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Video for Change: Creating and Measuring Ethical Impact


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Video for Change' refers to the practice of using video as a means to activate progressive social change. Ongoing work in this field seeks to define and establish ethical considerations that can inform and direct Video for Change as an emerging practice. This article reports on a research project carried out with a network of Video for Change organizations. The purpose of this project was to inform the development of an impact framework that could be used to support Video for Change practitioners to design for—and evaluate—their social impact in a way that is considered ethically appropriate. The project began by investigating what makes Video for Change a unique media practice and by considering its genealogy. This was followed by an examination of the ethics and ethical practices that are most valued by Video for Change practitioners. This article reports on research key findings, and proposes an Impact Pathways framework, while also highlighting key challenges associated with designing—and assessing—the social impact of video initiatives across diverse contexts.
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Video for Change: Creating and Measuring
Ethical Impact
Tanya Notley, Sam Gregory, and Andrew Lowenthal*
‘Video for Change’ refers to the practice of using video as a means to activate
progressive social change. Ongoing work in this field seeks to define and establish
ethical considerations that can inform and direct Video for Change as an emerging
practice. This article reports on a research project carried out with a network of
Video for Change organizations. The purpose of this project was to inform the devel-
opment of an impact framework that could be used to support Video for Change
practitioners to design for—and evaluate—their social impact in a way that is con-
sidered ethically appropriate. The project began by investigating what makes Video
for Change a unique media practice and by considering its genealogy. This was fol-
lowed by an examination of the ethics and ethical practices that are most valued by
Video for Change practitioners. This article reports on research key findings, and
proposes an Impact Pathways framework, while also highlighting key challenges
associated with designing—and assessing—the social impact of video initiatives
across diverse contexts.
Keywords: evaluation; impact; media ethics; social change; video; video for change
The term ‘Video for Change’ refers to the practice of using video to activate social change.
The Video4Change Network is a growing international network—comprising eleven
* Tanya Notley ( is a Senior Lecturer in Communication and Media at
the School of Humanities and Communication Arts and Senior Researcher at the Institute for Culture
and Society at Western Sydney University, Australia. Sam Gregory is Program Director of WITNESS
(, the leading organization supporting anyone, anywhere, to use video for
human rights; he also teaches at the Harvard Kennedy School. Andrew Lowenthal is the co-founder
and Director of EngageMedia, an AsiaPacific-focused human rights and environmental non-profit
exploring the intersection of video, technology and social change.
CThe Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.
For Permissions, please email:
Journal of Human Rights Practice, 2017, 1–24
doi: 10.1093/jhuman/hux015
partner organizations
and two affiliate organizations—that was created to support the
ongoing development of Video for Change as a field of practice. The Video4Change
Network organizations work at both local and global levels in Asia, Latin America, Africa,
North America, Europe and the Middle East. During the period 2012 to 2016, the
Video4Change Network collaborated with researchers
to identify opportunities, needs,
challenges and barriers for creating and measuring the impact of Video for Change initia-
The research team carried out their investigation as a collaborative action research
project involving a development cycle of listening (to practitioners), learning (from practi-
tioners and example projects), proposing action (to the network), reflecting (with the net-
work and practitioners), and finally taking action (by producing an ethical impact
framework as well as a draft toolkit and associated materials). This article discusses key
findings from that research project in order to consider: 1) what is Video for Change and
what makes it a similar to and different from other media practices? 2) what kinds of ethics
are valued by Video for Change practitioners? and 3) can ethics form the underlying foun-
dation for a framework that supports practitioners in designing for—and evaluating—their
social impact?
Research process
In 2012 our action research project began with a literature review of relevant academic and
practitioner materials as well as in-depth interviews with eight Video for Change organiza-
tions and three funding bodies to better understand their needs, insights and existing practi-
This was complemented with the analysis of six Video for Change initiative case
studies that allowed us to consider how impact was being defined, documented and ana-
lysed by each of the implementing organizations. The findings from this stage of the
research emphasized that the practitioners included wanted to define impact in relation to
their own specific contexts, objectives, values and ethics rather than in a homogeneous
way. For example, Video for Change organizations and practitioners told us that they
wanted to better understand how the process of production and distribution can impact
upon project participants; however, the impact associated with processes or ways of work-
ing is not always visible in traditional monitoring and evaluation frameworks. The key
issue expressed here was that building the capacities of marginalized, excluded or less
powerful groups to tell their own media stories may aim for and result in different kinds of
impacts than contexts where a professional media house produces and distributes a
1 These organizations are WITNESS and Organization for Visual Progression (based in the United
States); InsightShare (based in the United Kingdom); InformAction (based in Kenya); Steps (based
in South Africa); Pusat KOMAS (based in Malaysia); SocialTIC (based in Mexico); Video Volunteers
(based in India); EngageMedia (based in Indonesia). See
2 Tanya Notley led this research at the University of Western Sydney and Andrew Lowenthal led the
research at Engagemedia on behalf of the Video4Change Network. A number of research assis-
tants and consultants were also employed throughout this period and they are acknowledged at
the end of this article.
3 The primary motivation for this collaboration was a perceived need—identified in the inaugural
2012 Video4Change Network meeting—for a common language and shared resources that would
support Video for Change practitioners to design for, document, and evaluate impact.
4 A report on Stage One of the research as well as additional blog posts discussing the research are
available at
2Tanya Notley et al.
documentary film. A number of interviewees expressed the view that an impact framework
should recognize the different values and ethics at play in these two different scenarios.
The discussion of values and ethics in our research project emerged organically through
the research process. During this first stage of the research, our interviewees repeatedly
referred to their ‘way of working’ (process), which we later defined as ‘guiding values and
ethics’. In light of this, we identified that while our goal was to develop a framework for
designing for and assessing impact, we also wanted to use the research process to identify
the core ethics that motivate and are prioritized by those working in the Video for Change
field to ensure these would be integrated into the Impact Framework we created. This
research also highlighted the issue of unintended impacts (positive and negative) and our
interviewees were clear about the need to critique these as well, and to be held accountable
for them.
In the second stage of the project (20132014), 45 Video for Change practitioners com-
pleted an online survey made available in English and Indonesian.
We integrated findings
into the development of a draft proposal for an Impact Toolkit—and received and
responded to inputs and feedback on this draft from network members and other Video for
Change practitioners. This stage of the research particularly tried to tease out the ethical
values emphasized in Stage 1 and to get feedback on why these were important and how
they may lead to impact. In the following two years (20152016) a beta version of the tool-
kit was created as the third stage of the project.
The project was not launched to a public
audience; however, the network were invited to share it with others and to invite feedback.
As we write this article the network is implementing a fourth stage of the project which
involves the development of additional sections, comprehensive testing by network member
organizations, the addition of audio-visual content, Spanish and Arabic translations, and
an enhanced online user interface.
Throughout these different stages, we have been committed to an agile and iterative
development process: as new resources and technologies have been released and new ideas
dispersed, we discussed and analysed these with the network and we considered appropri-
ate changes to our proposed framework where relevant. We also shared details about our
ongoing learning and development process via the Video4Change Network blog site
During the course of our research project we identified that a number of resources had
already been created that focus on creating and/or evaluating the social change impact of
video (including guides, technology tools, and toolkits). The majority of the resources we
were created in the United States or United Kingdom and they focused on the
social change impact of feature-length documentaries and often (as we detail later) they did
5 Key findings from this questionnaire can be seen at
6 In this context ‘beta’ was used to signal that the project was still incomplete and a work in prog-
ress. See
7 Examples include Britdoc’s ‘Impact Field Guide’ (, the Fledgling Fund’s
‘Assessing Creative Media’s Social Impact’ (
assessing-social-impact), and the Harmony Institute’s ‘Impact Playbook’ (
Video for Change: Creating and Measuring Ethical Impact 3
not strongly emphasize considerations such as risk, consent, privacy, and accountability. In
many cases they also often neglected to consider the impact of the video-making process,
including considerations regarding the impact of the participation of affected commun-
ities in the production, distribution, and engagement stages, while there was very little
mention of content, needs or practices emerging from the global South. In our research
process, we found that this meant that these existing resources had limited relevance to
those we consulted from the Video for Change network and related organizations.
