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Video As Effective Social Impact Measurement

7 October 2014 at 9:07 am
Xavier Smerdon
Telling Not for Profit stories of change through the use of video delivers a dynamic message and can be crucial for effective social impact measurement, writes Marcelo Zerwes, a social impact evaluator with the ZOOiD consultancy.

Xavier Smerdon | 7 October 2014 at 9:07 am


Video As Effective Social Impact Measurement
7 October 2014 at 9:07 am

Telling Not for Profit stories of change through the use of video delivers a dynamic message and can be crucial for effective social impact measurement, writes Marcelo Zerwes, a social impact evaluator with the ZOOiD consultancy.

The need to evaluate the social impact of activities is acknowledged to various degrees by the Not for Profit sector. There is, however, an element of fear associated with social impact evaluation.

The benefits of taking on such an endeavour should far outweigh the dread of self analysis in the process of looking inward impartially and methodically.

The findings of a good evaluation are most valuable in guiding strategy and resource investment. But how is this rich source of information communicated? How do these findings make their way from the fieldwork done by the evaluators towards the board, management, staff of the organisation and outwards to the stakeholders, funders and community?

Reports are often long and heavy with data, unattractive to some and inaccessible to others. If social impact evaluation is telling a story of change, is the written report the best way of telling this story?

The answer is no.

Because at the core of social impact measurement are people, their stories and experiences. Words and numbers can only go so far in telling these stories. Seeing these people and listening to them is the closest that we can get from actually being there with the subjects and sharing their emotions which is precisely what documentary films do very well.

Words and numbers can give great insight into people’s feelings and thoughts, but being a more abstract medium, it requires greater effort from both who is writing and who is reading for the message to be successfully communicated.

Film, on the other hand, can deliver the message a lot quicker, and often more successfully due to its dynamic, closer-to-reality aspect.

Film also has other benefits. We are a visual society; we are more and more used to absorbing information in a condensed, visual way. Graphics and animation are great ways of communicating data in a fast and effective way, and fit perfectly into a film narrative.

Another important element to take into consideration is technology. Nowadays, with video hosting websites such as YouTube and Vimeo, films and videos can be made immediately available to the whole world. In the context of social impact measurement, this is crucial when addressing stakeholder engagement and community reach.

The potential for using film for social impact measurement is huge, particularly when you start thinking about combining film with different elements in a multimedia report.

The Not for Profit sector has been using films to promote their activities for a long time; however, its adoption in the evaluation process is very new.

One of the pioneer adopters of using film to measure the social impact of a program is the City of Boroondara Council in Victoria. The council’s intention was to push the adoption of video evaluation by the recipients of community grants.

The vision was that instead of filling in the usual mandatory evaluation form at the end of their project, the grant recipient would be encouraged to undertake and present their project’s evaluation through video. In that way, the evaluation process would cease to be a red tape exercise and become a way for the recipients to showcase their programs to others, in line with the grant’s overall objective of strengthening the community.

The vision carrier, Liz Landray, Community Development Officer at City of Boroondara, approached ZOOiD to help.

The result of our collaboration with the council was a two-phase project. Firstly, grant recipient community project was selected and a social impact measurement documentary was produced evaluating its outcomes. The resulting documentary can be watched here.

The second phase consisted in the delivery of a workshop, introducing local organisations and other members of the community to the principles of social impact measurement and documentary filmmaking, and the provision of a simple ‘DIY’ guide.

Whilst the documentary and workshop were well received by the stakeholders involved, the process allowed for us to reflect on the initial intention of the project.

Within the workshop participant group, which consisted mostly of small organisations, there was a noticeable lack of evaluation literacy, showing that social impact measurement hasn’t yet reached all levels of the sector – which is not so surprising considering the high cost of conducting some of the most established evaluation frameworks.

There was also the predictable gap in technical skills to film and edit videos. This was evident  despite the majority of the population having access to a video tool through their camera phones, operating it can still be challenging for some. The more complex task of editing is also quite complex and not applied very well.

The concept itself of a ‘Do Your Own Video Evaluation’ has its criticism. On one hand, the idea of empowering people to evaluate their own programs without the need for huge amounts of funding and dependence on external help to do so is very compelling.

However, if one has to both focus on ‘doing’ and ‘evaluating’ at the same time, chances are neither of these will be accomplished well.

Nonetheless, addressing these issues is far from impossible. Training and mentoring can assist program delivery staff to have a go at recording and editing. In-house video evaluators can be hired for larger organisations. Evaluation frameworks that are neither so cumbersome nor expensive can also be developed in order to help organisations get on board and start their evaluation journey.

About the author: Marcelo Zerwes is a documentarist and social impact evaluator with ZOOiD, a consultancy that specialises in sustainability and social impact measurement reporting and communications.

Visit or contact us at or 03 9381 0610.

Xavier Smerdon  |  Journalist  |  @XavierSmerdon

Xavier Smerdon is a journalist specialising in the Not for Profit sector. He writes breaking and investigative news articles.

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