Defining Video for Change and Impact

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Defining Video for Change and Impact

‘Video for Change’ is the use of video as an approach to support social movements, document rights violations, raise awareness and share knowledge on social or environmental issues, or to otherwise contribute to social change. Any change made to a situation or context that can be attributed to the use of video is seen as impact.

  • How do we define what ‘impact’ is?
  • Can you share an example of impact you have achieved through the use of video?
  • In what ways can or should video be embedded within larger advocacy campaigns or strategies to effect impact?
  • How would we distinguish between different kinds of impact?
I'm really glad we are

I'm really glad we are finally having this webinar. Thank you so much to Brent and Egbert for making this happen.

To start, I'd like to attempt to respond to the initial questions and share my thoughts about the topic.

I think in the Video for Change context, "impact" is how our video -- the production of it, the video product itself, and the distribution of the video -- affects everyone involved in it. What are the effects of a video initiative on the community, on sectors of a community, on the individuals who are part of making the video, on the people who are being interviewed / covered in the video, and on the people who are viewing the videos?

There's also an embedded assumption -- and correct me, please, if I'm wrong -- that "impact" is a positive thing. So, I would like add to the mix of questions: How do we define negative impact of a Video for Change initiative?

And, yes, how does a video initiative contribute to a larger movement and advocacies on specific social change goals? I think that Video for Change initiatives will have to be part of the larger picture of social change -- how it is embedded has can be relative ... For example, a video initiative can be used an advocacy tool to raise awareness on an issue. Video, after all, is a more effective medium to inform other people about an issue than pages of pages of text. Or is that a limited way of understanding how video can be embedded in larger social movements and campaigns?

Can a specific video spark its own advocacy and movement? If so, how?

Or how can the video production process -- who's speaking, whose gaze, whose perspective is deliberately chosen -- have an impact on community, on an issue, on the video makers and on the video product itself? I feel that our partners who are more experienced in Participatory Video will have great insight on this.

I'll stop there for now. I look forward to what the rest have to say.



Video impact on specific social change issues

Cheekay - thank you for staring off the conversation.

You wrote, "how does a video initiative contribute to a larger movement and advocacies on specific social change goals? I think that Video for Change initiatives will have to be part of the larger picture of social change -- how it is embedded has can be relative ... For example, a video initiative can be used an advocacy tool to raise awareness on an issue. Video, after all, is a more effective medium to inform other people about an issue than pages of pages of text.

Video is indeed a powerful medium and so much information can be conveyed in just a few minutes. I'd like to share a video link - Our Beaches are NOT FOR SALE. This video was used to raise awareness to save public access to beaches in Aqaba, Jordan. It also played a big role in the re-examination of what constitutes "development". Using a variety of tactics, including the video, the organization was able to halt the development and preserve public access to the remaining beach front and build a new level of environmental awareness resulting in the formation of the first union of environmental associations in Jordan. However, the advocacy is on-going as the "halt" has not yet been guaranteed in law. 

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a video advocacy approach among impact frameworks

Defining impact is going to involve weighing up a set of priorities around process, outcome and long-term change, and being clear about who gets to decide this balance of prioritization. One framework I have used for starting a conversation around impact using video draws on some impact pathways developed in the V4C network's impact research (with some additional shorthand added in "")

-Creating attention in your or external communities (“impact on the discussion”)
-Changing policies, structures and practices (“impact on the real world”)
-Changing individual or collective minds and behaviours (“impact on the real world”)
-Building movements and creating individual and collective power (“impact on our power”)
-Building capacities and learning (“impact on our learning”)

At WITNESS ( much of our experience has focused on the combination of building capacity and learning among communities to use video, and then in translating this into 'video advocacy' that aims to change policy, practicies or practices in the external world. A 'video advocacy' approach focuses on engaging with specific audiences around particular objectives, and using the tactical advantages of video to the maximum effect - it's accessibility, ability to communicate voice and grassroots realities. A good intro video is here. Our experience suggests that video is always most effective when embedded in other campaigning, mobilizing and advocacy strategies from community organizing, to public policy lobbying to pushing for legal reform.

