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Evaluating Media Literacy with a Theory of Change

Sometimes the best way forward is to look at everything backwards. My early days in television taught me this when I was a reporter: I usually approached a story with an idea of how it would flow before I ever made a single interview. By the time we met with anyone, we had all the shots planned and the interview questions written based on the answers we anticipated. It sounds a bit prefabricated, but then again, media IS a bit prefabricated, and everything flows a whole lot better with a plan. By the time we sat in the editing booth, the story was already in the bag. Sometimes media literacy should be approached backwards, too - because once you know what you want to achieve, it’s much easier to figure out the steps to get there.

In June, The Centre for Excellence in Media Practice based at Bournemouth University released a new guide for not only designing projects, but also for evaluating and reporting on outcomes with much more precision. Obviously, we all work to make an impact; with this theory applied, it becomes much more clear whether what we are doing is actually working. Called Evaluating Media Literacy with a Theory of Change | Bournemouth University this concept breaks down any media literacy ideas into four primary categories - Access, Awareness, Capabilities or Consequences. These are the categories I tend to look for in my projects - and more than one usually shows up in anything I organize. The site is available for ANYONE in ANY country to use, and includes some templates for initial projects.

Once you’ve broken down your plans into Access, Awareness, Capability and/or Consequences using the templates, look for evidence of how your teaching is leading to actual change, or the potential for that change, and identify the nature of the evidence regardless of whether it's latent or manifest. By linking the results of any project to a theory of change, you have a chance to step back and see what real results you are getting in the knowledge, skills, dialogue, attitudes and norms, and within the behaviour of your participants.

If you are like me, there is a lot of flying by the seat of your pants when trying to organise courageous conversations or media literacy projects, or even just a meaningful get together of a few colleagues. I admit, it took me a bit of time to fill out the first couple charts (I did it for meetings), but WOW everything flowed so much better, and more importantly, I was able to be on the lookout for changes being manifest. At first I wrestled with setting my goal in a category; was I talking about access or capabilities? (Both, it turns out.) What EXACTLY did I want to come away with? (More training for us so we could offer greater access for our students.) With that much preparation, I could concretely observe and identify a few ‘aha’ moments in my group (as they realised that unless we all increase our own capabilities in working with AI we couldn’t offer as much access to our students), as well as identify where we needed to develop a bit more so we will all be on the same media literacy page (media literacy isn’t just protectionist, after all).

And while you are looking at the template, feel free to check out some of the tools under the Making Sense of Media category on the website from the Office of Communications (Ofcom) - there’s lots to explore! (Just make sure you type in Making Sense of Media in the Ofcom search bar, or you may find yourself reading more than you ever wanted to know about our shrinking postal system…)

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Nov 17, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Interesting article!


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