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.

Liberate Information to Multiply Impact

August 2013
Image of The StackIn the grant making world we promote the generation of huge amounts of information. It manifests in a multitude of ways, piles of monitoring papers, lengthy pdfs of analysis, carefully crafted responses to outcome statements, endless applications and assessments. Far too often, argues Alice Casey from Nesta, that huge volume of information will remain locked in a closed, a two-way relationship between funder and applicant instead of creating wider benefit by being shared more widely.

In the age of big data and digital networks, information generation on such a large scale could be a powerful asset for improving decision making both for practitioners working on projects and for funders themselves, yet too often it is more or less stockpiled or scanned and summarised. Too often it is valued and retained primarily for its ‘due diligence’ and monitoring purpose rather than for the wisdom or evidence it might contain. Only small amounts of that valuable information is currently being liberated to be re-used in other ways. If we have all of this resource available, and little time to do more than process it in standard ways – why don’t we open up this repository to get some help from others in making it useful?

We know that a good way to begin is simply by publishing the data you do have in open formats. Nesta is starting to look at this in terms of how we could publish our grant data, many other organisations are also in the process of doing this. What might be possible once many more funders begin to open up their information online? For the sake of simplicity let’s put the information type into two rough categories; then make some suggestions on how we could radically change how we use this to create new knowledge and insight. By changing the way funders think about ‘reporting and evaluation’ in future we could unlock significant untapped value not only through opening up data generation and reporting processes but also by asking funded projects to publish their own reporting information online with the aim of sharing insight and becoming visible and networked with one another.

1) Wisdom of practitioners: make it visible, connected and authentic The everyday practical insight generated by practitioners is currently hidden from view in closed reporting documents. It could benefit the projects and many others if we replace this outdated system with open online publishing of reporting information in creative formats instead of bilateral, standardised, paper reporting. The multiplier effect of this could raise ambition, inspire others, tap the interest of potential supporters and ultimately improve impact across networks of practice.

We should try this out now for a number of reasons:

a)     Because we know that we cant provide all the support and coaching currently required by projects from a central source – but we do know that they can learn a great deal from each others experiences.

b)    At the moment, those experiences are not visibly shared, and groups are not generally encouraged to connect with one another to raise standards of development in the sector and to combine resources.

c)     Being accountable to the public as well as to the funder may raise the quality and accuracy of what is reported

d)    Reporting online gives projects a web presence and raises skills and confidence in communicating online

e)     We have the technology available to us at a reasonable cost

It is a great sign that BLF have also been experimenting with blogging through their Silver Dreams project which you can read more about on the BLF blog The caveat on open storytelling of any kind is that we know through pilot testing of open blog reporting for the community engagement project, Neighbourhood Challenge, that there is a requirement for a ‘back channel’ to report sensitive issues and ensure they are addressed where need be. With the right technical solution it should be possible to integrate this and other features into future products. Very interesting work  has also been done through using sentiment analysis approaches through the Global Giving storytelling project using Sensemaker to understand meaning in large numbers of ‘micro narratives’.

2) Create open dashboards for our data Creating an open dashboard series of public resources to aggregate data on key areas across the sector could generate a step-change in the way we use and liberate valuable information.  This could involve focusing also on the specific indicators that can cumulatively tell us about what works in a given situation to achieve a particular impact. A number of initiatives are working on this including the drive towards Open Philanthropy  from the folks at Indigo Trust. They believe that many benefits can be obtained through opening up basic data held by organisations but that the best way to approach it is through communicating the benefits, not solely through an ‘open data’ lens’.

Ideally, development of these common benefits and common information resources would also allow other organisations and individuals to re-use and combine data to create new insights on how to tackle a given problem. This may sound like a huge task but large funders like World Bank and the UN are realising that they do have the convening power to generate early versions of this kind of resource.

Imagine that instead of sending data monitoring back via  a paper report, we could gather data directly inputted by projects through simple content management systems, this would then be turned into a series of live graphics which would monitor performance against indicators in real time. Unicef are testing part of this idea out in a simple way using their devtrac reporting map. In the future these graphics could also be set up to allow users to customise, model and monitor specific variables of interest as the World Bank model is beginning to test.

Visualisation tools and dashboards of different kinds are already being used in a range of different ways to gather insight, particularly in a development and aid context. Interesting providers include feedback labs , and akvo.org (whose products include real time reporting and flow )– they represent a wave of organisations trying to make the most of the network of relationships and information produced in the field and to use that in a more dynamic way. Inspiring examples of dashboard use can also be found in a range of other contexts including social media visualisations like tweetping ; city data such as this London dash and cultural institutions like the Indianapolis Museum of Modern art dashboard. All represent different ways of visualising information in useful ways. If we were to treat far more of the information we generate in this way, getting systems up and running on open source platforms it would be a powerful resource for the social sector – not just for individual organisations.

