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Posted on Thursday September 24, 2020

Updated on Monday November 6, 2023

What’s in the name - what impact means for us

This webinar explores why impact assessment is important, what it can offer in a period of accelerated digital change and how can it help organisations survive and thrive in a post-COVID -19 world.


This webinar was the first of a series of five that will support professionals in using the Europeana Impact playbook, and provide a way for you to better plan, measure and understand the impact that digital cultural heritage creates.

This webinar focuses on the big questions: why is impact assessment important? What can it offer in a period of accelerated digital change? How can it help organisations survive and thrive in a post-Covid-19 world? 

It took place on 30 September 2020 from 15:00 - 16:00. 



What did we cover?

After an introduction from our moderator, Maaike Verberk (DEN Foundation and chair of the Europeana Impact Community Steering Group), (11.50) Rob Davies (Cyprus University of Technology) took the floor to give us a general prelude to impact assessment and to set the scene. Different types of impact assessment were introduced, reflecting a more general trend towards evidence-based policies, research and practice now found in many fields in science, social science and humanities (and culture, as part of this). Methodological challenges and the issue of proving causality are at the core of ongoing debates. Rob also summarised his perspectives of why impact assessment is a challenge for cultural heritage organisations - ‘why hasn’t it taken root?’. He speculated that this could be for several possible reasons: a lack of awareness, a lack of skills, resources or personnel, or a reluctance or conservatism towards objective (scientific) assessment. Some impact assessment methods may be considered unsuitable for or less meaningful the heritage sector, or for the arts in general. 

(23.45) Dafydd Tudur (National Library of Wales) introduced how he himself and his organisation got involved in impact assessment. They were inspired by what they saw when training community groups to digitise their own community heritage and archives. While they could measure the numbers (like how many people could be involved and how many items were digitised), they weren’t able to capture these outcomes that were most meaningful, namely, what made this a life-enriching experience. 

Fast forward a few years, to when a discussion about open access made him realise that they needed more evidence about the social, economic and wider impact of the opening up and reuse of digital heritage collections. Dafydd found the Playbook to be the most helpful impact assessment model that would guide the organisation and allow them to experiment with understanding the impact of their work. He talked through a case of how they had used the approach back in 2017, and told us how an impact report they prepared had a role in securing even more funding for a bigger project. He noted the value but also the time needed to embed impact assessment processes in an organisation, suggesting that this is a cultural change. 

(30.15) Maja Drabczyk (National Film Archive - Audiovisual Institute, Poland) agreed with what Rob had shared earlier about the challenges and perhaps reluctance of measuring impact. Despite this, it is considered increasingly important to know how you are adding value through your work, and funders increasingly require that you think about this in grant applications and proposals. In introducing the Europeana Impact Playbook, Maja described the value of its stakeholder focus. The term ‘stakeholder’ includes everyone from the direct audience or participants through to those involved in or benefitting more passively from the project. She briefly outlined the four Phases of the Impact Playbook, and described some of the tools that are available to help you set up the process, like the value lenses. 

The discussion after the webinar began with a question about timing (42.00). Dafydd responded by saying that the Playbook is flexible enough to allow you to start before a project is even designed, when you might not even have a brief. It could be used once the project outline is more clear. In terms of impact assessment, it’s also up to you in the impact design phase to think about when you might start to see signs of impact in your stakeholders as a result of your activity. Rob also brought up the issue of planning later in the discussion, and that you might not find out about impact for a long time after the activity, though some outcomes might be visible. 

(45.00) The panel then talked about Covid-19 and why impact assessment is so important in this context. Covid-19 is a crisis but also an opportunity for innovation for those active in a digital environment. It’s an opportunity to think about your audience, your actions, and how you remain relevant and communicate with those that are affected by and invested in your work. The Playbook is one tool that could help in this process of digital transformation, where the audience comes first. Methods can be adapted to digital contexts. 

Impact assessment can help to show the value of digital heritage, particularly when funding is being challenged. Relevance can be shown if your work is built around your stakeholders, and if they’re involved in telling you how it went. This can be helpful in that narrative you use with funders and governments.