In addition, our research suggested that many of the new materials that had been created
for evaluating the impact of feature documentaries tended to emphasize quantitative over
qualitative measures of success, while most focused entirely on evaluating impact in
terms of distribution and engagement success, neglecting to consider the impacts
that may result from the process of planning, research, production and so on. Often the
materials we reviewed placed great emphasis on online engagement and in doing so
problematically appeared to assume that target audiences would have unlimited and
unfettered internet connectivity and the same capacity to participate online in terms of
time, resources and skills.
At the same time, we did find notable exceptions of materials emerging within and out-
side of the field of Video for Change that did emphasize ethical needs, issues and considera-
tions, while linking these to the evaluation of impact. Indeed, many of the Video4Change
Network members have created video-making training resources that clearly focus on inte-
grating ethical considerations including a focus on the participation of women and girls
(Video Volunteers 2009), identifying and mitigating risks (WITNESS 2000),
and under-
standing or challenging power imbalances (Lunch and Lunch 2006). These materials were
referenced, where relevant, throughout our research and in the resulting beta toolkit we
What is Video for Change?
In carrying out both a literature review and interviews with practitioners and donors about
Video for Change practices, we found that there were no comprehensive books, videos,
reports or compendiums that detail the historical development of the use of video for insti-
gating or contributing to social change, and nor did we locate an agreed, commonly used
definition for Video for Change. The term itself appears to have gained traction in 2000
when one of the founding Video4Change Network members, WITNESS (http://www.wit, began to use it in their training and publications.
In this early use of the term
there was very much a focus on exploring the potential of new levels of access to video-
making tools (hardware and software) for addressing social justice and human rights
abuses. Writing from this period suggests that there was a feeling that the increasing acces-
sibility of video technologies had created or would create a new kind of social change
movement while also contributing to the ongoing work of existing movements. This early
8 For additional materials on video and mitigating risks see
9 See e.g. WITNESS (2000) and Gregory et al. (2005).
4Tanya Notley et al.
writing on Video for Change also appeared to suggest that the potential of this approach
was still emerging and not yet fully realized.
Since the early 1990s, the increasing availability and affordability of technology has fuelled the
world of social justice video activism. The movement has also been strengthened by new vehicles
for online and offline distribution, by novel ways to get around the traditional gate-keepers of
media, and by the proliferation of non-governmental organizations and people’s movements
asserting their rights, voices and identities, particularly in the Global South ... With access to
production and distribution democratized, many more people are now able to participate in the
tradition of video and filmmaking to document and challenge prevailing social ills. (Gregory
et al. 2005: xii)
In the WITNESS practitioner ‘how-to’ guide this quote is taken from, Video for Change is
used interchangeably with ‘video advocacy’ which is defined as: ‘the use of video as an
essential tool in social justice activism—one that can be deployed as strategically and effec-
tively as more traditional forms of ‘advocacy’ ... to exert pressure for a defined goal of
change, including persuasion, relationship-building, lobbying, organizing, and mobilizing’
(Gregory et al. 2005: xii-xiii).
Since that time Video for Change has been developing as a concept and practice. We
would argue that despite some of the claims made or hopes expressed in that early writ-
ing, a unified, global movement focused on using video as a specific technology and com-
munication medium for social change did not eventuate.
Rather, in a range of ways
video became integrated into the work of many existing organizations whose work is
focused on social change and human rights, and this use of video progressed and
developed alongside technological and social developments that have increased the pro-
duction and circulation of video. We believe that only a small minority of social change
organizations and groups have made video-making pivotal and central to the way they
work and these groups and organizations have adopted a diverse range of approaches
and tactics—including using video for community-based film-making, social media acti-
vism and broader campaigning efforts. Both video- and change-focused organizations—
including a number of those that are part of the Video4Change Network—have at differ-
ent times played a significant role in training activists and organizations to use video
effectively in their work, and in this way they have become catalysts for growing and
developing the Video for Change field.
as: ‘the use of video to support social movements, document human rights violations,
raise awareness on social issues, and influence social change’ (Video4Change Network
2012). In many ways this more recent definition—although the subject of ongoing discus-
sion and debate—is broader and more inclusive than the one used much earlier by
WITNESS, since it includes or remains open to a number of related, yet diverse, video-
making approaches. This research project has identified that the identification and
strengthening of commonalities within this emergent field is creating coherency, further
10 While we would argue that the field of Video for Change is growing, it is also becoming more
diverse in terms of media styles and formats deployed and the issues it seeks to address. For
these reasons it is unlikely to become a unified social movement that acts collectively to promote
a particular form of change.
Video for Change: Creating and Measuring Ethical Impact 5
establishing it as a field where different video-making styles, formats, approaches and
practices (described later) can be supported, even as technologies, practices, needs, and
contexts continue to change.
While Video for Change is not a term that currently appears regularly in the academic
literature, it is worth noting that the term ‘video activism’ has had more extensive use (in
the English language literature at least).
At the same time, without going into various def-
initions of video activism, we believe that Video for Change is an alternative and more
inclusive umbrella term that can refer to any initiative that deploys video as an approach to
support and consolidate progressive social change.
As we discuss later, unlike other terms
in use, Video for Change can be used to refer to video initiatives designed for diverse pur-
poses. For example, Video for Change may include: personal storytelling and behaviour
change projects that are designed to support people to break addictions or alter practices
that are adversely impacting upon their lives; video recorded specifically for use as evidence
in courtrooms; development initiatives that use video to document personal reflections or
community discussions; and video-based community or oral history or storytelling initia-
tives that seek to empower marginalized groups and communities to tell, record or archive
their own stories. These kinds of video projects do not fit easily into some of the definitions
created to describe ‘video advocacy’ or ‘video activism’.
The different approaches taken to use video for social change that we have identified in
our research are listed in Table 1. Our research into both historical and current uses of
video within social change initiatives highlights how technological, political and social
developments have influenced how video is used for social change (Notley 2013). While we
describe different video approaches as unique in this table, we also recognize from our
interviews with Video for Change practitioners (see Notley 2013) that they are not fixed
concepts and nor are they mutually exclusive. Video for Change practitioners refer to back-
grounds, training and experience with a number of different approaches and they often
combine these approaches; they also use the same terms in different ways to mean different
things. Later in this article we will return to this point to discuss the opportunities and chal-
lenges for developing resources for the Video for Change field, given the inclusion of practi-
tioners and organizations who work across issues, video formats and genres, languages,
cultures and countries.
11 This link on the WITNESS blog highlights the great diversity of Video for Change styles, formats
and approaches:
12 For example, see Harding (1997).
13 While accepting that ‘progressive social change’ is a subjective concept, we also note that most
organizations leading the development of this field in terms of training and resource production
are closely connected with the human rights sector. In this way, international human rights frame-
works and the rights of under-represented, marginalized or exploited groups tend to underpin dis-
cussions about what is ‘progressive’. We accept that many approaches to making effective use of
video are also utilized in the service of non-participatory, non-progressive causes: here a distinc-
tion between effective practices and ethical practices clarifies the difference between, for exam-
ple, ISIS as an organization who could claim they are doing ‘video for change’ and those who do
this work and are clearly seeking to support equality and human rights.
6Tanya Notley et al.
