New tools for impact documentary

In the last 24 months, a bunch of new digital tools have emerged out of universities and digital agencies that aim to solve the problem for filmmakers and film funders of knowing which films are succeeding and how to measure that success. We’ve touched on them in the evaluation taxonomy guide, but here is some more detail on some of the more interesting tools in development. With a big shout out to Caty Borum Chattoo from the Center for Media & Social Impact at the American University and Jessica Clarke from Media Impact Funders, who are always pointing us in the direction of new and interesting digital projects. Of course please be in touch directly with more suggestions you have tried and tested and we will try to update this section as regularly as possible.


ConText is a tool specifically designed for film impact evaluation which maps and assesses the impact of a film by analyzing the web of stakeholders and information related to the main topic of that film in a systematic, empirical and scalable fashion. It focuses on understanding the contribution that a film makes to the online debate on a given issue, and whether the key influencers on that issue are involved in and affected by that debate. It offers a way to understand the public discourse on the issue, to track the key players in that discourse, and to evaluate the impact that a film makes accordingly.

ConText is still very new, but has already proved useful in understanding the contribution of films like The House I Live In. It has the potential to make a major contribution to understanding and focusing the impact work of films that aim to make a change in the way a given issue is discussed in society – so is particularly well suited to films that aim to change minds.

You can read more about the work on how ConText was used to demonstrate the impact of The House I Live In here.

To find out more read Professor Jana Diesner’s methodology paper for ConText.


Harvis is a mobile web application that empowers individuals to share their perspectives and be active participants in collective action-oriented dialogue by capturing their real-time emotional responses to recorded or live-media. In other words, you can get a sense of how people respond to your film, not just by a survey at the end, but while they’re actually watching it – and then use that information to facilitate discussion and interaction.

This is a great way to understand how your film affects different audiences in real depth, and for films which aim to create active discussion, can be incredibly useful in facilitating that.

To find out more, watch this useful film on how Harvis was used by the American Promise team to help inform post-screening discussions, as well as to understand the parts of the film audiences were most motivated by.

Michele Stephenson, Director of American Promise, said:

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“Harvis has the potential to assist our partner organizations to quickly zero-in on the gaps in information and perspective that exist across different constituencies in workshop and screening settings. We’ve done a few pilot screenings in Oregon and were impressed by the wealth of information we obtained along different socio-demographic lines.

For example, in Portland, there was a visible difference in how different constituencies reacted to and processed the emotion and information embedded in the story. African-American families and the teachers of African-American youth impacted by the film were quickly motivated to act and wanted solutions. White men were equally impacted and emotionally moved by the film, but they attributed our son's struggle to us as parents or to the specific institution portrayed.

Harvis visualised what we had already suspected: there was bimodal support for the film that required slightly different conversations and we needed to address the gaze through which people were engaging with the film. Using HARVIS we could better understand our constituencies and immediately identify the points of intervention where consensus existed and where more conversation and information was needed. We could then guide the conversations with this information as a backdrop and revelation to the entire community present.”

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Media Cloud is a Web-based open source data platform created as a joint project of the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society and the MIT Center for Civic Media. The big idea is this that by using Media Cloud, 'academic researchers, journalism critics, policy advocates, media scholars and others can examine which media sources cover which stories, what language different media outlets use in conjunction with different stories and how stories spread from one media outlet to another.'

Check out Erhardt Graeff’s paper understanding the spread of the Trayvon Martin story - and see how it was presented and framed at different points in its lifespan. ‘News coverage about the killing of Trayvon Martin started as a short-lived, local Florida news piece, but through strategic activation of traditional broadcast media and participatory online activism, eventually became the most-widely covered story about race in the last five years. The story drew immense coverage from professional journalists and active public engagement online and offline, offering a potent case study for examining the role and influence of participatory media on media agendas.’


OVEE is a social TV experience from Independent Television Service (ITVS), which takes the form of 'an online screening event that allow participants to watch together and chat live in a virtual theater with friends, fans and experts'.

A platform used to facilitate a virtual film or video simulcast that incorporates audience interaction through live chats, polls, emoticators and social media as designed by the screening host. Screenings can be limited to private invitation only audiences or remain open to the public. According to the organisation, OVEE can gather data about the composition and level of engagement of the audience, how the audience responds to a story emotionally, how the audience shares information and takes action.

Are you a filmmaker or Impact Producer who has used OVEE? We’d love to hear your experiences.


StoryPilot is a project of the Harmony Institute, which uses a solar system inspired model for visualising the metrics on the social impact of documentary film. Currently in the beta phase, StoryPilot incorporates over 400 documentary film projects covering 24 social issue categories. Where users can examine and compare the strategies and available metrics from publicly available sources including but not limited to IMDB, film websites and social media. You can also do an audience analysis, identifying where there is conversation about the film and access an evaluation toolkit that draws on social science theories of impact evaluation to understand individual film success.

Again if you a filmmaker or Impact Producer who has used StoryPilot - please get in touch and let us know how you have found it most useful.

Geek Out: Ideas for further reading

Made byDoc Society Made possible by: Ford Foundation - Just Film Bertha Foundation Sundance Institute Knight Foundation