More recently we have been working alot on the ability of multiple video creators and participants in using video in the ecosystems created by millions of people with mobile phone cameras to combine for impact. Here, there is less of a defined path of one creator controlling the whole process but more collaboration within a range of participants from bystanders filming police violence, to media activists working with that footage, to lawyers pressing cases for accountability around it. I look forward to us talking about how to grapple with these more complex video-for-change ecosystems and how to assess impact in them, where agency lies on this, and how risk (and negative impact) is managed.

V4C network impact research

Hi Sam,

Could you provide some links to the methodology and the best applications of the research?  Having some examples out there might also jumpstart the conversation. 


Research links

Hi Ted,

the best links for the research are this overview page -

and the paper -


Video for Change impact & complex/undefined participant groups

Hi everyone,

I'm just catching up on the discussion from Australia. Nancy I liked your 'our beaches are not for sale' video and it reminded me of some advocacy against private beach ownership in Lebanon which I learn about at an event and then here. Video was not used in this story but one way the campaign was developed was by putting up images (Google earth images) and crowd-sourcing information as to who owned the house that was closing off public access to the beach shown in the image. The movement was built really around actions and media and grew over time. So in a way I think this too raises the same issue Sam discussed. When advocacy media is created there is not always a clearly defined affected group or community group who can act as the starting point for thinking about impact. In this case, anyone who wants free beaches in their country is affected by the issue. The media created was made by a small group who got together to take action and the group and people who affiliated with that group grew over time. But there were risks with the campaign: it invited people to discuss what was essentially political corruption and to do this in online public spaces. So although the potential participants and supporters were unknown, the potential impacts still could be carefully considered. I am thinking aloud here, sorry! I guess what I'm trying to say is that even when media is created to build a movement, to gather intelligence, to document abuses, and the participants or supporters are unknown at the time a campaign video is made.....there is still lots of planning that can take place to think through the potential Impacts (benefits and risks) on different kinds/groups of actors.

Cheekay mentioned that it would be great to hear from folks who focus on participatory video as their approach to video making. I agree. In case it’s useful, we (Cheekay, Sam, myself and others) developed a list of different kinds of Video for Change approaches (listed here on this blog post as the result of research reported here). We did this so we could think through complex and different needs when we started developing our thinking on Video for Change and Impact. I mention this because I don’t think we should be surprised that someone who values or comes from a tradition of participatory video will probably think differently about planning for impact and evaluating impact than say someone doing citizen journalism video or video mash-ups using news or historical footage. It’s not that I think ‘anything goes’ when it comes to Video for Change and impact – but this need for flexibility is why we started to think about values and ethics before pre-defining what impact means and how it must be designed for/evaluated.

Looking forward to hearing your ideas.






Impact study questions from a beginner :)

Dear friends

I have been following the conversation thread and it has been very informative. Thank you for your wonderful input.

I will be carrying out an impact study on a documentary film which will be produced at the FreedomFilmFest (a human rights film festival in Malaysia) this year. This is the first time we will be doing an impact study and I have some basic questions. And I would welcome you guys to further point me to the complexities of this subject. By the way, I have been reading up on impact at videos4change and Please do suggest further links. 

1. Working with the filmmaker - how involved should the filmmaker get in the impact study as the vision of the story is related to the impact. Any advice? 

2. Evaluating the impact itself, if we look at one example which Sam mentioned:

Changing individual or collective minds and behaviours (“impact on the real world”)

  • How do we measure this change/please share with us the methodology that has been used.
  • How large should a sample be?
  • Given the kind of restriction on screening films/videos in Malaysia, promotion and media coverage can sometimes be challenging. How can we overcome the limited outreach to the mass and yet assess impact? 

3. Realistically, what is the research team size needed? This would depend on many factors - perhaps if you can share your experience of the impact study carried out and how many people were involved, for what kind of duration?