Table 1. The Video for Change genealogy
Video for Change approach and its historical
Core ethics, focus and functions
Social documentary video
Scottish film-maker John Grierson is thought to
have first coined the term ‘documentary’ when
reviewing a non-fiction film in 1926. He believed
documentary film was the next great medium of
information dissemination and was best used as a
tool to make ordinary citizens aware and engaged
with social issues as a catalyst to social change
(Barsam 1992). Since this time, the lowered costs
of film-making have meant that social documen-
taries have covered just about every social issue
imaginable; some of these documentaries have
changed the way we perceive, understand and
respond to the world around us.
Usually focused on exposing /exploring a sin-
gle problem or issue
Often guided by traditional journalistic prac-
tices and principles
Usually aspires to achieve as broad outreach
as possible and (more recently) at times also
seeks broad audience participation where the
audience are asked to ‘take action’
Participatory, grassroots and community video
Participatory, grassroots and community-based video
initiatives have been proliferating at least since the
1950s, emerging strongly in North America,
Canada, Latin America and elsewhere when many
associations, labour unions, community and citi-
zens’ groups and NGOs emerged to challenge domi-
nant radio and television networks with low power
radio, local television, alternative press, theatre and
other communication initiatives that sought to
speak directly to less powerful communities
(Gumucio-Dagron and Rodriguez, undated;
Crocker 2003). Often, the focus of these approaches
was to challenge those who derive power from con-
trolling narratives and discourses by supporting
marginalized voices and perspectives to be heard.
Focuses on addressing social inequalities and
supporting marginalized groups to tell their
own stories
Encourages critical thinking and analysis
(particularly in relation to development and
Emphasizes project self-reflexivity (critically
reflecting on the project throughout the process)
Focuses on locally-led change and collective
May provide local actors or participants with
full ownership and control over footage and
editing and distribution decisions
Often emphasizes the importance of local
Communication for Development, ICT4D and
Communication for Change (where video is used)
Promotes inclusive social, economic and
political development
Terms like ‘communication for development’,
‘development communication’ or ‘development
support communication’ have been used by a
number of international organizations including
the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
and other UN agencies since the 1960s, becoming
more prevalent in the decades that have followed.
These terms usually refer to a practice whereby
local communities are supported to feed into and
critique development discourse and processes.
ICT4D is a more recent term that refers specifi-
cally to the use of information and communica-
tion technologies for development.
Supports and engages with reflective, critical
discourses relating to development plans,
practices and outcomes
Can support marginalized communities to
impact on and critique development and
development projects
Usually provides access to media tools, tech-
nologies and training as well as access to tar-
geted audience
Can focus on the development of, or use of,
digital technologies to support communica-
tion for development
Video for Change: Creating and Measuring Ethical Impact 7
Table 1. (continued)
Video for Change approach and its historical
Core ethics, focus and functions
Video advocacy
When the term ‘video advocacy’ started being used
in the 1980s, access to cameras had become far
cheaper, more portable and therefore more acces-
sible (Willett 2009). Video advocacy emphasizes
the use of video to ‘speak to power’. Very often
the goal is to feed into policy or political change.
Since the late 1990s, WITNESS has espoused a
specific project methodology they call video
advocacy that focuses on ‘the process of integrat-
ing video into an advocacy effort to achieve
heightened visibility or impact in your campaign’
(Gregory et al. 2005).
Focused on addressing specific and targeted
law, policy or practice change or influencing a
particular event/ongoing situation
Success or impact usually determined by
whether the video was able to resonate with
specific and targeted audiences and partici-
pant communities based on a strategy that
sets out how law, policy, behaviour or prac-
tice change can come about
Emphasizes knowledge creation and access to
Oral history and testimony Often plays a special role in indigenous com-
munities by seeking to ensure local knowledge
and languages are not lost
The practice of recording and retelling oral history
is as old as humanity. Digital tools that support
oral history to be recorded, found and catego-
rized have been growing since the proliferation of
cheaper video technologies and the development
of the internet, but the field of anthropology also
has a long history of using film to record unre-
corded cultures and cultural practices.
May restrict access to the knowledge gener-
ated where it is considered appropriate to do
Focus is often on ensuring people are able to
record the stories and histories they feel must
be told
Can play an important role in post-violence
or post-conflict reconciliation
Digital storytelling
Digital storytelling pioneer Joe Lambert (2013)
describes this approach to video-making as being
about ‘capturing lives, creating community’.
Since 2003, digital storytelling projects have
flourished around the world. Very often they
share a short-video (2 5 minute) format with
structured training that is designed to enable non-
professional, everyday storytellers to create their
own personal ‘mini-movie’. While these stories
are not always focused on social change, the form
itself has social change imperatives embedded
within it, since it is about developing and broad-
ening creative storytelling literacies and
Emphasis on intimate and personal experi-
ence as an approach to change-making
Focus on personal story as a form of
Focus on supporting people to tell their own
stories, in their own voices
Sometimes emphasizes the building up of col-
lective memory and/or community-building
through story sharing
Video archiving
Video archiving has a long history in the context of
national sound and video archives or official state
or community-based library collections, while
Emphasizes knowledge creation and access to
8Tanya Notley et al.
Table 1. (continued)
Video for Change approach and its historical
Core ethics, focus and functions
more recent work has focused on digitizing old
collections and opening up access via online
spaces. These collections have at times supported
specific social change-focused collections.
Archiving social change videos for current and
future use has a growing importance given that
old video tapes and films are vulnerable to dam-
age or loss, while social media sites hosting videos
are vulnerable to being shut down or censored on
short notice. Many large collections can be found
(through effective tagging) on large video-sharing
sites, such as through YouTube channels; other
initiatives create their own websites to host
archived collections or use other offline and
online storage and access methods.
Focuses on documentation and preservation
of events and histories that may otherwise be
ignored or forgotten
Emphasis on taking responsibility for collect-
ing and making videos available to the right
people (may not be public access)
Can emphasize bringing together different
videos to tell a larger (alternative or hidden)
story about a specific issue or history
Citizen journalism video
The increasing accessibility of the internet and
cheap video recording devices, particularly start-
ing in the 2000s, has led to a dramatic shift in
both the production and distribution of video by
everyday citizens. The use of the term ‘citizen
journalism’ usually suggests the adoption of basic
journalistic ethics and standards in a non-profes-
sional context, often supporting local citizens to
tell local news and current affairs stories.
Supports broader publics to report on the
issues that matter to them
Values and enables the production and distri-
bution of local news and media
Witnessing video
The widespread use of citizen footage emerged after
major political and social events such as the Twin
Tower terrorist attacks in 2001 (‘September 11’),
the London bombings in 2005 (‘7/7’) and in a
developing country context, the Burmese people’s
uprising (‘Saffron Revolution’) in 2007 (Allan
2006;Gowing 2009). In each case, citizens’ video
and still images became the most viewed and
emblematic depictions of these major crises.
Allan (2013) and WITNESS have articulated this
as ‘citizen witness’ video. Today witnessing video
is regularly incorporated into mainstream and
alternative news sites and is very often first picked
up from social media. The term is also used by
NGOs and rights-based groups as a form or prac-
tice focused on evidence collection, and that may
include practices and technologies focused on
ensuring the validity and verifiability of content.
Focused on the role of non-professionals and
individuals enabled by increasing technology
access in exposing or addressing rights abuses
or social injustice through the collection and
circulation of visual evidence
Can include raw video from direct witnessing
of an event or personal testimony
Video for Change: Creating and Measuring Ethical Impact 9
Ethics in video-making
Our concerns regarding ethics in relation to impact assessment are not unique in the field of
human rights. In an earlier Special Issue of this journal ‘Where is the Evidence?’ (2009), all
of the contributors raised this issue, with many expressing concerns that donor-driven
requirements can over-emphasize the use of particular kinds of evaluation methods and
metrics. For example Gready (2009: 380) argued that the ‘evaluation culture’ was rapidly
Table 1. (continued)
Video for Change approach and its historical
Core ethics, focus and functions
An increasing element in witnessing video is the
use of consumer tools-based live video to provide
a first-person point-of-view in social justice
Change-focused video memes, remixes and mash-
ups and curated collections
Emphasis on engagement with issues through
media creation
Increasing access to the internet (particularly broad-
band access), alongside the increasing usability of
video editing software and the ever-developing
digital literacies of citizens has changed the way
people engage with video content online, particu-
larly since around 2005. There is now some evi-
dence to show that both the remixing and
curating of video content ‘found’ online is becom-
ing an increasingly popular activity in some coun-
tries, particularly among a youth demographic
(Jenkins 2006a,2006b) and this is also true for
social change remixes with some of these videos
quickly reaching millions of people (Gregory and
Losh 2012).
