Measuring Social Impact: Transaction, Transformation, Translation – Part II

Impact touches us all, indiscriminately. Physical triggers, such as hurricanes and tsunamis, are universal, and carry emotionally charged attempts for understanding. To express success in managing the impact of natural forces we use quantitative means: number of restored services or restored habitable dwellings, general access to various needs expressed in percentages. Soft measures – people, cohesiveness, even happiness, come later.

On the other hand, social impact operates in a mental – emotional environment, following a similar path. It is caused by mental-emotional triggers, event, movies, anything emotionally charged or shocking which forces us to find meaning. The success of managing social impact should, therefore, be predominantly measured qualitatively –  by the “level of empowerment” derived from the changed mental – emotional environment, increased ability to translate new knowledge and incorporate its meaning into existing paradigms, and the new found willingness to act . The hard measures are of secondary value.

These derived from the work of Manuel Pastor, Jennifer Ito, and Rachel Rosner’s “Transaction, Transformation and Translation, Metrics that Matter for Building, Scaling and Funding Social Movement” (2011). The issue around metrics is especially critical now “with the problems so big, business so global and the sense of powerlessnesses so pervasive, going at it alone is no longer viable̎” (pg.11). Organizations are spontaneously scaling up into networks, coalitions or alliances and orient themselves toward “movement building” that will “bring research, policy, media, or communication activity, and scaling up with other for greater impact̎”.(pg.11)

Scaling up is as important for organizations as individuals, leaving the same metrics applicable if joined with an additional dimension of “action”. Crucial questions,to determine if social impact happened are:

  • Do I feel now this issue is important to me (did transaction happen)?
  • Do I feel that I am changed by watching this story/conversation and I do feel I have an understand the issue (did transformation/translation happen)?
  • Do I feel I am committed to change it (did action happen)?

Documentaries are one of the best tools for social impact, being inherently made with an intention of social impact. Issues are usually well research from multiple points of view, providing the opportunities for action (often linked to action point sites that offer “next steps). However, to create these opportunities three elements are needed:

  1. A choice of critically acclaimed,well-made documentary stories that help create proper transaction points. As much as facilitators would like to be provided with ready-made lists (and DfC is facilitating collection development of the DfC library) the movies still needed to be watched and re-watched in large quantities, repeatedly.
  2. A physical environment that is safe, respectful, mutually listening/ informing and supportive of community  dialogue. We found it helpful to have people with an intimate knowledge of the subject  and we also found that they are more then willing to come and speak to us. Nothing but personal experience can help with shaping narratives in a way to create meaning out of our new lived experiences.
  3.  A plan of action at each gathering (that is considered to have an individual “civic action identity”) that will outline one specific action (petition, letter, commitment to participate in the rally, to change one health habit for four weeks) to be followed it through. We found that social media and Facebook pages are potentially helpful to facilitate continuous engagement

And yet, once we also accept that the process needs to remain open and uncontrolled we can potentially grow programs and movements organically, from inside out, by emergence.

Please follow us – Documentaries for Change and save the date: Documentaries for Change Conference, October 16, 2014


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