Thank you. Hope to hear from you guys soon :)



Assessing impact: steps to take before, managing capacity

Hi Brenda,

One key question to engage with here might be how to think about the filmmaker's role and the level of their autonomy around advocacy and impact. Are they coming in to explicitly make an advocacy/video4change film or do they see themselves as more traditional documentary film-maker. I might reverse your first question and ask not - 'How involved should the filmmaker get in the impact study?" and ask at the initial stage "How much is the filmmaker thinking about their approach in terms of impact?" (which could include using a video advocacy framework, a participatory framework), this could then help you set parameters and expectations for the impact study.

For an approach on changing collective minds and behaviours the most rigorous work in this arena is often in public health communications and draws on before/after samples and assessing both attitudes and actual behaviour.  Here's an example looking at different narratives engaging people around vaccination:

I think given the resources I anticipate you have: i) can you do a representative sample that is within your budget and measure before/after ii) can you go with a more anecdotal approach where you talk to a few key influencers in your community. 

In terms of media restrictions one core question would also go back to how you reach your audience and how you measure impact. Impact isn't necessarily because of size of audience but also because of their relevance to an issue (so you could be working at a small community level, or to influence a group of decision-makers) Undoubtedly mass media can amplify the reach of a video, but there could be other ways to reach your audience. WIthout knowing the law in Malaysia, what are the regulations on doing community screenings? (which allow you to not only screen a film but also initiate dialogue around the media in a way that you can't typically do with mass media discussions).


Hi Brenda

As I wrote below, you can take a look at our impact report for Who Is Dayani Cristal? for an example of how we constructed our evaluation. In our case, Marc Silver, the director/filmmaker and creator of the entire project, was a leader with me in constructing our strategy, how we implemented it, and how we evaluated it. We retained two external evaluators to assess our impact, but we shaped the narrative and the report, and therefore we are all credited equally as authors. This was a fantastic relationship, because Marc is an artist/activist with a deep understanding of both strategy and tactics, as well as simply knowing how to tell a good story. I don't know how well it would have worked out with a different filmmaker, so as Sam says, I think this has to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. 

Regarding outreach and engagement, I'm also going to agree with Sam in that it isn't the numbers of people reached that is primary or determinative, but who they are, what influence they have over the outcome, and how the discussion has been framed. I think we also have to understand that video and film are, again as I said below, only one arrow in a full quiver of tools that we need to deploy, and so overcoming limited outreach has to be thought of in terms of the larger cultural dialogue and landscape. What other events and assets can you pair with, in other words? 

a helpful taxonomy for different types of films and impacts
This post is in response to the question posed "How would we distinguish between different kinds of impact?"
The organization I previously worked at, Active Voice Lab, offers fantastic resources around measuring and evaluating impact around film. I definitely recommend that anyone interested in these topics take a look!

For example, they launched the website "How Do We Know If We're Making a Difference?" which offers a very useful taxonomy for thinking about the different types of impact that film and media can have. I think it’s often easy to forget that there are different ways that film can create change. Some films expose injustices around pressing social issues that are typically unknown to the general public (e.g., The Invisible War), while other films can serve as a springboard to spark conversation around traditionally sensitive topics (e.g., The New Black). “Impact” can translate to something very different from film to film, and one type of impact is not necessarily better than the others!

Active Voice Labs’ framework around film and different types of impact uses horticulture and garden tools as metaphors. Just as some gardening tools are better used than others to achieve specific results, the same type of thinking can be applied to considering how different films lend themselves better than others towards different types of impact. For example, a rake "scratches the surface of an issue to engage people with different perspectives around common values." This is very different than a trowel, which you use to "dig in deeply and deliberately to plant a seed of advocacy." This is not to say that all films fit cleanly into just one “tool” profile, as there are definitely hybrids. However, this taxonomy is an invaluable planning tool to help better understand the film you are working with and its “sweet spot” for impact and change, which can inform your strategy for its community engagement campaign (e.g., bringing it to the community, establishing collaborations and partnerships, etc.).

Read more about the horticulture tools here: Give it a try: think of a film that you recently saw that you think made an impact on you. What type of tool would you classify it as? How does this help you think even further about how you might use or leverage that film for change? 

