The “M” Word

I’m a fan of The Communications Network meetings (and have been since 1994) because they’re genuinely focused on sharpening foundation and nonprofit communications to spur social change.  So I couldn’t think of a better place to test some of our How Do We Know questions at their annual conference in Philadelphia in October.  How fortunate that Post-its come in extra large these days; people had a lot to say (despite the suggested word limit.) Take a look.


Measurement: “Does It Matter What We’re Doing?”


Last week, at our “Beyond Metrics: How Do We Know if We’re Making a Difference” session at the Communications Matters conference in Philadelphia, I asked social sector communications experts to express, in six words or less, why measurement mattered to them. “To verify that we’re making an impact,” someone wrote on a Post-it. “Is our content working for us?” questioned another.

And my favorite, “Does it matter what we’re doing?”


Too often, those of us who use media to advance social change forget to ask the more nuanced questions about measuring our impact: What are we trying to accomplish when we use character-driven content? What kind of stories, and what strategies, will resonate with targeted audiences?Along the way,how will we know if we’re making a difference? Or maybe we aren’t forgetting – perhaps we’re getting sucked in to the flashiest new evaluation “tool” before we’ve had a chance to reflect on the unique, often empathy-rich contributions that stories can make.

I’ve been traveling around the country, from the Sundance Film Festival, to the Center for Games and Impact, to grantmaker affinity groups to talk to storytellers and media wizards about the phenomenon I like to call “metrics mania.” (And believe me, media makers have a lot to say about the pressure they feel to “prove impact.”) So you can imagine how exciting it was last week when Maurine Knighton from Nathan Cummings Foundation and Tanya Beer from the Center for Evaluation Innovation joined me to reflect on the strategic value and strengths of powerful content – and not exclusively the quest for big data. Or, in the six words selected by another ComNet14 session participant, measurement is important “In order to build something REAL.”

I’ll have more to say – although I’ll need more than six words – about why garden tools are good metaphors for identifying and measuring the strengths of various kinds of stories when AV Lab launches later this month.

Ellen Schneider is the founder of Active Voice and the Director of AV Lab. 


Featured image by Sean MacEntee