When we share, do they care? Using Impact Assessment to understand how our digital presence changes lives.

Keynote address for Sharing is Caring, 1st April 2014, Copenhagen, Denmark 

Today I want to ask the question When we share, do they care? In doing so I want to focus upon a core aspect of human nature which is our sense of fairness and how we as people assign and consider values. I believe that understanding values is at the heart of the matter of considering how our digital presence has the power to change lives and life opportunities. It is through the use of impact assessment that we can then seek to understand how we are fostering those changes in our communities.

I will begin by looking briefly at sharing, then in more depth at fairness and values and finally considering how we measure impact using the Balanced Value Impact Model which places considerations of value at its heart.

The slides for this presentation are available here

The video of this keynote is available here

Margeret Fuller, the 19th Century Women’s Rights Activist, said:
“If you have knowledge, let others light their candles with it.”
and for me this is what Sharing means in the context of today’s Sharing is Caring event. We, as memory organisations, have the wealth of human knowledge and experience within our collections and it is our responsibility to share that with the world – we should seek to educate, to enlighten and to entertain.

And increasingly, our ability to share is becoming ever more feasible because, just like a candle’s flame, when we share digitally we enable lots of other flames to be lit at little cost other than our initial willingness to share.
Sharing activities are epitomized by: the Open Access movement, the pioneering CC0 “No Rights Reserved” licenses or Europeana’s provision of millions of items from a range of Europe's leading galleries, libraries, archives, museums and universities.

But I often hear folk quibble about whether the economic models underlying these approaches are fair and affordable. Surely, it is not fair that there are “free riders” out there gaining something for free at the expense of tax payers in hosting countries? Surely, we should always act in our own interests and as a matter of course we should always make economic choices that reflect the greatest return on any investment? And in response I say, that people have a much clearer and nuanced sense of fairness - I will explore and provide proof of this in a moment.

I am frequently reminded of this Oscar Wilde quote:
“nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing”
But people are actually driven much more by values and fairness than price. A fair price is very hard to assess and also often not a good indicator of actual value or even of the monetary trade that is happening. 

For instance, in my research into American Art Museums I demonstrated that museums do not carry out image creation or rights and reproduction activity because of its profitability and that their pricing was often quite randomly assigned. The primary driving factors for providing these services are the values of serving public and educational use and to promote the museum and its collections.

I would also like to introduce some insights from William Poundstone, author of Priceless: The myth of fair value. In a recent blog Poundstone asked: How Much Should an eBook Cost? 
And to quote him:
“A reasonable person might ask, what does it cost to produce and market an eBook?.. An economist would argue that most of the “cost” of a book resides in the precious leisure time expended reading it. Figure how many hours you spend reading a book and multiply by your billing rate. It’s going to be a lot more than $12.99. We’re dickering over the tip, not the restaurant bill.
But most people don’t think like economists. The value of one’s own time is not as easily quantified as a price printed on a jacket… We spin a mental narrative in which the prices we set are exact, rigorous, and inevitable —oblivious to how arbitrary those prices actually are…”
Poundstone adds:
“I don’t know what eBook prices we’ll end up with, but I’m reasonably sure of one thing: If we think there’s an entirely logical price for a digital book, we’re only fooling ourselves.”

When we trade with each other in the digital world we do so for reasons that cannot be neatly wrapped and tied up with an economic theorists bow. People are more complex than that and sharing is linked to our innate sense of fairness.

Fairness as the Core Value

Fairness is, in my opinion, an innate human value. It is as prone to our flawed perceptions as any other value, but has existed as a concept in human culture for a very long time. Fairness is best encompassed by the Golden Rule as a maxim that essentially states: One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.

We see this expressed in many religious and moral codes through human history:

Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself - Confucius

And as you would that men should do to you, do you also to them likewise - Luke 6:31

Not one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himselfIslam, Forty Hadith of an-Nawawi 13

Even if we accept these examples, how do we prove that fairness, especially when money is involved, is a strong driver for people’s behavior? 

I would like to introduce you to the Ultimatum Game as proposed first by Werner Güth in 1982 and extended by Daniel Kahneman, Jack Knetsch, and Richard Thaler in their 1986 paper Fairness and the assumptions of economics and it has been further expanded upon subsequently. Let me describe it briefly and you can play along yourself.

You are given 10 Euro’s to divide between yourself and a total stranger. You get to suggest the way it should be shared by writing a sum on a slip of paper. The stranger gets to decide whether to accept your split or reject it. Assuming the stranger accepts then you both get exactly your division of the 10 Euros as you specified. If rejected though, then neither of you get anything. The Ultimatum part is that this is a no negotiate game, there is no back and forth on the share – the stranger has to take the offer or reject it.

There is no particular reason to be fair – this is a stranger and you can specify any amount from 50 cents upwards. Think now: how much would you offer the stranger?

I have done this experiment with my students on the Masters in Digital Asset and Media Management. The vast majority of them (and all other test subjects this experiment is ever done with) will make a 50-50 split with the stranger or offer something very close to it.

Now put yourself in the Strangers place. What would be the least amount you’d be willing to accept?