Can support people not directly affected by
an issue (who may be located in another
country) to become advocates
Emphasis on creative commons licensing and
the value of remix and participatory cultures
Curated collections can focus on amplifying
the reach of videos (whether online or
through screening events), providing context
or verification, or serve to bring different vid-
eos together to tell a larger story
Virtual reality (VR) video projects
VR video-making has been enabled by technological
developments that use headsets to provide an
immersive media experiences that provide a 360
degree experience of a real or imagined environ-
ment and, in some cases, allow audiences to inter-
act with this world in ways that feel as if they
were there. Social change videos that use VR
technologies began to emerge in a more wide-
spread manner in 2015 and they include advo-
cacy journalism, documentaries and animations
(see Gregory 2016). At the time of writing, it is
still unclear to us if VR adds new technological
affordances to existing video approaches or if it
constitutes an entirely new approach.
Emphasizes ‘walking in someone else’s shoes’
or experiencing, albeit virtually, what it is like
to be in a particular time and place
This virtual experience can support empathy
by arousing emotions and by creating a con-
nection with people, places and issues via
place illusion, embodiment and interactivity
Can focus on immersive spectatorship over
10 Tanya Notley et al.
becoming ‘a feature of human rights practice’ and it needed stronger critique. Gready high-
lighted that cookie-cutter and normative evaluation approaches were likely to neglect to
recognize or address the issue that initiatives are particularly hard to evaluate in terms of
impact when they involve long-term struggles, have complex causes or are inherently politi-
cal (ibid.). Archer (2009) finds that these kinds of issues mean that while ‘some theory has
emerged, some complex frameworks and models have been proposed, and a variety of inno-
vative ideas and practices have been tried out’, the enterprise of measuring impact in the
human rights field ‘remains controversial in some respects, and progress has been slower
and more arduous than most advocates probably expected’ (ibid.). While the issues raised
in that special issue are pertinent to our own endeavour to develop an impact framework,
we also believe that video focused initiatives have additional, media specific, ethical issues
that need to be interrogated alongside these concerns.
Media ethics ideas, policies and laws stem from morality, both public and private;
shared aspirations to minimize harm and risk; respect for individual rights (perceived and
legal); and ideas about what constitutes the public good (Spence et al. 2011). Drawing on
the work of Stephen Ward (2013), we define media ethics as a reflective engagement with
the institutions, technologies, approaches and practices that define how media responds to
the urgent problems of the day and to existing power imbalances, in light of both the past
and where we hope to be in the future. However, we would argue that many monitoring
and evaluation or impact frameworks that have been designed to measure the impact of
Video for Change initiatives, particularly those emerging in the United States with a focus
on feature-length documentaries, have included no explicit, or rather limited, discussions
about ethics. This is a trend that already shows some signs of change, however: for exam-
ple, BRITDOC’s Impact Field Guide (, launched in 2014, includes
an exploration of ‘top down’ versus ‘bottom up’ approaches to change, suggesting ‘the act
of making a film (or other media) is often as important as who sees the film once made’ and
that ‘films using such top down approaches have achieved great things on individual issues.
But at worst, such approaches can manifest in ways that are patronizing and even disem-
powering’ (quote taken from beta version 2.1) This point raises important questions about
what should be deemed a successful Video for Change initiative and who decides on meas-
ures of success. What if, for example, the people the video was meant to support were
ignored, harmed or hampered by its making, or the community the video sought to support
were against its release and felt it unjustly portrayed or represented them? Or what if the
people whom a video is designed to support or represent have conflicting reactions, such as
the negative reactions of some audiences in northern Uganda to the ‘Kony 2012’ video cam-
paign, which contrasted markedly with the supportive reactions of teenage audiences in the
United States who were not directly affected by the issue and who knew very little of the
complex milieu from which it emerged?
In these cases, one million or one hundred mil-
lion YouTube views may be either irrelevant or a negative result if circulation of the video
serves to increase misunderstandings of an issue or add to the (re-)abuse or mistreatment of
While recognizing that not all video-makers focusing on social change will have the
same concerns and priorities, we felt that ethical considerations needed to be central to our
Video for Change impact conceptual framework given the alignment of the Video4Change
Network with the human rights sector, with marginalized and excluded groups and
14 See Gregory (2012) as part of this journal’s 2012 review coverage of the ‘Kony 2012’ campaign.
Video for Change: Creating and Measuring Ethical Impact 11
communities, and with organizations which are frequently focused on challenging powerful
and influential institutions and actors.
In order to begin analysing the ethical concerns and priorities of the Video4Change
Network and other Video for Change practitioners, our research first sought to identify
shared core values and beliefs that shape the practices of Video for Change practitioners.
Using analysis based on findings from interviews and responses to an online questionnaire,
we identified six ethical considerations that frequently influence the design of Video for
Change initiatives. We believe the first two of these ethical concerns (detailed below) are
most relevant at the beginning of a Video for Change project, while the following four are
relevant to all stages of such a project—from planning to evaluation.
Video for Change key ethical considerations
1. Clear objectives. This is an important ethical issue, since the actors or communities that
Video for Change makers want to work with and support can feel vulnerable to media
exploitation and may have past experience of this. Transparency about intentions can sup-
port solid foundations for trust—but this trust must be underpinned by agreed practices or
ways of working. Openness about intent is also important for managing expectations: what
time and resources will go into the initiative, who will make decisions and how, and what
will and will not be possible.
2. A clear strategy for change. Very often Video for Change initiatives ask actors or com-
munities to give up their time or to contribute other resources to support an initiative.
These actors may need to know there is a well-formed strategy behind an initiative (or a
plan to develop one) in order to make informed choices about contributing their invest-
ments of time and resources. Defining ‘Impact Pathways’ (which we discuss later in this
article) can provide the foundation for a collaborative process that involves the commun-
ities or actors that are meant to benefit from an initiative. Again, this is not always critical:
for example, some videos (such as protest videos or citizen witnessing) respond immediately
to situations rather than being led by strategic planning. However, knowing what a video
needs to achieve can support video-makers to shape the way it is created, presented, and
3. Analysis of power dynamics. Power influences everything: our ability to make decisions
about our own lives; our ability to change situations; the resources we have access to; and
what we are taught, know and think. Since Video for Change is about supporting progres-
sive social change, it is important that the video-making process seeks to identify and
15 This is not to suggest that Video for Change approaches should only take a ‘bottom-up’ approach
since, for example, many Video for Change practitioners also emphasize targeted policy and legal
change and may employ more traditional forms of documentary-making to achieve this (where
those most affected by an issue are not trained or supported to become film-makers but rather
become ‘subjects’ in the film). However, we would argue that a Video for Change approach would
usually emphasize, if not make central, needs and concerns as they are articulated by the actors,
communities and movements the initiative seeks to support.
16 These ethical considerations do not imply that video-makers working outside of the Video for
Change field, or those not identifying their work as being part of this field (for example, those who
describe themselves as documentary-makers), are not also fully aligned with all or any of these
ethical concerns. Our goal in identifying them was rather to support a discussion about if and
how these ethical considerations could become integral to the design of our impact framework.
