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measuring sticks

Posted on by tyler galloway

as a creative person dealing with inherently messy problems of socially-oriented communication, i'm a bit frustrated with the notion of "measuring success" or "effectiveness" of projects. related is the ultimately subjective notion of measuring student learning outcomes for my graphic design students. western society, if not our world in general, (but yes, probably just western society) seems to defer to science and math as the hard evidence or the last word on the existence of a thing. 

i'm not opposed to this way of measuring things but would argue that there are things like belief and faith and feeling and motivation that are just as existant in this world. those things are worthy of consideration in terms of how they affect people and clearly much harder to measure. i acknowledge that i'm being reactive here, and largely ignorant, of other ways to measure these "soft effects" we'll call them. but even as i try to think of alternative measuring systems, things like the 1–10 pain scale at hospitals fall back to numeric quantification. 

perhaps that's an okay place to start and will lead to new, valuable, accurate ways to measure the effectiveness of social change projects, but part of me is just concerned with the the disproportionate amount of power math and science have over belief, faith, feeling, and motivation, which are largely lumped into notions of pre-enlightenment superstition. 

to my original intent in recording these thoughts – jotting down a preliminary list of possible ways to measure outcomes/impacts of social design work. what are ways to measure success, even if they do circle back to quantification? it's a start i suppose, but i'm definitely open to other methods. are there methods from the social sciences that are useful here of which i'm unaware?

okay, here we go:

  • number of artifacts distributed (flyers, booklets, etc)
  • website hits / pageviews / other web metrics
  • social media shares / retweets / etc
  • press coverage (number of articles written, photos published, etc)
  • number of conversations engaged in
  • event attendance
  • number of people involved in the process
  • soliciting audience feedback via surveys
  • number of people engaged in "the next step"

okay, i'm outta gas for now. whadaya got, people? any other ideas for measuring success?