A rational stranger looking to maximize the amount of money in their pocket should accept any sum offered. You, the proposer should be able to offer any sum and get a “yes” from the stranger. But most people will reject the offer if it dips below 3 Euros and definitely if below 2 Euros.

My take from this is that we have an innate sense of fairness. We often make a “fair” offer of around 50% because we are socially aware of the others likely reaction to anything less. We are also willing to reject an offer we perceive as unfair even if this means we will make no financial gain.

As the authors of the original study state:
“a substantial proportion of participants were willing to reject positive offers. The results do not indicate whether these individuals were motivated by a reluctance to participate in an unfair transaction, or by a wish to punish an unfair allocator, or perhaps by both.”

In summary, the gap between what we see as fair and what deals we are willing to accept (possibly grudgingly) before we will reject, is the space in which the majority of capitalism works to enable profits and surpluses to be made.

Let’s assume we agree that people like things to be fair.

Why is it that when memory organisations share content openly and for free and feel we act equitably with our communities, then those communities don’t seem to care or their response is somewhat muted or apathetic?

When we are fair, why do they not seem to care?

I can hear a shout of “hang on, we have millions of online visitors, how can you assert they don’t care?” and you are right to be concerned. I am not stating that they do not care whether the museum is available to them digitally - the numbers and growth relating to that are quite clear. But we have almost no information on whether they care that the content is:
·         free,
·         is open under a CC0 license or
·         is of a much greater extent than would otherwise be available.

I am going to be bold enough to suggest they do not care about the current and ongoing revolution in our practice because to them, the audience, this has always been their assumed position (when I say “always” I mean anything that has happened regularly for the past 5 years).

We are running to catch up with attitudes. Our revolution is perceived by a net-native demographic as no longer illustrating innovative practice but simply meeting basic expectations. We should also consider economic and age demographics here as significant. The United Nations predicts the global middle class will expand to 3 billion people by the year 2020 and reports that the number of older persons has tripled over the past 50 years and will more than triple again over the next 50. Such demographic shifts coupled with the “all information is free on the Web” attitude of millennials and Generation Facebook means that free access to our cultural content is no less than they can expect - from the Web, and a life time of tax contributions.

Free is already seen as the default of fair.

This has consequences - our cultural content is going the way of email and becoming a Cinderella service – it’s of importance to everyday life, but not something you’d consider directly paying for. It is becoming a ubiquitous utility, like water, but treated with the same casual indifference as we treat the quality of our air. We only notice it’s absence or if it’s of a poor standard.

In such a climate I suggest the modern memory organisation has to make its digital content as freely available as possible – any other route will lead to obsolescence of purpose in the public eye. But the problem will always remain that the self-same public does not particularly care about the economic model expressed by free digital content, whilst our Governments and other funding sources are obsessed with economic consequences.

So when we explore beneficial impacts we find they are often two dimensional: revolving around efficiency and effectiveness. But this leaves many cold and feeling uninvolved. Merely delivering more content faster or for free is not a clarion call that delivers greater funding or engenders excitement in senior decision makers. One reason is that the commercial sector has proven itself consistently better at delivering more and faster content - even if its veracity and worth may be deeply questionable.

“The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed”
as William Gibson has observed many times since the 1990’s.

We have to both justify our digital expenditure to Governments and funders, whilst linking our most fundamental mission to concepts that the public can associate with. In this regard, expressing our values and linking them to our communities values becomes the core mechanism for demonstrating our worth and our impact.

Peter Gorgels from the Rijksmuseum gave a wonderful keynote at the National Digital Forum in New Zealand last year.
He stated about the new Rijksstudio:
“we have 125,000 art works available in high resolution. Anything you want you can do with it… So now we can say “I love Rijks”, the Rijksmuseum was a very dull, traditional museum and now we can say proudly “I love Rijks”… So if you think about impact then maybe love is the biggest impact”.


So, allow me to expand upon values and how they fit with an ability to explore the impact of our digital presence.

“To better understand digital engagement, cultural organisations need to explore what and who they value, as well as understanding what their audiences value, before exploring how these can be enhanced through digital channels.” Let’s get Real 2, Culture24 Action Research Project

Let me come back to Margeret Fuller:
“If you have knowledge, let others light their candles with it.”

How does this impetus to share knowledge fit with a set of values? Are there intrinsic values which could help us think about these issues?

Roger Smith suggests in his brilliant book Being Human[2] that knowledge and values have a relationship which we can explore through “the criteria according to which we say something is good, beautiful or true.

We don’t have time here to work through all the implications of this definition that encompasses values as wide as the good of a nurse’s healing touch, the beautiful dawns light or the life long search for enlightenment compared with the good of a well built bridge, the beauty of an elegant equation to a mathematician or the true line of a building in its landscape.

What is clear to me, though, is that the mission of memory organisations can be reflected in these virtues which are deeply ingrained in human perception. They extend well beyond the purely economic and as such we have to find ways in which we can prevent our digital value being chained solely to economic measures, such as Contingent Valuation or Willingness to Pay for instance. If we don’t, then we will measure only one vector of a multi-variant environment of value and life-changing impact. That sole focus on economic value would help Government bodies to make decisions, but I question how helpful this would prove to our beneficiaries or to decision makers.