12 Tanya Notley et al.
understand how power is impacting on the issue we are working on and on the people we
are working with—and understand how this may influence what stories are told, by whom
and under what conditions of voluntariness or coercion.
In this way, participants and
video-makers can make better assessments about how power might impact the initiative
and how it might be challenged.
4. Participation and inclusion. Video for Change initiatives can empower people; but they
can also disempower. For example, a video can (re-)victimize people because the video-
makers have not carefully considered the consequences of whose story and voice is included
or excluded and how this may create or perpetuate problematic discourses (including by
promoting or creating stereotypes). To prevent this, Video for Change practitioners can
take agreed steps to ensure their initiatives define and then support whatever is considered
to be appropriate inclusion and to ensure that this inclusion will be a positive experience
for those involved. These decisions require careful forethought and planning regarding vul-
nerable populations. For example, if children or people with mental illness or disabilities
are to be key beneficiaries of a Video for Change project, what kinds of considerations and
processes are necessary for their involvement? This may require pre-planning regarding
consent processes and the additional involvement of appropriate trained experts or leaders
who are known and trusted by the key beneficiaries (such as NGOs, psychologists, school
teachers, social workers).
5. Accountability. The Video for Change practitioners we surveyed and interviewed believe
that their practices and outputs (intended and unintended) should be made accountable to
the communities they are seeking to support. For this reason many Video for Change initia-
tives will include processes that allow affected groups, communities, campaigns and move-
ments to design, monitor, and/or evaluate initiatives. Accountability is also about making
careful decisions about co-ownership, including addressing issues relating to copyright and
intellectual property, as well as editing and distribution decisions.
6. Risk assessment and mitigation. Video-making and video circulation can introduce sig-
nificant new risks to vulnerable participants and communities and it can exacerbate others.
These risks may be caused, for example, by not having spoken to the participants about
risks and/or options to remain anonymous; or through a lack of planning for the safe stor-
age or circulation of video or digital files. In order to ensure Video for Change initiatives do
not exacerbate conflicts, tensions, problems, and inequalities, and in order to ensure the
safety and security of marginalized and vulnerable communities, efforts should be made to
carry out and to respond to a careful risk analysis.
We believe that these ethical considerations require that we push far beyond measuring
outreach and audience numbers as indicators of impact; rather, they imply that we need to
evaluate impact by first defining and integrating ethical priorities throughout the entire
video-making workflow including pre-production, production, and post-production, as
well as evaluation and final impact communication. Indeed, we would argue that ethical
17 Further to this, see Pittaway, Bartlomei, and Hugman (2010) in the Special Issue of this Journal on
‘Responsibility to the Story’.
18 Our application of power analysis has largely been influenced by the work of influential human
rights organizations, for example by the power mapping guidance provided by New Tactics for
Human Rights (see In addition we
have drawn on the work of Just Associates on power analysis and transformation (https://justas
Video for Change: Creating and Measuring Ethical Impact 13
priorities should determine project design and the video-making process. As Jessica
Mayberry from Video Volunteers and the Video4Change Network says: ‘your process IS
your ethic’ (personal communication, 2014). We see this focus on defining ethical priorities
as both a way to drive the video-making process and as a lens through which to evaluate
impact. We consider that this approach differentiates Video for Change from more tradi-
tional forms of documentary practice, which may—for various reasons including style, pri-
orities, funding, fear of compromise and capacity limits—elect to keep affected
communities at arm’s length in all or most stages of production. This is not to suggest other
media-making practices are not underpinned by ethics—rather, that these ethics are not
necessarily negotiated and implemented so closely with the affected actors, groups or com-
munities that are the focus of the media initiative.
The key ethical considerations that we have briefly outlined here also suggest a symbio-
sis that, while potentially placing some limitations and additional resource demands on
Video for Change makers, also provides opportunities for deepening engagement and rela-
tionships in ways that can contribute to different types of social impact. The integration of
these ethical priorities into planning, design and production processes can, for example, act
to protect and engage the communities, movements, and actors that Video for Change mak-
ers seek to support and enable the development of trust and respect that are necessary for
the meaningful and long-term relationships that are required for sustainable social change.
For example, a Video for Change initiative with an active, committed and engaged set of
participants or constituents can leverage these relationships to increase outreach, conversa-
tion, dialogue, influence and action.
While these key ethical considerations have been deemed important among the
Video4Change Network members and other Video for Change practitioners we have con-
sulted as part of this research, we want to again emphasize that we see Video for Change as
an umbrella term that may include many different practices and practitioners who emerge
from diverse contexts. As we have already noted, some practitioners, for a variety of differ-
ent reasons, will not strategically plan their Video for Change initiative in advance and they
may not have considered or have strictly integrated all of the ethical considerations we have
outlined. Reasons for this may include: because they are responding (as witnesses) to an
immediate situation like a conflict or an act of violence; they have not received any Video
for Change training or support; they have no access to resources or are working remotely,
away from affected communities or in a situation where there are no longer any directly
affected communities because, in the case of a historically-focused video, those affected
have long ago passed away. However, we believe that not considering these ethical Video
for Change priorities increases risks and lowers the potential for different kinds of social
change impact and for this reason we argue that, wherever possible, it is worth carefully
planning a Video for Change initiative in advance, using the ethical considerations we have
briefly outlined here, or others that have been defined as important for a specific need or
Impact metrics and impact stories
Our analysis of current models for measuring or assessing the impact of a social change
video finds that these models often focus on the reception of a video: that is, on measuring
audiences and on assessing audience reception. In many ways this continues a past tradition
of critiquing the success of cinema or television releases based on ticket sales and viewers.
14 Tanya Notley et al.
However this focus is also at least partly the result of new technologies and cultural practi-
ces that help measure—and make visible—online outreach and engagement. The ability to
aggregate metadata, create databases, use algorithms to interrogate large datasets and
exploit the increasing capacity of off-the-shelf analytics software allows video-makers to
analyse distribution and some forms of online engagement in new and useful ways.
However, the kind of data collected from these technologies and tools is also limited and
the availability they provide to certain types of data, particularly click and views, may in
fact reinforce historically prevalent modes of measuring success based largely or solely on
audience size. Furthermore, many other points of interaction, engagement and outreach are
not rendered visible by these tools and as a result, other ways of seeing impact can become
neglected in a rush to declare success by counting online views, hits, tweets, comments and
clicks. For example, online analytics tools will not help analyse the experience people had
at a discussion following a private or public screening of a video or the experiences of those
who were involved in a video’s production; these experiences can be critical to success and
this kind of success can be much harder to understand, measure or evaluate.
More holistic approaches for understanding impact can be conveniently ignored if there
is an overemphasis on quantitative measures focused on audiences to assess impact. For
example, within the reception stage of a Video for Change impact project there are critical
issues regarding the balance between data collection, privacy, and digital security: a consid-
eration not mentioned by the current suite of Impact Guides we reviewed that have recently
been released for documentary video-makers.
The result of this oversight is that what can
be most readily quantified becomes the focus for analysis, as opposed to what is impactful
for a specific initiative in a specific context (Tofel 2013: 20).
Despite current momentum building around the desire to measure the impact of com-
munication for social change initiatives (particularly for social documentary video), there
also appears to be some resistance to the emerging practices or proposals for achieving this.
For example, there was some backlash following a 2014 article, published in the New York
Times, that reported on a new ‘Participant Index’ that was created by Participant, a social
change entertainment media company.
The index (which is still not available to the public
as we write in 2017) was to assess the impact of a film by measuring what an audience
learnt, felt and did (or planned to do) after seeing it. It would achieve this by using survey
data, social media data and mathematical formulas (algorithms) to assess a film’s success in
engaging people emotionally and moving them to action (Ceiply 2014). In one critical
response the founder of a social change communication agency, Alison Byrne Fields (2014),
suggested that the index was connected to an increased interest by those who fund social
change documentaries to calculate a return on investment. She pointed out too that evaluat-
ing a film’s impact based on actions people take is also problematic since it is easier to pro-
mote actions for some issues (such as animal rights) than others (such as economic
inequality or a lack of access to health services).
