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Sunnyside of the Doc: Assessing the impact of interactive projects

In All posts, News & Events by Jess Linington

“We should not talk only about audience volume – we want to talk about varied measures of impact” – this statement framed the following discussion on impact for interactive works. A call to move beyond metrics and into a deeper assessment of impact measurement.

Convened by Storycode’s Benjamin Hoguet during the Sunnyside of the Doc Sunnylab sessions last week, the varied panel included Adnaan Wasey (PBS/POV), Charlie Phillips (The Guardian), Nathalie Clermont (CMF/FMC) and Marianne Lévy-Leblond (Arte France).

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The panel: Benjamin Hoguet,Charlie Phillips, Nathalie Clermont, Marianne Lévy-Leblond and Adnaan Wasey.

Despite the framing, it was difficult for the panel to discuss ‘impact’ without first referring to reach. Marianne told us how Do Not Track has had 700,000+ views, Adnaan mentioned The Whiteness Project had over 1.5m views and Charlie referred to the Guardian’s WW1 project, which had approx. 3m visitors.

And it’s easy to see why these figures hold such importance. Nathalie referred to the CMF’s ‘Key Performance Indicators‘ which a digital project is measured by. These are essentially reach and consumption broken down into four main areas; unique individual visits, sessions, page views (inc. downloads/streams/user actions) and time spent interacting with a project.

Although Nathalie admitted “We realised measuring impact is much more complex than we initially thought” – this complexity doesn’t seem to have filtered through and translated into a measurable metric – possibly because the complexity of it makes that an impossible task. With online analytics so readily available for interactive projects, it’s easy to see why they continue hold such weight with funders.

However it is possible to approach impact from a different angle. At POV, Adnaan stated that “When we start an interactive project, we think about what we want to impact to be… For some projects, we look at the numbers (Google analytics etc) but for some projects, we don’t need to do this … The impact is not always easy to measure”

And this is where the reach can play a role. Adnaan used the Whiteness Project as a key example, which “was a hit”. It was also “a case where its very easy to see the impact – you see the mainstream conversations happening in the media.”

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These conversations were clearly triggered by the project and were rooted within creator Whitney Dow’s aims; to get white people talking honestly about race. However this is short-term impact. Whether it changed people’s minds, or caused them to think differently long-term is hard to measure and also hard to solely attribute to the project.

It is also not POVs aim; “We don’t do activism – but we encourage conversation around the content”. POV also conduct audience surveys on their projects which provides a more qualitative response.

Marianne echoed this sentiment when discussing Arte interactive, “The programs we produce have double ambitions – creative success and a public service. We aim to reach the largest possible audience in the best way”

To strengthen this ethos, Arte are also looking for a diversity of audience in terms of language, often co-producing or releasing their projects through partners in other countries. This is a tactic that has been adopted by CMF/OMF as well. Nathalie described how they “want projects to be seen internationally as it allows for a different perspective that informs a view of the world”.

With this in mind, CMF/OMF now have an agreement with Brazil, Italy, New Zealand to support future transmedia/interactive projects and currently have two financed projects in co-development and one in co-production.

This is something they hope to continue, developing initiatives with financing agencies around the world, “because we believe this can also increase the impact”.

This brings in another key point, that impact is not just defined within a wider public context, but also an impact within developing the field of interactive documentary. Nathalie commented that the technology that’s being developed to tell interactive stories could be used elsewhere by traditional media.

From the Guardian 'Keep it in the ground' campaign

From the Guardian ‘Keep it in the ground’ campaign

The Guardian are being far more direct in terms of the impact of their current ‘Keep it in the Ground‘ campaign. The legacy of the former editor-in chief Alan Rusbridger, Charlie explained “the aim of the campaign isn’t to just talk about climate change in the same ways, but to correspond with the audience and get them to act.”

The project is centered around a ‘sign up’ model, which has attracted 3 million people so far and keeps them engaged by setting tasks, or a ‘call-to-action’ every week.

Alongside this, they are releasing a new interactive story every week, exploring different issues such as the coal boom in China; “the idea of these is you read, engage and share – we estimate this has now reached 100m people in the world”.

There are clear, measurable aims to the campaign too; divestment and policy change. Charlie continued, “This is going to keep going until we’ve solved climate change – this unusual for the Guardian, we don’t normally do campaigning, but this is a huge issue”.

As the conversation around impact and interactive documentary continues, it’s hard to see how there will be an all-encompassing resolution, which I think is a good thing. These projects are varied, in terms of message, style, support and funding – so their perceived impact will be varied too.