Mozfest : Indicators for measuring the impact of news (part two)

So; as mentioned in the last post on here I have been thinking about understanding, simply communicating, and measuring impact in news.

I’m now going to delve a bit further into this; I’m paying particular attention to citizen-interest topics, social justice in all its forms; any stories penned by campaigning journalists, activists and citizen reporters as well as those representing ‘solutions’ journalism.

Mozfest measuring news

In my last blog I got to the basic doodle above after saying that a finely layered hierarchy (a pyramid) might not be useful to us to communicate impact as it quite a blunt tool and implies that change only happens in one way – ie. by climbing to the top of the hierarchy of ‘change’.  I do however think that we can still usefully group this information – so have grouped these basic categories in a simple way that can help us focus on the ‘type’ of change we want to see as a result of our online journalism.

Lets go into this a bit further.

I think we are looking at three groups within this simple impact measurement:

First group: 

1) People read it (Measured in pageviews, click throughs etc.)

2) People comment on it (Measured in quantity and quality of exchanges, sources of comments)

3) They share it (Measured in depth, frequency and diversity of share – eg. across many networks, to non-target readerships)

This first group is important because it represents broad reach and demonstrates a base of interest and potential network emerging from readership. It can of course help inform the content creator in a live way as to how their stories are being received. It could be seen as a proxy for relevance/interest of some kind or it would be being shared, commented on or even read.The challenge here is understanding the diversity of the shares across relevant indicators (are you breaking out of the echo-chambers of opinion?) and also the response of the reader to the content. (positive or negative). So far as I know there is no simple open source tool to help citizen journalists do this to ensure they are not just ‘talking to themselves’.

Second group:

1) They do something offline (Join a meeting in local area, attend a protest etc.)

2) They fund it – probably online- (though donations, crowdfunding, subscription)

The second group represents a step towards making specific change – so to me seems like it has a different quality of engagement; it has a cost in time or money to the ‘reader’. It is a form of journalism that has somehow become directed towards a common purpose, a specific action in a more ‘hands on’ way. The challenges here are measuring how likely the individual is to ‘convert’ into an active citizen on the topic in question and go on to construct a citizen-led response. Are there ways of monitoring this conversion process through integrating relevant platforms like meetup or crowdfunding sites into citizen journalism tools or dashboards. Is there a way of promoting action beyond ‘sharing’ in a more visible way? (eg. at the minute ppl have a set of sharing buttons on articles, what about addition of ‘do something’ buttons?)

Third group:

1) Decision maker interacts/responds to it (Measured by relevant actions/statements )

This is different from the other two as it represents a response, not an action under direct control of the reader. It represents impact on specific power dynamics. If the head of the company or government or whatever you’re writing about replies or changes their policy as a result, then you know you made a difference. In some ways it is perhaps more linked to ‘group 1’ – a sense of mass movement rather than a deep/constructive citizen led movement. To my mind both types of change are required – the one that people begin to build for themselves as represented in group 2, but the one that they lobby for against power as represented in group 3. 

The challenge here is who to target, how to be heard- and how to know if you are on the fringes of being heard by those in power who you want to affect. Are there ways of measuring readership by organisation that could help activists know when they are beginning to tap into relevant social networks of those in power?

It is clear that there is scope to develop some accessible tools for citizens and journalist activists to understand and target impact more effectively. Perhaps they are already being built somewhere? Let me know if you have found some and want to share!

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Mozfest : measuring the impact of news

A couple of weekends ago the glorious Mozfest happened in Ravensbourne college right next to the  02 dome in London. If you haven’t been before you should, (to Mozfest I mean). You’ll find awesome people and atmosphere, something tech related for everyone to get involved in from all the makers activities to the open badges work, and an array of surprisingly nice crustless sandwiches. All well and good I hear you say – but what hsa this to do with news? Well, the Mozfest folks look at journalism as one of their areas for development – and this is my personal area of interest – I beelined it up to the top floor to find out more.

Why is measuring impact of news so important?