This is not to completely discount the value of online analytics and metrics tools for
impact measurement; however, we would suggest that at the very least we may need to
19 For example, BRITDOC’s Impact Field Guide (2014),Harmony Institute and Bay Area Video
Coalition’s Impact Playbook (2013), and Media Impact Project’s Web Metrics Basics for
Journalists (2014) do not discuss data privacy and security, even though they all discuss and
encourage data collection.
20 The project was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Knight Foundation.
Video for Change: Creating and Measuring Ethical Impact 15
resist the use, or at least the over-use, of these new metrics tools until we at least find more
effective ways to collect ‘thick data’. Tricia Wang (2013: para. 6) suggests: ‘thick data
reveals the social context of and connections between data points. Big Data delivers num-
bers; thick data delivers stories. Big data relies on machine learning; thick data relies on
human learning’. In this way, we would argue that thick data in Video for Change impact
assessment could be used to provide context—about the issue being addressed, the partici-
pants who were involved, the place the video was made—and this context could be used to
ensure outreach analytics and metrics are not completely disembodied from their social
context in a way that may give a misleading or completely false impression of success.
In the rush to quantify online distribution and social media participation, it is important
to start by asking not ‘what can we count?’ but rather, ‘what really matters, to whom and
Further, in many cases, online analytics tools are completely irrelevant to success:
participant communities and target audiences for Video for Change can be small (perhaps
videos even just made for the creator or for a few policymakers) and target audiences may
not be online or may have very poor quality or limited internet access. For instance policy
advocacy or judicial advocacy can engage small numbers of key individuals, as in the work
done by WITNESS to advocate around charges at the International Criminal Court in the
investigation and proceedings against Thomas Lubanga, a Congolese warlord (Michael
2009), or around presenting video to key decision makers in the African Commission on
Human and Peoples’ Rights (WITNESS 2010). Conversely in the case of community mobi-
lizing video—for example, to engage communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo
around the causes of and solutions to voluntary recruitment of child soldiers, although the
videos produced by and with the community for this purpose are available online, the view-
ing statistics for that content are not a proxy for the impact it had (Michael 2009). We
therefore believe that it is important that Video for Change initiatives do not assume that
higher audience numbers necessarily result in greater or better impact.
Impact Pathways
In our research project we use the term impact to refer to any change made to a situation or
context. Assessing impact means documenting what has changed, but also documenting
contributions to that change. To document change, both intended and unintended impacts
need to be recorded, and these may be considered by different actors to be both positive
and negative.
Video for Change approaches can focus on small or incremental forms of change. For
example, Video for Change may include short-form videos such as digital stories that
focus on developing empathy by allowing first-person experiences to be relayed or wit-
ness videos that provide evidence of abuses. Video for Change is therefore more often
seen by practitioners as a cumulative contribution to change—part of a social change eco-
system that includes, but is not limited to, media and media-based engagement. This isn’t
to say that Video for Change initiatives do not have direct and significant impacts; rather,
that specific and attributable changes exist within a conceptual framework that acknowl-
edges many moving parts and contingencies that are contributing to (or working against)
that change.
21 This is a point repeatedly made by authors included in the 2009 Special Issue of this journal on
‘Where is the Evidence?’, cited earlier in this article.
16 Tanya Notley et al.
Our consideration of what makes Video for Change different from other kinds of media
or video-making has moved us toward adopting a holistic model that emphasizes Impact
Pathways rather than only considering or focusing on final impact goals or outcomes.
‘Impact Pathways’ refers to the many processes and actions throughout the duration of a
project that might contribute to impact. Video for Change initiatives often produce multi-
ple products and engage communities and movements across the full arc of production
including planning, capacity building, filming, outreach and distribution, engagement, and
evaluation. An Impact Pathway approach considers the entire initiative—rather than only
assessing the impact of a single, discrete specific video output—when designing for and
assessing impact. We believe what is missing from the current impact models and toolkits
that we have reviewed (and cited earlier) is an approach that considers points of impact
along—and critiques—the video-making process, without fetishizing or exclusively focus-
ing on this. We believe that by supporting and promoting an ongoing approach to evaluat-
ing impact (rather than a ‘one-off’ assessment at the end), an Impact Pathways framework
can also assist video-makers to understand what is and is not working in their activities so
they can respond in an agile way. While it could be argued that this approach simply sug-
gests we are integrating ‘monitoring’ into our impact evaluation, we believe that what we
are proposing is quite different to this. Instead we are suggesting that impact is a process
and not an end goal, while ethics are not merely a way to frame the right way to do
things—rather, their implementation directly creates some impacts while indirectly contri-
buting to others. Whether it is acknowledged or not, both impact and the preconditions
necessary for impact are being created at all stages of a video production and these are in
part determined by ethical (and unethical) practices.
As Fig. 1 demonstrates, our Impact Pathways framework is overlayed with core ethical
considerations that can be integrated into the design and evaluation of every stage of the
video-making process and it is underpinned with a clear understanding of how social
change will be achieved (for example, through behaviour change or by changing the
capacity of people to act). The framework also highlights the different stages in the video-
making cycle where impact may be assessed and the key processes involved in doing this.
In an attempt to frame how impact can be conceived of and documented, our approach
seeks to critique both more immediate short-term impacts as well as longer-term impacts.
Immediate impacts could include, for example, informing new audiences about an issue
through screening events, building the capacities of social movements through the provision
of video training, or mobilizing target audiences to take an action like attending a rally or
signing a petition. Longer-term impacts, such as changing social attitudes or changing a
public policy or law, are more likely to require multiple efforts over time by many different
actors. We believe shorter-term impacts are often either the complete focus of evaluation
methods most frequently used in the field of video and communications for social change
(through documentation that emphasizes recording outputs, for example) or they are com-
pletely ignored in impact evaluation (where outreach and audiences are the sole focus). The
Impact Pathways approach we are advocating instead seeks to document and understand
short-term impacts in a way that helps practitioners to understand and tell stories about
how different activities and ways of working might or might not be contributing to the cre-
ation of the right environment or context that is needed for longer-term impact and broader
social change.
Added to this, we believe that an Impact Pathways framework is also more congruent
with the nature of Video for Change initiatives that engage collaborative, networked, or
Video for Change: Creating and Measuring Ethical Impact 17
crowd-sourced production and distribution processes that are participatory and multi-
authorial, since these kinds of processes require more iterative responses to design and
measurement. We also consider this approach to be more closely aligned with bottom-up
forms of participation.
Furthermore, our Impact Pathways approach is founded on the belief that the design
and evaluation of initiatives (and everything in between) should be connected, both concep-
tually and in practice. This ensures those involved in an initiative are able to make decisions
about how innovation and design relate to impact, and also ensures discussions about what
should be counted—what matters—happen early on. This may result in plans to prioritize
results (particular outcomes) when designing for and assessing impact, but it also might
result in prioritizing particular processes and ways of working that are deemed important,
appropriate and ethical, or indeed as necessary for sustained and long-term social change.
The Impact Pathways approach also avoids an over-emphasis on the use of number-
based metrics or outreach indicators as a way to understand and assess impact. In this
approach, both quantitative and qualitative methods as well as the rich contextualization
of video content can be used to tell ‘impact stories’ that serve to capture and understand
rich and diverse experiences relating to the design, production, outreach and distribution
associated with a Video for Change initiative. In our beta toolkit we recommend diverse
methods (including documentation of events as well as the use of reflective participant
video diaries and ongoing participant feedback discussions) to help tell impact stories.