Video in the landscape of impact

Hi all, 

Happy to be joining this conversation mid-stream -- it's been a fascinating and valuable read so far. I'm picking up from the top comment here, from Cheekay, in which you say "I think in the Video for Change context, "impact" is how our video -- the production of it, the video product itself, and the distribution of the video -- affects everyone involved in it." This is a great framework through which to think about aspects of storytelling that concern us at Regarding Humanity, which are agency and representation. But I'll get into that part of my discussion in a later comment. 

For the moment, I'd like to build on Cheekay's comment and explore where video and image fit into a larger landscape of impact. In terms of social issue film, often we think of films and videos as the crux of a campaign, around which engagement plans are built. But it has always made more sense to me to understand better where video fits into an ecosystem of change-- whether that (positive, one hopes) change is achieved through a campaign, a movement, a project, or a program -- and how it can be deployed as a tool and an asset through which we both passively shed light on injustice or opportunity, and / or actively use the story as a driver of change. In the first instance, that of "shedding light," the impact is certainly how the video has affected everyone involved. In the second instance, we go beyond that construction of impact to understanding how the video has been deployed toward the underlying impact goal, and most importantly, how communities and stakeholders use video to support evidence basis, proxy, argument, hypothesis, model, or evaluation.

In the social impact campaign for Who Is Dayani Cristal?, for which I am the social impact strategist, we took the perspective of video as a tool could both shed light on the injustices we were addressing, and act as a driver of change in the hands of advocates and activists -- on the issue of migrant rights and migrant deaths along the U.S.-Mexico border. We used short films, images, and text, to tell a larger story of the system of migration in the Americas, and used video to both demonstrate the "human," "blood-and-bone" effects of border policies on ordinary people, and to provide an avenue for community voice to help shape decisionmaking. The way we designed the experience can be seen in our Learn section. And our methodology and ultimate impact can be seen in our Impact Report.

What both perspectives on video for change I mention above have in common, and what I think is encapsulated in both Cheekay's comment and in all the above discussion around participatory video, is that the creation and distribution of video is itself a social process. Creating and using video for change is therefore inherently a social change -- and in the hands of savvy activists or change agents, catalyzes further processes of change that are sustained and embedded within communities. We do have to remember when we get to a discussion on impact evaluation that this type of social change -- that of social process -- is very difficult to measure, albeit not necessarily to perceive or evaluate. But that is for another post, as well. 



impact methods and measuring the hard to measure!

Lina thanks so much for this rich example and post.  Do you mind telling us a bit about the methods you used to assess the impact for this film? I'd love to hear your reflections. (I was unable to follow the link to the impact report if you can possible check this?)

I also really appreciate your point about how some things are easier to measure than others! Do you have any thoughts on assessing harder to measure things like a change of heart/emotional responses?



Hi Tanya,

Hi Tanya,

Apologies, I checked and I'm not sure why the links aren't working. The "Learn" section is here: The impact report is available to download here: Our methodology is laid out there, so rather than repeat that here, I'm happy to answer questions from the document, if that's okay with you.

As to your second question, I'm less concerned about changes of hearts and minds -- which may or may not result in impact -- than I am about changes in social/cultural mores or context which then drive policies or structural conditions. I understand the first in the aggregate is an indicator of the second, and that shifts in perception are crucial to impact, but a concentration on belief or behavior on an individual basis in the realm of social justice isn't always helpful. (If we are talking about consumer choice or personal health as examples, that's another story, but I'm assuming we are talking about rights, justice, snd access in this discussion.) So I haven't thought through impact metrics as to that. Having said that, again as to WIDC, we did evaluate what we called "humanization" of our issues, and that is also laid out in the report.

Sustaining Impact

I am very interested in the responses to Tanya's questions above.

Too often there has been videos/footages that were successfull in creating an impact on society but failed to bring about any substantial social change. People eventually will forget about it or alternatively get distracted by a new issue. How does one sustain the impact to keep the issue alive or at least until some desired change is achieved?

Would appreciate any feedback, thank you.