The Alliance recently published the Secrets of Success report which drew from interviews with a series of major UK funding organisations such as the BIG Lottery Fund, Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Comic Relief; one of the key recommendations was around opening up in this way. Trialling methods to innovate in this space is essential to tackling social challenges of the future – we need to make the most of every asset available, that includes information and data of all kinds. Private sector organisations have been creating intelligence from their information for years –we are falling behind just when we should be using this to take strides ahead on tackling common issues that we aim to address through our funding work. It seems obvious that the best and perhaps only way to multiply those benefits to the scale required is by opening up information and collaborating in order to accelerate wider sharing of practical wisdom, and generation of insight into what works.

If you’re innovating in this area, I would love to hear more about what you’ve learned.

This article was originally published at Alliance for Useful Evidence. Read the original article.

Image: ‘The Stack’ by Lyssah, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.

– See more at: http://www.alliance4usefulevidence.org/liberateinformation/#sthash.kgu3xC0m.dpuf

http://www.nesta.org.uk/blogs/alliance_for_useful_evidence/liberate_information_to_multiply_impact

How community groups can use existing assets to develop local projects

May 2012 ….Extract from Guardian Voluntary sector blog about the Neighbourhood Challenge – a programme I lead at Nesta.
The Neighbourhood Challenge programme has invested in 17 communities with ambitions to test out innovative ways of involving new people in locally led action.

 Many people who work within communities are used to doing a needs assessment to begin a new relationship or project; however, many of the groups in the Neighbourhood Challenge programme over the past year have turned this concept on its head and began by mapping the strengths and ‘assets’ that already exist in the local area. Groups actively searched for and connected up a variety of existing local assets whether that was unused buildings or equipment to new ideas, or people with the skills, talents or time to support locally led change.

This approach isn’t about ignoring needs, it is about finding strengths first. Most communities have considerable unrecognised assets that can be used and built upon, given flexible, supportive investment…./Read more at: http://www.theguardian.com/voluntary-sector-network/community-action-blog/2012/may/02/nesta-neighbourhood-challenge-mapping-assets

Parkrun : Running in Parks together

Ever wanted a bit of motivation to increase the frequency of your so-called “regular” (actually annual) jog? I need all the help I can get, believe me….

In fact, my entire exercise routine is more imagined than actual; for example, this morning I have been ‘doing yoga’ which has so far consisted of rolling out my yoga mat on the living room floor and looking at it in a vigorous fashion over the edge of my teacup.

Exercising ‘to keep fit’ just isnt my motivating factor – going to the gym just doesnt do it for me. After much study and failed effort to motivate myself, I realised the following factors work for me:

1) Arranging activities with people (so I feel obliged to show up)

2) Having some mild form of competition (so I feel obliged to actually ‘do well’)

3) Very very easy to do, and nearby (so I dont make some excuse to myself and cop-out)

Park run should then be perfect- its about local people getting together with sponsors to organise weekly timed runs together. It is run by volunteers as a social enterprise and organised through an online system where you can download your own barcode and then enter a timed 5k run near you.  The barcode logs your time, and then you get an email letting you know how you did afterwards… and all for free.If there isnt already a run near you, you can work with parkrun to set one up!

Nice, simple use of online tools and offline goodwill of enthusiast networks…!

Now, I just have to get there by 9am on a Saturday :/

Where did I go? : Neighbourhood Challenge

So, this blog has been on pause for a little while – but I havent! I’ve been working in my role at NESTA with 17 community organisations who have been showing us how to do some really inspiring work to get new people involved and active in their local area; making the most of local assets of all kinds. Check out this animation we made to showcase the ideas behind the programme. You can also read more about it at: www.nesta.org.uk/neighbourhood_challenge

Neighbourhood Challenge from Nesta UK on Vimeo.

 

I’ve also been talking about NESTA work alongside two projects I’m involved in in my spare time – Otesha UK and GoodGym – check that out here: https://cased.wordpress.com/2012/01/30/mad-2012-7-million-people-the-worlds-most-inspiring-photo/ (Have patience whilst I get the clicker to work!)

Mad 2012 : 7 billion people : (The worlds most inspiring photo)

Speaking to young innovators and social entrepeneurs in Hong Kong at MaD 2012 conference. A fantastic experience to meet young people with ideas and projects to change the world for the better – one step at a time! PS. Carl Sagan is awesome.