INN Case Study on Resolve's Impact Tracking
“The best way to understand how our work affects people’s lives is to ask them.”
Our Impact: Equally Informed Philly
Please note: the numbers below primarily reflect impact as of the end of 2021.
Nearly one quarter of Philadelphia’s residents do not have reliable Internet access, and Equally Informed Philly is our effort to bridge this divide through text and place-based news and information delivery through cell phones.
The initiative was born in the spring of 2020 when Resolve Philly received a $1 million grant from the Independence Public Media Foundation, with the charge to improve access to news and information for those most vulnerable to COVID-19.
As part of this initiative, we manage the Equal Info Line, which we use to distribute texts and other actionable information for people in communities who in our view have long been misrepresented by or excluded from most local journalism efforts.
Equal Info Line is a two-way, bilingual Q&A system, which is staffed by members of our team. Philadelphians text in their questions. These deal with anything from where to get rent assistance to vaccine questions. One of two editorial associates on our staff respond within a few hours—in English or Spanish—with answers sourced from local reporting, as well as government entities and vetted third-parties.
We also publish a free, printed community newsletter, which is written by a cohort of neighborhood level leaders. The newsletter is published quarterly and is distributed by Resolve’s community engagement team, community organizations, and local businesses.
The service is free. Most of our subscribers come to us through interaction with our community engagement team or through word of mouth. We text our subscribers twice a week with pieces of “service journalism,” which we define as actionable pieces of information or news that helps people make informed decisions. Resources for families impacted by gun violence, assistance with utility shutoffs, and air quality alerts (with information on how to stay safe if you or someone you are close to has asthma) are examples of outgoing texts.
Equally Informed helps us stay tapped into the information needs and networks of our local communities. We monitor the line for trends about their information needs, and for questions that haven’t been answered by local reporting organizations. We then share these insights with our 26 newsroom partners. Because of this feedback loop there is more authentic coverage and inclusion of under- or misrepresented communities in local media narratives. For example, early in the pandemic our community engagement team started fielding questions about wills and estates. Resolve and its partners responded with reporting, resources, and opportunities geared towards communities of color and their estate planning needs.
Information Sharing in the Time of COVID
By June 2020, many of us had transitioned to an almost entirely virtual world, complicating how we provide services to our community. But even in those first months of lockdown and panic, there were places where people were gathering in person. We worked with artists to install murals, posters, flyers, yard signs, and sidewalk decals containing public health information to encourage hand-washing, mask-wearing, and social-distancing. This artwork appeared across the city at COVID testing sites and food pantries. It was also included in our community newsletter, which during the first summer of the pandemic in 2020 was included in free food boxes.
We also took on more robust partnerships, such as our collaboration with Play Streets, the City of Philadelphia’s summer program that provides outdoor activities and free lunches for kids from over 300 blocks across the city. Streets are blocked off from traffic and supervised by Play Street Captains, a volunteer corps of mostly women (many of whom are care providers based in the neighborhood), block captains, and other community leaders.
We hired local artists to create thousands of banners, posters, and yard signs, like the one pictured on the left, that were displayed on Play Streets all summer while our community engagement team spent time on the streets, hanging out with the Play Street Captains getting to know what was going on from block to block. We developed relationships with Play Street Captains, many of them via text. We asked them what they loved about being a Play Street Captain and also what some of the challenges were. Our community engagement team was able to bring these perspectives back to local newsrooms to inform their reporting.
We also distributed the newsletter via Play Streets and at other community events across the city. In 2020 we published two editions in three languages—English, Spanish and Vietnamese. The content focused on actionable resources and topics, such as how to participate in the U.S. census and offering guidance for voting by mail. We used the newsletters to encourage readers to subscribe to our Equal Info Line and message us with additional questions.
Throughout the summer, we continued to hone and refine the work of our text information line. We knew that this part of Equally Informed would be the best mechanism for ensuring that those with whom we connected with in person would stay connected to us over the long term. We wanted to be able to provide ongoing relevant news produced by our reporting partners, and to stay in contact with people and neighborhoods whose voices do not have a way to easily be heard.
Maximizing Our Reach
Maximizing our reach is a core part of our impact. Between June and September 2020, Resolve distributed 78,000 newsletters in three languages, engaged with more than 1,200 monthly subscribers to our text line, hosted or sponsored more than 60 community events from resource fairs to online Y2K youth basketball tournaments, and produced dozens of pieces of journalism related to the pandemic.
Since last spring, we’ve also deepened our strategies for listening to our local communities. Dozens of reporters across the city have attended (virtually and in person) what we call “Sound Offs,” in partnership with our community engagement team. Sound Off events are small conversation sessions that bring together community members who share a certain experience—such as returning home from incarceration or surviving gun violence. Residents come together to “sound off” about what’s going on in their lives and reporters come to listen to them. Reporters attend—but not to ask pre-planned questions or because they have a story lined up. Rather, it’s to listen and to understand the lives of the community members for whom they report.
Going Beyond Traditional Metrics
Unfortunately, traditional ways that news organizations use to measure their reach metrics like clicks and page views don’t lend themselves to tracking this kind of impact. So to meet this challenge, Resolve Philly has created its own solution using the database tool Airtable. This allows us to connect the dots between our first interactions with a community member or journalist and the resulting impact. The impact tracker helps us capture the narrative of our work as well as quantify and organize more intangible outcomes like newsroom behavioral change, such as when a journalist changes how they are practicing their craft. It also allows us to analyze the qualitative data we collect along the way.
Use this resource: Check out this video presentation to learn how Resolve Philly and other outlets use AirTable for impact tracking. The video is from an October 2020 Center for Cooperative Media conference.
Our tracking system enables us to connect our impact to our strategic goals and priorities, ensuring constant alignment of impact, activities, values, organizational strategy, and progress on grants and contracts.
We’re also able to pull in quantitative data, such as the number of subscribers to our mobile text line, the number of inbound text messages, and so on.
This, combined with the rest of the data housed in the impact tracker, sets us up to talk more accurately about our impact at the community level. Our tracker connects the work of all our initiatives and departments. (You can check out a simplified template of our Airtable impact tracker at Resolve’s website. It includes a breakdown of each part of the tracker and how we use it.)
With all of the above said, we believe the best way to understand how our work affects people’s lives is to ask them. For example, let’s say you texted the Info Line wanting resources on fighting an unlawful eviction and we provided you with a piece of service journalism and a legal hotline to call to get legal advice, we would follow up with you a few weeks later via text. We would ask whether what we shared helped you fight the eviction and stay housed. In 2020, over 200 of our text line subscribers shared that we provided them with information that made a tangible difference in their lives. That could include avoiding having their utilities shut off, and help on what to do when their landlord threatened to evict them during an eviction moratorium.
We realize there is no single, one-size-fits-all template for defining, tracking, analyzing, and reporting out a news organization’s impact, including ours. As Resolve Philly’s work in each of our three initiatives deepens, we continue to refine our tools and practices. The way we collect data and the stories we tell with them will grow and shift as our organization does. We’ll continue to develop these systems as we learn from our own experiments, those of our colleagues, and from our community.