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How to Measure Your Documentary’s Impact & Make It Count

How to Measure Your Documentary's Impact & Make It Count

During an-hour long panel titled “Measuring Your Doc’s Impact,” one part of IFP’s Independent Film Week, a selection of panelists from various areas of the documentary world spoke about stories which have the ability to create social change – and how best to measure that impact.

Here are some highlights from the panel discussion:

On What’s New About
Documentary Impact:

“A lot of people are picking up the camera now,” said Brenda
Coughlin, director of special projects at the BRITDOC Foundation.

Coughlin mentioned other factors changing the world of impact, such as the
transformation of film distribution and the democratization of filmmaker tools.
Filmmakers have more access than ever to crowdsourcing for
funds and social media launching campaigns, she said.

Debika Shome, deputy director at the Harmony Institute, also counted the evolution of data analysis when
it comes to measuring a film’s impact.

“There’s people like Brenda, who are called impact producers
that have emerged in the last couple of years and it’s just really at this
pinnacle of conversation right now around impact,” said Shome. “Quantitative and qualitative analysis is at a place where
you can really start to dive in that even us at the research center couldn’t do
a couple of years ago.”

Shome said the Harmony Institute now has a data science team who specifically studies figures to look for patterns of impact across
the social issue landscape The Harmony Institute will launch Story Pilot, a new web application dedicated to measuring the impact of documentaries through case studies of a database comprised of 430+ films, in 2015 (but you can sign up now for early beta testing).

READ MORE: The Downside of Measuring the Social Impact of Documentaries

On Defining Impact:

Coughlin’s experience with Good Pitch, a joint effort
launched between the Sundance Institute Documentary Program and BRITDOC in 2009 (forging partnerships between filmmakers and investor types ranging
from foundations to the media), showed her that there is no such thing as a “typical impact film.”

“I think there’s a bit of a strong end that impact films or
films that have impact look a certain way, feel a certain way, sound a certain
way and the range of projects that we’ve seen at Good Pitch over the last
decade are incredible,” said Coughlin, noting that these projects have ranged from
big budget award-winners to smaller scale projects.

READ MORE: IFP Independent Film Week Isn’t Just for Filmmakers Anymore

“It’s that question of trying to break open the idea that
it’s only a certain kind of film—it’s about a purposeful plan and engagement
for your relationship with the audience,” she said.

Dan Cogan, executive director at Impact Partners — an
advisory service that unites social issue films with investors — said that in his
line of work, one aspect remains constant despite the various criteria that exist to measure impact.

“One fundamental fact is that your film can’t have impact
unless people are seeing it,” he said. “Make a great film. Make something that stands on its own as great filmmaking. If you do
that, you will then actually have audiences coming to it. You won’t have to sell
it to them.” 

Cogan also said it’s important to have a film that can be made
marketable on broadcast television because no matter how the film is distributed, television has the largest audience outreach. 

One documentary Cogan cited was Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s 2013 film “Blackfish,” which he said put CNN’s documentary division on the map (and had a clear impact when it comes to SeaWorld’s bottom line).

On Measuring Your
Documentary’s Impact:

The panelists shared a series of suggestions on how
quantitative measuring could lead to qualitative success. For example, Coughlin
suggested using Google Analytics to show web traffic statistics for a film
trailer to potential funders. And Cogan noted that it’s worth having someone on a documentary team with
a specialization in that particular field. Other methods to measure impact include asking
for testimonials, counting audience attendance at screenings, collecting email
addresses and conducting surveys.

“There’s nothing as good as a clipboard, a piece of paper
and pen. I find it extraordinarily effective,” Coughlin said.

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