Participation, multiple voices and sustaining long-term change

Shalya - this is a really interesting question, and an argument for both realistic expectations of video4change, but also for grounding it in long-term communities of activism. One of the historical critiques of TV and theatrical documentary film and activism is that they can help create the flash-moment but are not well-grounded in longer-term movements. One of the most notable changes in the last few years is the work of groups like BritDoc, Active Voice and people like Lina to from the start try and work out how independent documentary story-tellers integrate their work into existing, ongoing or new campaigns where it will have a longer life (since for livelihood reasons, most documentary film-makers working in tv/theatrical can't stay on an issue for decades)

Alongside this it also points for me to the importance of supporting distributed storytelling: in the human rights movement I've recently been engaging with the work of Molly Land, an academic who talks about participatory fact-finding (here's her academic paper on this: She emphasizes that having a range of citizen voices contributing media, data etc to human rights campaigns not only enriches the diversity of viewpoints, provides a greater depth of data, but also enables more grounded longitudinal work, more sense of ownership etc, as well as potentially a more diverse and nuanced sense of issues covered (for example more focus on economic, social, cultural rights)

Great question, Tanya, and

Great question, Tanya, and thanks for the ht Sam. 

I'm going to say what may feel a bit contrary, but I don't think it's a problem that most films or videos may eventually fade into obscurity. Further, I actually don't believe any one film or video by itself brings about social change. What this particular perspective does (at least for me) is it takes pressure off single cultural assets to do too much. As I said before, and as echoed by Cheekay, Sam, Andrew, and Jessica in various ways in their remarks, the creation and distribution of social impact film/video is a social process. The job of finding the film's place in a larger impact ecosystem is a crucial part of this process. And the asset basically has to do its job at the appropriate time, and set the stage for the next steps towards collective goals. So I think the larger question is how do we sustain the issue, move toward concrete impact, and long-term progress, and how and where do our films and videos fit in?

Last year, I was a guest on a fantastic podcast called SheDoes. (If you don't know the podcast, check it out -- it features women media creators, who often gain less attention in the press than male counterparts.) I mention it here because I talked about this topic, and it may be of interest. You can find a link to it here.

On the organizational side, whether it is video made for programmatic reasons or for fundraising purposes, we have to recognize video is likely to have a short shelf life, as well, but can contribute to support a body of work. Think of the Girl Effect videos, for example, which (all arguments of efficacy aside), fulfilled a specific mission over time and have largely been retired from active circulation in the face of storytelling around the SDGs. Or, conversely, videos created by UNICEF or MSF and housed on their websites or youtube channels, which taken all together begin to tell a larger overarching narrative about their work and calls to action, but individually often function as temporary critical moments for specific actions.

Having said this, there are indeed films and videos that have a sustained life. (I still hear about our work connected to "Born into Brothels" over a decade after it was released, for example.) I think Gasland and Gasland II by my colleague and collaborator Josh Fox are great examples of how films can spearhead and continue to regenerate a movement (and vice versa). At the base of that is building and sustaining a community around the issue that you bring into your film / content. Media Impact Funders took a look at these campaigns here. We are trying to leverage the community Josh built for his latest film and campaign, the #LetGoandLove tour. 


On measuring impact in Participatory Video and resources

Thanks everyone for a fascinating conversation! Lina I really liked your example and contribution on the difficulty of measuring what I would categorise as social change (vs individual change).

At InsightShare we have our own definition of Participatory Video and start from the assumption that to create social change we do work with defined groups. That has been the case for the 500 plus projects in 50 plus countries over the last 16 years. When you work with an identifiable group, the way you approach impact can be defined based on the agendas and assumptions of all those involved in crafting that project. InsightShare stands in the philosophy of Pedagogy of the Oppressed and uses Participatory Video to advance agency through growth in critical consciousness and dialogue (as defined by Freire) as pre-requisites to grow in power within (an individual change process). That goes in parallel with supporting the group to grow in power to do certain things (making a video is just one of them!) and to gain power with others (collective power process), that tends to be horizontal in nature. That's how we define empowerment. That of course doesn't mean that power dynamics and particular certain groups and structural dynamics/institutions don't have power over others, but we support a process where people gain more positive power to act in their lives and create what we call home-grown development and the sustainable development they want and need. This is a seed that plays its role in the wider structural power dynamics in society to create social change.

Now that I gave this short introduction so you can understand what is our starting point, then I can share a few points on the difficulty of measuring impact, as well as some resources:

1) Whose agenda? One key thing to have in mind when measuring impact is whose agenda or agendas are we priviledging when measuring impact. As money and time tend to be scarse, you have to clearly understand if your M&E strategy for a specific project is looking to answer to the donor agenda (for eg. understanding how their money was spent, the value of that money and what was achieved), the agenda of the community/group at the centre of that project (for eg. understanding the impact the process and video output had in the intended audiences and the group itself) or your agenda as an organisations (for eg. learning about the contribution your project had towards social change and what worked when and where for programmatic learning and organisational learning). Each of those agendas require different strategies, tools, etc.

2) On the difficulty of measuring communication for social change: I feel our debate on how to measure the impact of video for change fits nicely in the wider debate on how to measure impact in the field of communication for social change. For me a good book that sheds some light on the complexity is Evaluating Communication for Development: A framework for Social Change, by Lennie and Tacchi. Definitely worth the read. In a nutshell, it highlights the difficulty to first measure communication for social change with traditional M&E tools and then it proposes approaches (many participatory in nature) to be able to grasp some of the impact a project has had.

3) Attribution vs contribution: As Sam and Lina mentioned in their posts, generally video for change is best placed or can give its best in a process of social change when is combined with other tools and approaches (be it in advocacy or behavioural change processes for eg.). These complex processes of social change make almost impossible to be able to fully attribute change to one single tool or process (in our case video for change). This is why we are better placed to assess our contribution to impact rather than fully attributing for eg a change in law to our video for change project or the process we initiated or supported.

4) Who measures? At InsightShare we have battled with this concept for some years, particularly as all our approaches and tools in Participatory Video are intrinsically participatory. This means that we feel quite uncomfortable in using for eg a survey as a baseline and endline tool to measure change, as we would set up the questions and the indicators of impact and change. For this reason, we have opted always to use participatory M&E tools, exercises and processes to do M&E of our projects, including for measuring impact. We have also developed ways in which participatory video in itself can be associated to participatory M&E tools and serve as a tool to measure impact. As we have been supporting throughout the years many development organisations and grassroots groups to use the method to measure impact in their social change work (be it using video or not), we believe in walking our own talk in this matter as well. You can check our recent toolkit collating some of the learning using Participatory Video combined with Most Significant Change as a tool to measure impact in social change:

5) Lack of resources (money and time): Generally the best time to measure impact in social change is definitely a couple of years after an intervention ocurred. This means there will not be funding or allocated time specifically to do so. Particularly in our case, being a relatively small organisation, we have tried to work around this through anecdotal evidence that our grassroots partners and development organisations can provide on the effects of a project. They tend to be better placed to provide that information many years later. The other option we have used is to rely on independent research carried out by Phd or Master students about our projects. This in general provides a neutral agenda and information that is not influenced by us or those involved in the project. A good example has been the results of a recent Phd research on the impact of Participatory Video in peacebuilding in post-conflict Kenya. The researcher used one of our projects as a case study and was able to develop a theory and framework on how Participatory Video had contributed towards peacebuilding among youth and community members in the Rift Valley. She was able to talk not just with project participants but those who attended screenings and discussions, and understand the effect that had in their perspectives and their creation of a new collective narrative on the conflict and their society. If you are interested, you can read some of her work here:

I'd be really interested in reading about how you all have navigated these 5 key points in the complex business of measuring impact.





Jews and Arabs Kiss Video

Last week, I wrote a tactic for New Tactics in Human Rights entitled “Using Video to Mock Censorship, Open Dialogue and Model Ideal Society.” This tactic is about a video of Jews and Arabs kissing to protest a book ban in Israeli high schools of an Israeli-Palestinian romance.  

The video seemed to have significant impact: book sales increased, online support for cross-border relationships and the video recived 100,000+ views. However, as far as I know, the book ban has not been repealed. I was wondering how you might evaluate the impact of this video?

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