I’m in grad school, half way to getting my MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts. I also have a full-time gig at Capital Public Radio, leading their community engagement initiative. Sure, it’s a lot to juggle, but I love how what I study and what I practice interrelate and inform each other, like the double helix of a DNA strand.
For example, there is a phrase one of my advisors, Peter Hocking, uses in his seminars: “making evident”. I’m drawn to this idea, the notion of making our visceral lived experiences more tangible and palpable or just more apparent. In the classroom, we use this concept to explore invisible power structures, unspoken social norms and internalized barriers. While we wouldn’t toss around such a high fallutin’ term in the newsroom, in many ways I think powerful investigative journalism does the same thing: make our political struggles, social relationships and economic challenges more visible, and the reasons for them clear and understandable.
So I created a matrix (I know, hard not to cut to your favorite scene from the movie) to visualize our approach to community engagement. It was no simple feat. But the process laid bare a lot of useful questions, challenges and next steps.
I’m sharing the matrix below in the hope that making evident my thinking contributes to the wider conversation on community engagement in public media.
Warning: serious geeking out on evaluation methods and milestones ahead! Special props to Jessica Clark, founder and director of Dot Connector Studio, who took on this nerd challenge with me. Next up, a more aesthetic rendering of this info.
Since this is an early iteration, any and all feedback welcome. Ping me.
Creating and Assessing Our Community Engaged Reporting Initiatives – 10 Steps
STEP 1: Conduct research to determine broad range of community stakeholders to convene on topic
- Diverse range of stakeholders identified to participate in the convening.
- Initial relations built with stakeholders during the research process.
- Greater understanding of topic and network of people working on issue developed during the research process.
- Complete: Develop list of people to reach out to that represent wide range of perspectives and institutions (education, government, NGOS, social action groups, cultural centers).
- Complete: Reach out to them via phone and email.
- Complete: CapRadio connects with a range of organizations and gathers/learns information from them about the topic.
STEP 2: Find project evaluator to help develop assessment plan and participate in project process.
- External partner involved to help name goals and objectives and design processes to reach them.
- Complete: Hire evaluator in advance of community convening.
STEP 3: Convene community stakeholders and journalists.
- Stakeholders & journalists develop rapport (mutual respect, understanding).
- Stakeholders feel valued and become invested in supporting project.
- Journalists get story ideas, sources, and useful information to frame issues.
- Community knowledge is generated, documented, and shared.
- Confirm: convening attendees represent a range of voices and views.
- Produce: convening.
- Produce: convening report.
- Track and share as appropriate: Stakeholders responses to email queries about stories, contacts, and next steps.
- Document: if/how journalists follow up on relevant story ideas or sources.
STEP 4: Recruit community partners and build an advisory group.
- Reach out to relevant organizations/coalitions (non-profits, educational institutions, gov. agencies) who can commit to collaborating throughout the life cycle of the project.
- Recruit representatives from partner organizations to serve as advisors.
- Convene advisors regularly to participate in the project, which might include: reviewing journalist’s work, sharing more information, planning and implementing participatory media (PM) component, promoting the project, and designing a plan for using the stories in their community development work.
- Recruit: sufficient number of organizations that commit to partnering on the project.
- Establish: advisory group.
- Retain and/or grow: quorum of advisors who attend regular meetings.
- Survey: advisors to assess if they feel invested and valued in the project.
- Survey: journalists to assess how they benefit from interacting with advisors.
STEP 5: Develop community engagement plan.
- Community engagement plan co-created with advisory group that identifies project engagement goals, roles, activities, budget and indicators.
- Obtain buy-in: community engagement plan approved by community partners and station leadership.
- Obtain buy-in: relevant journalists, staff and volunteers.
STEP 6: Produce and analyze news content.
- Collaborate on production of news reports, talk show segments, documentary and project website generated by CapRadio and informed by on-going engagement with advisory group.
- Effective local reporting hits statewide and national stage.
- Station receives media coverage and awards for reporting work.
- Track: # of News stories on project topic.
- Track: # of Insight talk show segments on project topic.
- Track: # of documentaries on project topic.
