activists. “How do Video for Change organizations work with those kinds of sources when this ultimately means they don’t have complete control over the videomaking process?” Some WITNESS responses to this challenge have included developing approaches and training resources to help people to film something so it can be used as evidence and providing support so people are able to work with video as evidence.

WITNESS and Measuring Impact

As WITNESS’ strategic approach to supporting Video for Change has shifted, they have also begun to rethink how to evaluate impact. Sam Gregory explains: “We’re in a moment of transition in terms of thinking about how we measure impact. For most of our work with video advocacy, a significant part has been about deep engagement with groups around a single campaign or issue over a long period of time. Typically in these cases we’ve evaluated success by measuring how effectively video has helped push or fulfill the objectives set out in the video advocacy plan. We’ve looked at the stages from the outputs involved in creating the video to the different kinds of outcomes. So, for example, if you’re looking at a video designed for policy influence, an intermediate outcome might be, ‘screen to the key committee that discusses legislation’ and ‘video is received well by them’. So you’ve reached your target audience; you’ve a got a positive reception. Another intermediary outcome might be, ‘committee uses video data to ground a piece of legislation’. Then we look at ultimate impact where attribution is harder to claim. So, for example, if you were asking for a final outcome to be to be ‘legislation to penalise military figures and implement a visa ban’, then you might need to link that back to a range of intermediary outcomes that you achieved.”

In assessing their role in creating impact, Video for Change organisations should, Sam suggests, be able to answer: “did it get to the right people?; did it get the right response?; did it have the right message?; did it support the rest of the campaign?” These kinds of questions are embedded in WITNESS’ Video Advocacy Model and their Video Advocacy evaluation tool, called the ‘Performance Dashboard Approach’[2]. “Using the dashboard we tried to find a way to visually represent the balance between the outputs, the outcomes and ultimate impact.”

Measuring Impact across Video for Change Initiatives

Sam believes that in trying to develop a common framework or approach to measuring impact, there is some value in defining the different Video for Change approaches and models. Since there are many approaches to ‘doing Video for Change’ Sam suggests that a productive starting point may be to consider different theories of change that are informing these approaches: “I think there is some value in saying: ‘let’s make sure impact is measured by starting with the change objective and thinking about the steps involved in doing that. So, do you think change happens through community empowerment, through targeted advocacy, through community organising?” 

Key lessons from WITNESS about measuring the impact of Video for Change

  • Clear social change objectives provide a clearer path to measuring impact and a theory of change approach may provide a possible focus for measuring impact.
  • Within an advocacy-driven approach, audience size is not the key element, rather the emphasis needs to be placed on effective documentation and storytelling relevant to an advocacy audience,  communicating ways they can act and delivered in a timely and relevant venue.
  • Systems level changes, such as to platforms and legal structures and systems, will ultimately impact upon the (potential) effectiveness of Video for Change initiatives as more and more, and more diverse people become part of video for change processes; how should the Video for Change sector discuss and advocate for these changes collectively?
  • The increasing diversity of people creating Video for Change requires a greater diversity of training strategies, and an increasingly robust network of trainers and facilitators sharing expertise.
  • There are unique things about video as a format that may be important to consider when designing a system for measuring impact.




[2] Read a news report about the Performance Dashboard Approach: