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Telling a Story with Numbers

At Participant Media, we believe that a story well told can change the world —and we’re determined to prove it. Proof, not only with a powerful character or emotional storyline, but with numbers. A recent joint publication by the Omidyar Network andThe Bridgespan Group supports an interesting idea about creating balance when measuring  results.  In, “Let’s Be Realistic About Measuring Impact,” Harvard Business School associate professor Alnoor Ebrahim explores the appropriateness of impact measurement through the investigation of three sophisticated mission-driven organizations:  The Acumen Fund The Robin Hood Foundation and Millennium Challenge Corporation . Each of these organizations is committed to gathering data which help them optimize their work and which affords them the ability to test, and report on, the effectiveness of their model. However, the measurement approach by each of these organizations is different, balancing both time and available resources to help them with evaluation in the quest for relevant information.

One method that’s particularly interesting was that of The Robin Hood Foundation. Robin Hood’s staff gathers easily observable metrics (for example, test scores for their education grants) and then matches those metrics to other, longitudinal, studies that use the same metrics. Building off the same education example: some education research correlates test scores to graduation rates, which can also be correlated to future income. Therefore, by tracking test scores, The Robin Hood Foundation can also track the potential future income of their grant beneficiaries. Rather than conducting the longitudinal study themselves, they can use already existing available studies to streamline their own measurement practices.

This raises an interesting question: What happens when no prior research exists to match up to your own metrics? According to Prof. Ebrahim, the answer is: be realistic. Get practiced at understanding when it makes sense to launch extensive, more long-term studies and when there simply isn’t the will or funding for those types of studies. In those situations, simply monitoring the observable metrics of a project may suffice- even if those metrics can’t be matched up to other research.

Impact measurement is a relatively new field for video-based entertainment.  As we at Participant Media continue to dive deeper into evaluating the social impact of entertainment with more empirical data, we’ll be looking to collect and monitor our own outputs and outcomes while leveraging relevant historical data that exists in the space.  And, where possible, we’ll look into even more involved, longitudinal studies.

If you have anything to share about measuring impact, we’d love to hear from you! Please send us information you’ve found particularly helpful regarding studies evaluating the social outcomes of entertainment, or simply, your experiences about balancing research with more anecdotal results.

And to find the compendium referenced in this piece, From Start-Up to Scale, clickhere!

–Christina Lindstrom

Email Christina at: reelimpact@participantmedia.com