2015 CBAA Conference - Academic Research Forum

#CBAAconf: How do we measure the social impact of community media? 2015 CBAA Research forum

Helen Henry, 3rd February 2016

Community broadcasting was founded on social good principles, including giving voice to underrepresented groups, and revealing local stories. How do we know whether community media organisations are fulfilling these objectives? What are the broader benefits to society when these objectives are met?

At a half-day forum during the 2015 CBAA Conference in Terrigal, researchers, station representatives and peak body representatives came together to discuss the opportunities and difficulties of social impact measurement. The forum provided a timely opportunity for community media practitioners to consider the practical aspects of evaluation as well as the philosophical dimensions of creating social good. 

The forum included a keynote by Professor Jo Barraket, Director of the Swinburne Centre for Social Impact, as well as six research papers from Australia’s leading and emerging community media scholars. 

What we learnt

Jo Barraket led a lively discussion on social impact, asking us to consider longer term progressive social change within a system rather than short term outcomes. Often the impact of measuring social impact can be minimal, not just when it is done inadequately, but also when it is done well. The community media sector should therefore consider the most effective ways to communicate its impact if it is to proceed down the evaluation path. This might mean reducing the number of evaluations – collecting once and using often – as opposed to commissioning repeated evaluations where stations are competing to show the greatest small-scale impact. Research should also show how community media fits within the wider social system through meta-analysis and collaboration with community partners. Finally, we need to be clear as to what point in the system we (community broadcasters) are trying to intervene to create social good in order to best articulate our stories of change.

The research paper panels drilled further into the question of whether there is a universally agreed social good:

  • Heather Anderson (Uni SA) presented a case study of measuring the social impact of radio engagement involving young people of refugee experience.
  • Tanja Dreher (Wollongong) interrogated the concept of participation and presented a case for considering listening in relation to impact.
  • Susan Forde (Griffith) discussed sector training and the value of external perspectives on community media contribution.
  • Juliet Fox (Melbourne Uni) challenged the social impact framework and presented a case for valuing counter-hegemonic resistance through her work on 3CR and East Timor radio.
  • Simon Order (Murdoch) shared his research on older volunteers in the RPH sector, interrogating volunteer motivations from altruism to narcissim.
  • Ellie Rennie discussed the creative workforce and the dynamics of cooperation.

The forum was facilitated by Ellie Rennie and Christina Spurgeon. Forum participants have been invited to submit their papers to a special journal issue of Communication Research and Practice (a journal of the Australian and New Zealand Communication Association) on “The Social impact of Community Media” to be published in May 2017. 

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This issue of the Journal of Community, Citizen’s and Third Sector Media and Communication brings together research papers that seek to continue a dialogue about key questions started in the last issue of 3CMedia.


This paper offers a descriptive account of the development, operation and management of the youth media program YouthWorx Media that engages disadvantaged young people in media creation. Through the combined perspectives of the project manager and researcher working on the project, we reflect on the actual, on-the-ground practices. A provision of intermediary pathways for reconnection with education and employment via media training for Melbourne ‘youth at risk’ is the key objective of the project, against which the project’s ‘real world’ social outcomes are being documented and measured. However, we recognise also the ‘messiness’ of the program’s delivery process, and its uneasy documentation through ethnographic research. The implementation of projects like YouthWorx involves a series of calculated strategic decisions informed by a set of shared values and underlying philosophies (e.g., a pedagogy of working with ‘youth at risk’ via media presented here), but also—and equally important—numerous ad hoc responses to ‘real’ situations at hand. This paper emphasises then an inherent process of translation of the project’s original conceptions or ideas, constantly tested and re-visited, into on-the-ground educational and media activities. It underscores a value of exploring connections between theory/philosophies and practice, social work and academic research, hoping to contribute to a wider discussion of the role of community media/arts initiatives in stimulating positive social change.


The internet provides a means for non-professional media-makers to produce and publish their own video and audio content, as community television and radio have done for several decades. While the web seems to exemplify the principles of media access and diversity championed by the community media sector, it also raises challenges for broadcast community media participants and their online equivalents, not least being the co-opting of the term ‘community media’ by large commercial interests. A symposium held in Melbourne by Open Spectrum Australia (‘Quality/Control’, State Library of Victoria, Oct 2008) brought together people with a wide range of community media experience to discuss this and other issues, particularly the possibilities for greater cooperation between broadcast and online community media participants.

This paper draws on participant contributions at the symposium to explore the relationship between broadcast and online community media. Despite shared values, we identify different, and possibly incompatible, cultures within the two groups. We argue that this disjoint stems from two different systems of control or validation (licensing and networks), as well as producer-centered accounts of community media that are out of sync with the contemporary media environment. Instead, we propose that theory and practice begin to address issues of consumption in relation to community media, including identification, navigation and the notion of ethical choice.