- Track: # of web extras produced (maps, videos) on project topic.
- Track: analytics on views/uses of content.
- Track: twitter mentions.
- Document: statewide and national broadcasts (e.g. distribution on CPRN, features aired on NPR and documentaries broadcast by other public radio stations).
- Document: media coverage and awards.
- Assess: quality of reporting—does it reflect the views, concerns and perspectives of the groups and advisors that have been engaged? Are there new topics, voices, perspectives surfacing?
- Gather: self-reported changes in the lives of storytellers, participating institutions (e.g. schools), partnering organizations, and CapRadio as a result of broadcasting stories. (e.g., comments, emails, phone calls, tweets, letters, relevant conversations).
STEP 7: Produce and analyze participatory media (PM) component.
- Design PM process in collaboration with community partners and newsroom editorial staff.
- Collect, edit, and curate stories onto desired platform(s).
- Stories reflect connections and trust built through relationships with advisors and represent voices beyond those accessed in daily journalism.
- Collaborate with advisory group/community partners to design and lead efforts to use PM (and documentary segments) in their community development work.
- Station receives media coverage and awards for participatory media work.
- Track: # of stories produced.
- Document: # and type(s) of platforms created.
- Track: analytics of hits/uses/views of content.
- Track: partners use of content to advance community development goals.
- Document: uptake of PM content by newsroom.
- Document: media coverage and awards.
- Gather: self-reported changes in the lives of storytellers, participating institutions (e.g. museum), partnering organizations, and CapRadio as a result of PM component of project through interviews, surveys and content analysis.
- Gather: evidence of collaborations sparked by coalition building among community partners: new relationships, strengthened networks, greater ability to collaborate.
STEP 8: Host live documentary broadcast party.
- Station staff, reporters, community partners, storytellers, and funders come together to listen to live broadcast, debrief experiences, and celebrate accomplishments.
- Create forum for feedback and discussion on the project and its process, impact and utility.
- Deepened relationships or new ones.
- Strengthened connection between public and radio station; foster mutual allegiance.
- Demonstrate to station staff, advisors, and storytellers alike our public service mission and how we hold ourselves accountable to our work.
- Collect: statements of appreciation, impact, and relevance by storytellers, partners, reporters and station staff through conversations, emails, surveys and content analysis.
- Document: testimonials that emerge at live event—if possible via audio or video for future sharing.
- Debrief: with journalists/staff/leaders to determine community response and related editorial lessons.
- Gather: evidence of increased support for this community engagement among station staff, funders, partners.
STEP 9: Design and host public conversations.
- Community partners and station staff collaborate to co-design and implement powerful conversations.
- Participants gain a deeper understanding of what CapRadio stands for with the result of wanting to engage further.
- Track: attendance, with an eye towards widening participation across demographics.
- Document: meaningful face-to-face interactions that reflect a deeper engagement in the topic.
- Survey: attendees via postcards, conversation maps, etc. to determine if they have developed a new understanding of the issue, connected with other community members in a new way, and/or were moved to take a next action.
- Assess: breadth of perspectives and voices across the spectrum of opinion on the issue who have been included in discussions.
- Gather: evidence of new, increased or repeat support of station by community members and leaders via membership, testimonials, grant dollars, donations, etc.
STEP 10: Evaluate project and share results with stakeholders, partners, and funders at project wrap-up party.
- Comprehensive, meaningful, relevant data gathered on all relevant indicators noted above.
- Thorough and well-written evaluation report that can be used for informing participants and planning future content.
- Gathering that brings all involved together one last time to celebrate accomplishments and close the process.
- Share results, lessons learned, and ways in which this project made a difference.
- Determine whether station practices have changed as a result of the project.
- Determine whether anything changed in the community as a result of the project.
- Synthesize: qualitative and quantitative measures in preparation for report.
- Produce: draft report with preliminary conclusions.
- Circulate: report to stakeholders for feedback.
- Assess: whether goals defined above have been met and, if not, why.
- Evaluate: role of station as convener, educator, empathy builder, convening hub.
- Determine: if it makes sense to work with advisors/ community partners to develop a continuation plan.