We could answer this in a number of different ways. In a way, at the heart of it this is about power and learning. If you control media (or you control your own consumption of media) then in a way you reduce diversity of opinion and stories you are exposed to ; and you could argue that reduced exposure to alternative viewpoints therefore reduces learning and collective understanding. We now use so few sources, increasingly so few websites to get our news -in effect tailoring our own customised ‘agreement’ channels to view our online world. We can easily create our own lens to view the world, one which provides little challenge to our own views and assumptions about the world. Its easy and perhaps more comfortable to live in a news echo chamber, or perhaps to block out the ‘news’ from our online experiences completely. When in theory there is more content available then ever this poses a big challenge particularly to campaigning journalists bloggers and citizen reporters. Aspirations are including but not limited to the following:
1. How to be read by a lot of people (understandably where a lot of focus goes but possibly as important I think are the following three…)

2. How to be read by diverse groups whose opinions you want to shift

3. How to be read and responded to by decision makers who can affect change

4. How to inspire direct action-taking by readers.

The journalism fellowship folk from Knight Mozilla there were working on many related questions, one of which was around what ‘impact’ actually looks like and how we go about helping many diverse and often under resourced journalists operating in widely ranging circumstances to define and to measure impact.

We started with a pyramid sketch on the day:

pyramid news impact

with the intention of giving a hierarchical value to measurable indicators. Pyramids are unhelpful in the long run but can be a good place to start visualising value and frequency as they tend to expose what doesn’t really work in a hierarchical approach – you read more thoughts on it here from Jessica Soberman – noting that as ever the reality is more complex. The challenge is to know to know which combination of variables are important/valuable, at which frequency under which circumstances- so, after our initial pyramids were created I went back to drawing board after meeting and tried boiling down to this crude set of first level definitions that can be combined and drilled into to suit multiple purposes.

Mozfest measuring news

Mozfest measuring news

Where to go from here? We need to add some more specific, measurable indicators and ways of easily tracking them in a dashboard to assign value or weight to the article and try and help journalists target their work more effectively.

I am going to try writing those up next so if you have any thoughts please drop me a note or add a comment below.

Empowering people, and seeing something differently by mapping abandoned spaces

derelict abandoned buildings in detroit urban decay community empowerment

Credit: Luca and Vita : derelict abandoned buildings in detroit urban decay community empowerment

Creative commons images of abandoned houses in USA: Luca and Vita

Vacant buildings are a growing problem in many areas that have been hit hard by the economic downturn. Not only do these empty spaces look forbidding and gloomy, their presence can actually attract crime and vandalism, and kick off a spiral of decline which drives down house values in the neighbourhood, and is hard to break out of. I came across a neat project that is running in Louisville, Kentucky which is aiming to use these vacant spaces a catalyst for change instead of allowing their empty presence to begin causing more problems.

They are doing this in a low-tech but effective way – primarily through community conversations out on ‘front porches’ and using this up to date local knowledge to make more accurate maps of vacant lots than local government does. I’m really interested in two aspects of this:

1) this idea that local people can create better quality data than local government >Question: Where else is this true and how can it apply in other contexts? (Think Kaizen service improvement/Nissan but at the street level in municipalites of all kinds)

2) making this information visible and visual has empowered people to see potential and opportunities where before they only saw problems. Question: >what other ‘visualisations’ can lead to positive empowerment and action?

The very interesting Kibera project which I’ve mentioned before went a step further than Kentucky with its mapping work, in that it actually worked with local people to do GPS tagging and make new local information visible and shareable using an online map. this in turn enabled people to find opportunities for improvement within that shareable, visual resource, much like the Kentucky project and others.

Clear and visually appealing maps combined with GPS and community conversations could offer much more value and opportunity to do the following things:

  1. generate new possibilities, where before people felt weighed down by problems
  2. build local resilience by strengthening social networks/ increasing social capital
  3. create high quality, transparent evidence for change campaigns
  4. help maintain local economic value systems (see @WillPerrin on this in Guardian , though I think it could go further than this.)

We are now at a time when a significant enough number of people could* be potential contributors and analysts of this information, developing new possibilities and insights where before we just saw problems.

Please send me more information on any work you’re doing that crosses over with this. I’m really interested to hear about variations in approach, and also whether you think an online interactive platform PLUS a  lower level of offline work would be even more effective than the intensive offline work alone.

 *Am I right? Perhaps true of some communities more than others, but are those the ones who would benefit most?

 (Thanks to @fastcompany for highlighting Louisville story. )