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The language of impact: Introducing a draft glossary

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Humans name things so that we can make sense of our surroundings. Imagine a blue sky: In our mind’s eyes, we all envision some variant of the same color. But really, “blue” is arbitrary – it is the shared understanding of the word that makes it useful. Language is the shorthand that enables us to say “blue sky” instead of “the color of the space above your head when you look up at noon on a sunny day.”

Individuals and organizations interested in defining and measuring media impact suffer from a lack of a shared language. We don’t have the same names for common phenomena of change that flow from our work. So we – media makers, content producers, researchers and foundations – face obstacles to collectively increase our understanding of how and why impact occurs.

In response to this need, The Center for Investigative Reporting, together with Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism and the Media Impact Project at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism’s Norman Lear Center, convened a small group of stakeholders to begin creating a shared language – an impact taxonomy – in August. We’re excited to share the first step in this journey: the draft Offline Impact Indicators Glossary.

This glossary introduces categories of real-world change (aka offline impact) that could serve as the first step in defining the primary colors for media impact. It’s a work in progress that we’ll continue to develop with all who are interested in the coming weeks and months.



Because this is the first draft, we’re anxious to hear your feedback. Use the form below to send us your thoughts, which will inform future iterations of the taxonomy. You’re also invited to join us Sept. 24 in Chicago for CIR’s Dissection F, where we’ll discuss this framework, along with other ideas around media impact.