Published On: December 4th, 2019

Collaborating for Change: How to Increase the Impact of Cross-Border Data Journalism

Journalists across the world agree that their work is crucial for engaged citizens, government and corporate accountability, and successful democracy. However, there is still little agreement about how to define, measure, and communicate the impact of journalism. And beyond media impact in general, there are questions about the unique role of collaborative journalism and data journalism in spurring change.

During the summer and fall of 2019, Impact Architects partnered with the European Data Journalism Network to dig into the unique impact of collaborative data reporting. Through this collaboration, we aimed to create a custom impact framework for EDJNet, to share best practices and learnings with the network, and to find new opportunities to experiment with reaching diverse audiences across Europe with critically important data journalism.

What we mean when we say impact

In general, Impact Architects defines impact as a change in the status quo as a result of an intervention, data interactive, text story, documentary film, or other media.

Media Impact Model (Impact Architects)

We identify four types of interrelated impact:

  • Individual: Change that happens at the level of a person.
  • Network: Change that happens at the level of groups of people, organized or not.
  • Institutional: Change that happens at the level of structures.
  • Media amplification: Amplification of stories, data, or content through other.

Because EDJNet works in a networked fashion, and especially with data journalism, Impact Architects brought to bear our experience in working with other collaborative and data driven initiatives, as well as research in the field, to suggest out how EDJNet is most likely to spur impact.

Data journalism has shown to have particular impact:

Data interactives → Individuals

Data interactives → Media amplification → Institutions

Data stories → Networks → Institutions

Data stories → Institutions

And, collaborative journalism initiatives most commonly result in the following impact:

Content → Media amplification → General public → Institutions

Content → Individuals

From impact to strategy

In many ways, understanding and measuring the impact of EDJNet’s work — and that of the journalists who comprise the network — is the easy part. More challenging for any journalism organization is to reorient itself to put impact at its core and to develop content, distribution, and engagement strategies to maximize the impact of reporting.

While the European Data Journalism Network has focused on translation and syndication of data journalism projects, its most successful collaborations have been those where network members have reported on similar topics in a coordinated manner and published content simultaneously, but tailored to their specific audiences, like Europe One Degree Warmer. This is similar to the model of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which employs collaborative reporting and coordinated publishing as core elements of a strategy with impact as its central goal.

How to experiment further

In its drive to promote transnational collaboration between newsrooms in Europe, EDJNet could devote more attention to collaborative and coordinated reporting, as this is usually more effective at spurring impact than syndication.

As audiences are different across Europe, they require different content to fit their contexts. Cross-border collaborations can produce powerful journalism, but local reporters and organizations are best suited to use data and information to create content and engagement strategies that will appeal to their audiences. The European Data Journalism Network can multiply the impact of these localized versions by coordinating publication and facilitating the journalism being published in international media.

EDJNet could also experiment more with direct-to-audience engagement and content for those European citizens who have a deep interest in topical reporting. EDJNet is well positioned to continue gathering content from members to not only publish under its “Themes,” but also experiment with creating audience-facing products like thematic newsletters, Facebook groups, or WhatsApp groups to both share content directly with interested audiences, while also creating pathways for these individuals across Europe to connect directly with each other. There are international audiences that share interest in niche issues, and EDJNet, together with network members’ content, can meet this need.

More in general, in order to increase the impact of a media organization or network, it is important to clearly identify goals, and then select appropriate impact indicators and methods of measurement. For any reporting project, journalists should identify the potential for change and the goals for the project — be it raising individual level awareness, providing data to networks to use in their work, or holding power to account. Once the potential for change and goals are clearly defined, organizations can then select the appropriate indicators or methods for understanding if and how they are making progress toward these goals.