The challenges and opportunities involved in adopting an Impact
Pathways framework
As we have noted in this article, the Video for Change field has evolved in tandem with the
movements and organizations involved, and often in line with the technologies available
for video-making, organizing, and audience engagement. The latest developments that are
changing and driving how video is being used for progressive social change highlight some
of the challenges and opportunities of using an ethically-driven Impact Pathways
Figure 1. Video for Change Impact Pathways framework
18 Tanya Notley et al.
conceptual framework that emphasizes the needs, aspirations, intentions and safety of
affected communities. For example, there are many challenges in applying bottom-up, par-
ticipatory forms of accountability across the full spectrum of Video for Change initiatives
outlined in Table 1. Remix video is perhaps the most problematic of the approaches we
have outlined there for the Impact Pathways approach. Drawing on what danah boyd
(2008) has characterized as the properties of the social media and networked publics—
namely, persistence, searchability, replicability, scalability and three related dynamics—of
invisible audiences, collapsed contexts and the blurring of public/private spheres, we can
see how content created in and for one specific audience, time and place is embedded with
assumptions around purpose, visibility and privacy. Yet videos can have their context col-
lapsed and their audience and visibility radically altered when they are replicated, remixed,
and re-shared, and this can have both positive and negative impacts for participants in the
original context. In these ways remix video complicates the capacity to address some of the
ethical considerations we have emphasized and discussed earlier in the article.
We see this ethical dilemma present in the human rights and social justice contexts as well
as the context of everyday popular remix and meme-based viral video. An iconic example of
the latter is the persistent patterns of remix and re-adaptation of the footage of ‘Star Wars
where personal footage of a teenager pretending to be a character from Star Wars was
shared, publicized, and remixed (often disparagingly), and was viewed by over a billion peo-
ple. In cases like this, intention and context are removed in ways that were at the time unima-
ginable to the creator. In the Video for Change context, remix videos are increasingly being
created by producers who are physically close to the issues, violence, or trauma they are
exposing, as well as by those who are acting as remote or distant witnesses. One example of
this type of practice is the work of Tamer Shaaban, an Egyptian student living in the United
States, who produced ‘The Most AMAZING video on the Internet #Egypt’. This remixed
footage of the Arab Spring went on to become one of the most widely-shared videos of the
Tahrir Square uprisings of early 2011 (Gregory and Losh 2012) yet it was made out of ‘found
footage’ from a highly volatile situation by a person not directly involved, physically con-
nected to the events or in touch with the people or movements shown.
Another question emerges when we consider the relevance or appropriateness of the
Impact Pathways conceptual framework when videos created through acts of citizen wit-
and citizen investigations or journalism seek to share documentation of a crisis or
present issues in ways that are not guided by a prior strategy that considers issues including
accuracy, or by an assessment of the risks involved for communities depicted in or poten-
tially affected by the video.
Are people creating a Video for Change initiative if their
intentions are not clear, or if they are not guided by the ethical priorities we have outlined?
Curiously, citizen witnesses and citizen journalists who record their own video footage or
source it directly from primary or secondary sources—particularly when documenting acts
of violence—must make a rudimentary decision about their Impact Pathway when they
upload to commercial video-sharing platforms like YouTube. This is because these plat-
forms will often exclude context-less content that breaks their rules on violent acts, hate
22 See
23 Citizen witnessing is a term used at WITNESS in a way that connects with the work of academic
Stuart Allan (see e.g. Allan 2013).
24 See for example the discussion by Land (2016) on the issues associated with the use of technolo-
gies for participatory human rights investigations.
Video for Change: Creating and Measuring Ethical Impact 19
speech and other forms of objectionable content, but will allow it to remain if context and
presentation indicate that it falls within an educational or documentary category: that is, if
in its presentation the contributor has made explicit that they want it to be used and seen as
documentation, evidence, education, or news (Glenesk 2013).
The practices of video curation and archiving, both involving the aggregation of video
content, have also emerged as Video for Change approaches in recent years, and these too
offer challenges in terms of ensuring our Impact Pathways approach remains relevant.
These kinds of video initiatives often take on the responsibility for assigning context, mean-
ing, and distributive reach to citizens’ media, acts of citizen witnessing, and documenting.
Examples of work in this field include the video sharing platform focused on environment
and social justice, EngageMedia (; the WITNESS collabora-
tion with Storyful and YouTube, ‘The Human Rights Channel on YouTube’ (https://www., as well as a series of ongoing curation projects at the
WITNESS Media Lab (; journalistic experiments such as ‘Watching
Syria’ by the New York Times (; and
many acts of individual curation that emerge as trusted sources in particular contexts, such
as the ‘Only Mehdi’ YouTube channel during the Green Revolution in Iran in 2010 (https:// Each of the Video for Change initiatives cited here
clearly aspires to use video to support social change, whether that involves changing minds
and behaviours, changing structures such as policies and practices, or building movements
or individual capacities.
Yet these curating and archiving processes sometimes ignore, or
do not know, the original creator’s intent, or more pertinently do not have the understand-
ing of risk, consent, intent and benefit that participants in the material have. This too can
challenge the ethical principles that underpin our Impact Pathways framework.
The ethical foundations of our Impact Pathways framework are particularly challenged in
the case of so-called ‘perpetrator videos’—a genre of videos shot by perpetrators of violence or
rights violations—that have often been re-purposed and re-contextualized as evidence of both
specific human rights violations and of general patterns of violations, and where the creators’
intent and the consent and protection of the people in the video are not aligned. In an analysis of
the use of Egyptian police violence videos, Gregory and Zimmerman (2010) note how, in a num-
ber of ultimately crucial cases, footage shot by policemen themselves, such as the el-Kebir case of
torture, was collated, re-contextualized, and identified as human rights footage (not as entertain-
ment or an attempt at humiliation) by bloggers like Wael Abbas and Noha Atef. Yet this same
footage can also be found alongside footage from other contexts of police and state violence in
videos like ‘Police Brutality—Police Get What They Deserve’, a remix video seen close to two
and a half million times on YouTube before it was taken down; in this case specific incidents of
police and military abuse are subsumed into a broad narrative that loses all connection to the
specificity of each incident within it. In some of these perpetrator video remix incidents—for
example, the notorious Squatgate incident in Malaysia—the individuals who were abused and
violated in the videos requested that others stop circulating the footage (Padania 2006).
Citizen witnessing videos and (to an even greater extent) perpetrator videos complicate
requirements for informed consent and informed participation—two key aspects of the
core ethical principles of Video for Change in the impact framework we have described in
25 Tanya Notley’s taxonomy of Video for Change Impact is included into our Impact Pathways frame-
work and further detailed here:
20 Tanya Notley et al.
this article, which are an integral part of many cultures and practices of social justice and
human rights.
This is due to the fact that informed consent is not considered a fundamen-
tal citizen-reporting element, and in the case of perpetrator videos, the stripping of power
and agency from the victim is precisely the point of the act of filming (for more, see
Gregory and Zimmerman 2010). Examples of situations where this contrast has been par-
ticularly dynamic occurred with footage shot by the assailants of violence against LGBTI
youth in Russia that was subsequently used in advocacy around the issue (Bair 2015), as
well as around footage shot of sexual assault at Tahrir Square in Cairo (Bair 2014).
Solutions to these situations are hard to find—and as noted above, may rest more in the dif-
ferent ways online platforms determine, monitor and deal with issues of consent, or in the
decisions made by a range of sometimes unidentifiable or unaccountable intermediary
actors who elect to upload, copy or share video content.
Adding to these concerns regarding shifting online structures and dynamics is the over-
emphasis of the value of online environments, which can lead to widening disparities and
the exclusion of marginalized voices. Most of the world’s population are still not able to
easily view videos online. Initiatives that focus only on online distribution need to be eval-
uated in terms of who they include and exclude and what effect this has on overall impact.
