If there is one overarching lesson that we at The Center for Investigative Reporting have learned over the past two years of impact measurement and analysis, it is this: There is no unitary metric for media impact.
Instead, there are as many ways to measure impact as there are types of impact.
But there is good news, too!
Learning from our own internal challenges in developing a framework for impact measurement and through our collaborations with more than 20 other media organizations, we have charted a five-step course for how you can reach the often elusive media impact.
- Answer this question: What does impact mean to your organization?
When you’re answering this question, be inclusive. Ask everyone in your organization what impact means to them. Find common themes. If there are no common answers, create opportunities for conversation about what impact could and should mean. This process is as much (if not more!) about building internal consensus as it is about coming up with concrete answers.
- Set impact priorities.
Again, be inclusive. Take the list from phase one and hone it to the outcomes that truly matter for your organization. These should reflect the mission and strategic goals of your organization. It is important to have buy-in from everyone: Impact measurement and analysis is an all-hands-on-deck undertaking, not a solo skiff.
- Explore the available methodologies.
Now that you know what you’re trying to achieve, figure out how to measure those things. And don’t be afraid to ask for help! There are media analysts, social scientists, scholars of journalism and others who have entire methodological toolkits of which you never may have imagined. Assume anything is possible, and find people who can guide you in making your dreams a reality.
- Leverage existing resources to start collecting the information you need.
It’s never too early to start collecting qualitative data. At CIR, we identify potential outcomes from our investigations and engagement campaigns, and then we document instances of real-world change arising from our work. We do this using our custom-built Impact Tracker (and we are planning to launch it publicly so you also can use it later this year). Even if these qualitative data points don’t immediately answer questions about the impact your organization is having, they will be invaluable for future analyses.
- Don’t be afraid to collaborate.
Look for opportunities to partner with researchers in universities or other research institutions. Collaborate with foundations. There also are peer-learning opportunities to share learnings and best practices with other media organizations. CIR’s Dissection: Impact conference series is an effort to bring together media practitioners, researchers and foundation representatives to have sometimes difficult conversations about the realities of measuring media impact. Let us know if you’d like to join us!
At every point along the course, make sure your organization’s goals, needs and capacity are clearly in focus and that your staff – the people whose work is creating change out there in the world – are a central part of the process.