What We’re Learning

The conversation about how to assess the impact a film has had on the issues it addresses has come a long way over the last 5 years.

With the advent of so many impact campaigns and sophisticated audience engagement strategies, filmmakers want to know, what influence did our film have? How much influence, with who exactly, and why? And what did we learn in the process? And as funders, researchers and others take notice of the valuable role film plays in advancing change - we’re seeing myriad attempts to track, understand and communicate that impact.

Press pause for a minute. Is it really possible to measure the impact of a creative work? 

The answer of course is: yes and no.

On the one hand, there are some observable things that can absolutely be measured. For example: what audiences learned; how their attitudes have shifted; what actions they’ve taken or new behaviours and relationships that have taken root. On the other hand, there are some things that most likely cannot be measured. When a story or experience lands in a person’s heart, it can take root in unexpected and inexplicable ways - only to show up, unprompted, days, weeks, months or years later at a moment when it might count the most. That’s the magic of film and other creative works. And it’s unlikely that even the best evaluators can account for that kind of impact.

A strong and effective plan for tracking impact deploys techniques that make a connection between a film, the elements of a film campaign, the intended impacts of a campaign, and the changes that indicate the film and the campaign have contributed to intended (and unintended) impact in a meaningful way. It could also allow you to learn about your activities and strategies and even adapt based on these learnings along the way. It is, fundamentally, a powerful way to make more change happen faster.

An effective plan also enables you to collect data that can inform and communicate your film’s story of impact. Who will tell your story if you don’t?

Great impact assessment and evaluation will help you to secure new funders and to maintain existing funders. In a changing media landscape, this is critical to the sustainability of our field. 

When film teams can report on real, tangible impact, it lends legitimacy and bolsters the sustainability of this kind of work more broadly. Being able to show how your film is creating change in the world  will also impress and comfort all the other kinds of partners we want to work with, from grassroot organisers to leading campaign organisations. Tracking impact allows you to demonstrate what a film project is going to deliver that their army of expert campaigners, lobbyists and researchers cannot.

It also supports learning for the film impact field as a whole, so that we can learn from each other and improve.

Wait. Does that mean that all film projects should always be evaluated? No. Not all. That feels like overkill. But there are some films where it will be incredibly valuable to understand fully what happened. And we need enough in the documentary ecosystem to learn from each other and ride on each others coattails and successes. 

Okay. still interested? Then the first questions are; What do we want to know? Why do we want to know it? How will we use the information we gather and who will we share it with? Do we have the resources or the competency for a robust evaluation or just a lighter touch assessment? What will we do if we don’t like the feedback we get? It’s best to be honest before getting too far ahead. If all you want or need to do is track reach (online, offline or both) then you may not need to pursue a formal evaluation. 

In this chapter, we’ll dig deep into impact measurement, exploring what makes it great, what makes it complex, mapping out a plan with the help of a worksheet, and reviewing a multitude of tools to help you with execution. And we’ll draw on a few case studies to illustrate what we mean. 

From reporting on straight-forward quantitative metrics, to more robust impact assessments that incorporate qualitative and quantitative data, to fully-fledged evaluations that triangulate data from multiple sources and capture information at multiple points during the life of a film project, there are a range of ways to explore what happened with your film. 

We’ll start by helping you refine the goals from the Strategic Plan you made in Chapter Two, then identify some indicators, or data points, that you’ll be looking to gather, using our Impact Measurement toolkit to find out what will work for you. There’s also some practical help on designing surveys and an overview of tools available to film teams to help you make the most of your impact measurement work.


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