This article has described some of the opportunities and challenges associated with design-
ing for and assessing impact in the Video for Change field. First, it has outlined that Video
for Change includes many diverse genres, formats and approaches, and this alone means
that developing a framework to support both the design and evaluation of impact is a chal-
lenging task. Second, we acknowledge in this article the relevance of broader work that has
identified key issues associated with measuring impact in the human rights field and we
concur with claims made that there are inherent and serious problems associated with
standardized notions of impact, given the complex contexts human rights initiatives may be
operating in. Added to this we argue that in the field of film and video there are historical
tendencies to focus metrics of success on viewer or outreach numbers—that is, by how
many people saw the film or took a prescribed action. We argue that this kind of ‘thin’ eval-
uation narrows the opportunity for understanding and assessing impact. To counter this,
we propose an Impact Pathways approach that acknowledges that video-making involves a
number of different stages—from planning and project design to filming, editing and out-
reach engagement—and each of these stages produces impacts. We suggest that identifying
impacts at each stage supports a richer understanding of how impact is created, not as a
one-off event or moment, but as a part of process. Third, we argue in this article that ethics
(or a lack of them) underpin all impact: that is, the implementation (or not) of ethics
directly creates some impacts, while it alters or affects other impacts. In the project this
article reports on we have identified particular ethical considerations that are important to
Video for Change makers and we have used these as the basis or foundation for an Ethical
26 See Gregory (2010), as part of the Special Issue of this journal on ‘Responsibility to the Story’ that
explores the ethics of storytelling about ‘victims’ and survivors in human rights work.
27 In an attempt to shape this discussion, these topics have recently been explored in WITNESS
(2015), which tries to apply many of the core Video for Change ethical priorities to this developing
area of practice.
Video for Change: Creating and Measuring Ethical Impact 21
Impact framework and toolkit that has been developed to support Video for Change mak-
ers to both design for and evaluate impact.
One area for exploration and further research will require us to consider how some of
the dilemmas we have highlighted around participatory media production and the growing
number of video creators, producers and sharers (many of whom operate outside of tradi-
tional media frameworks) have analogues in the challenges faced in the broader human
rights fields when a greater range and diversity of non-traditional and non-professional par-
ticipants are involved in collecting, generating and sharing ‘human rights’ information and
engaging in campaigning. In addition, it will be important for us to examine and respond to
feedback as organizations and practitioners test the beta toolkit our project has created.
This will involve looking carefully at the ethical framework we have proposed to assess
whether it is appropriate for the needs of diverse different contexts. However, we believe
that a flexible impact framework that is conceptually underpinned by the ethical concerns
that are already prioritized and practised in this field will provide a useful way forward.
We would like to thank all of our colleagues who provided detailed feedback on a draft version
of this article and for sharing their own experiences and insights. In particular we wish to thank
Chris Lunch and Soledad Muniz from InsightShare, Jessica Mayberry from Video Volunteers,
Seelan Palay and Cheekay Cinco from EngageMedia, and Sarah Kerr and Sulafa Khalid Musa
from WITNESS. We would also like to thank Dr Pip Shea for her valuable inputs into the design
of the framework and the development of toolkit methods. Iqbal Barkat and Jennifer Shulte pro-
vided important inputs into parts of the ethical framework. Finally thanks to the journal editors
and reviewers for rich and detailed feedback on our first submission. This article is primarily
based on a research project partnership led by Tanya Notley from Western Sydney University,
Andrew Lowenthal from EngageMedia, and the Video4Change Network.
This work has been supported by funding from Hivos Foundation and Oak Foundation, and was
further enabled by in-kind support from the MIT Open Documentary Lab, MIT Centre for Civic
Media, and Western Sydney University.
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Full-text available
A how-to guide on using video to change the world -- written by the world's leading video activists. Pictures from Abu Ghraib showed the power of the amateur image to grab the world's attention. The Asian tsunami, caught on camcorder, brought home the reality of what had happened more than any news report ever could. Around the world the increasing availability and affordability of technology has fuelled the world of social justice video activism. Film-making - at its best - has the power to change the way people think, and create real social change, and now the tools to do it are more accessible than ever before. This book shows how activists and human rights campaigners can harness the power of images and stories for their own purposes - it's a step-by-step guide to the handicam revolution. Written by leading video activists, and staff of the world-renowned human rights organization WITNESS, this practical handbook will appeal to experienced campaigners as well as aspiring video activists. It combines a comprehensive analysis of what's going on in this growing global field with a how-to primer to doing it yourself.
Full-text available
This essay examines how remixes that combine human rights footage with popular songs complicate our understanding of the relationship between media production and civic participation. We argue that editing and compositing complicates establishing the authenticity of source material and that rapid dissemination of digital files through distributed networks may compromise the agency of victims. Furthermore, we raise questions about how so-called "conflict porn" that depicts graphic violence is received by Internet audiences. We offer a number of basic ethical principles for remixers of citizen journalism to consider in the post-Arab Spring milieu.
Full-text available
The article discusses the challenges and opportunities faced when integrating participatory methods into human rights-based research. It describes the development of a participatory action research approach designed to fulfil the aim of undertaking advocacy-focused research grounded in human rights and community participation. It reflects the principles of anti-oppressive social work and the ethics of undertaking research with vulnerable populations. In line with other contributions to this special issue, the article explores questions such as: ‘Where does knowledge about the story come from and how is it passed on?’; ‘What spurs ethical thinking at an individual and organizational level?’; and ‘How can ethical sensitivity and strategic effectiveness be combined?’
Full-text available
Peter Gabriel and other allies created WITNESS nearly 20 years ago – shortly after the Rodney King incident in Los Angeles. At the time, our founders asked: ‘What if every human rights worker had a camera in their hands? What would they be able to document? What would they be able to change?’ Since 1992 WITNESS has engaged with the risks, opportunities and possibilities for action that emerge from the power of moving images – training and supporting human rights activists worldwide to create real change through our methodology of ‘video advocacy’. Yet now an increasing number of people worldwide have cameras. Participants, witnesses and perpetrators are all filming. Videos (particularly mobile video) make it possible to document and publicize human rights struggles – from monks marching for freedom in Rangoon and the election protestors in Tehran, to individual voices speaking out against injustice on YouTube. However, despite the growing online circulation of images of human rights violations, of victims and survivors, there is limited discussion of crucial safety, consent and ethical concerns – particularly for people who are filmed. Issues around consent, representation and re-victimization and retaliation have emerged even more clearly in an open and networked online environment. Video is being reworked, remixed and recirculated by many more people. New possibilities for action by a global citizenry have arisen, but these carry with them real dangers. The human rights and technology communities can help lead the way in confronting these challenges. The article concludes with suggestions for approaches based on norms, technology solutions, and other ideas that could be deployed to begin to address these emerging issues.
Over the past decade, the video camcorder has become a commonplace household technology. In the US, over 45% of households now own camcorders (Consumer Electronics Association, 2006), while in the UK, the figure is around one-third. A further proportion uses older analogue models, while growing numbers of people are able to record video on still cameras or mobile phones: for example, 15% of UK adults and 33% of 12- to 15-year-olds report using video on camera phones (Ofcom, 2008a, 2008b). Basic video-editing software is now routinely ‘bundled’ with standard computer purchases. Meanwhile, the rise of YouTube and other video-sharing sites has made it significantly easier to distribute amateur video productions; and national broadcasters are also increasingly interested in ‘user-generated content’ and the work of so-called citizen journalists. With falling prices of compact and easy-to-use camcorders and other video recording devices, the means of producing video is increasingly coming within reach of the everyday consumer.
Editor's Note: Tricia provides an excellent segue between last month's "Ethnomining" Special Edition and this month's on "Talking to Companies about Ethnography." She offers further thoughts buildi...