I suggest that defining modes of value for digital culture that are not solely economically driven but which do contain indicators of value that can be measured and can demonstrate change in life opportunities are important to consider the impact particularly of digital resources.

The Balanced Value Impact Model

It is at this point I would like to introduce my Balanced Value Impact Model as a framework in which to think about and implement impact assessment for our digital presence. It is based upon two fundamental principles, upon which I’d like to spend the remainder of this talk:

  • ·         Balancing perspectives through the Balanced Scorecard
  • ·         Focusing on our specific contexts by using Values.
What is impact? In the Balanced Value Impact Model:
The measurable outcomes arising from the existence of a digital resource that demonstrate a change in the life or life opportunities of the community.

I think that a balanced approach is required to assess impact. One in which we can possibly show that the digital resource demonstrably made the host organisation grow better - more efficient and effective in reaching its goals; whilst stakeholders have become more satisfied, found social and economic benefit of tangible worth and society has been enhanced. This would be a significant move forward from any single perspective measure towards a measure that enables several perspectives and puts values in the core of assessment.

The British Council uses a balanced scorecard approach of “efficiency, equity, economy, effectiveness” to aid their assessment of impact across millions of online users. To translate this into the Balanced Scorecard approach I would suggest the following core headings:

  • Social and Audience Impacts
  • Economic Impacts
  • Innovation Impacts
  • Internal process Impacts
This would assess the way Impact is occurring both externally and internally to the organisation delivering the digital resource. The advantage of the Balanced Scorecard is that it can simultaneously cover governmental cultural economics viewpoint with the desire to look at more intangible modes of value and social impact models. If we are going to make strong statements of the benefit of sustaining our digital resources then it is essential to be able to connect that value to the community such that they support the resource’s existence.

Measuring impact through a Balanced Scorecard would be too blunt an instrument to be able to work across all the varied cultural, heritage, GLAM and academic sectors the BVI Model is intended for without significant modification for each. The Scorecard thus needs to be contextualized in a way that would allow values important to those sectors to shape the Impact Assessment. If such values could be attached to each of the Scorecard headings then a more faceted and exacting Assessment can be achieved.

Inspired by the work of the Swiss and German economists, Bruno S Frey and the late Werner W Pommerehne, I would suggest that a new 5 Modes of Cultural Value for Digital Resources should be established. Other values may be established if desired, but these 5 Modes should at least be addressed in full.

The importance of these Modes of Cultural Value is to provide context at the design and evaluation of outcomes stages of Impact Assessment and thus ensure that measures consider not just direct benefits but also intangible value. Digital resources and collections can be valued:
·         even by those not actively using them,
·         they can have benefits that reflect back upon the creators and users and their communities and
·         they have benefits that extend well into the future to the next generation.

The Modes of Value:
*      Utility Value
§  People value the utility afforded through use of the digital resources now or sometime in the future.
*      Existence and/or Prestige Value
§  People derive value and benefit from knowing that a digital resource is cherished by persons living inside and outside their community. This value exists whether the resource is personally used or not.
*      Education Value
§  People are aware that digital resources contribute to their own or to other people’s sense of culture, education, knowledge and heritage and therefore value it.
*      Community Value
§  People benefit from the experience of being part of a community that is afforded by the digital resource.
*      Inheritance / Bequest Value
§  People derive benefit from the inheritance passed down to them and satisfaction from the fact that their descendants and other members of the community will in the future be able to enjoy a digital resource if they so choose.

The purpose of the Values is to get to the core of the reason for doing the Impact Assessment. 

Before embarking on Impact Assessment we must know:

  • Why we are doing it?
  • What we will do with the results and how we intend to learn from it? and
  •  How much is it worth us to know this information?
Considering values helps to position the organisation, to understand the stakeholder benefits and to clarify the key drivers for impact.

Therefore, in the example of a community museum with a strong social focus to the digital resource then the Framework for Social Impact might require an investigation of:
*      Impact: Social + Value Drivers of:
§  Community
§  Existence
§  Education

Whereas a University with a digital collection relating to a famous historical figure may find that the Framework for Social Impact could require an investigation of:
*      Impact: Social + Value Drivers of:
§  Education
§  Bequest
§  Prestige

Immediately, this reveals that the methods and indicators to be used for the social perspective for the Impact Assessment would be quite different from each other in these examples.

Thus, for the BVI Model, the following attributes of context are required:
*      The 4 Balancing Perspectives to allow a faceted view of Impact.
*      Value Drivers for each to ensure that priorities are matched to Perspectives.
*      Understanding the stakeholders so that priorities are set appropriately.
*      A clear understanding of the digital ecosystem to which the BVI Model will be applied.

I do not want to suggest that the remainder of the process of Impact Assessment is easy or simple. There are many layers of data gathering and results to interpret still to be done. But I firmly believe and have enough experience applying the BVI Model that if you approach Impact from a faceted view with a close attention and appreciation of the values that are driving your organisation and communities then the remainder, whilst not easy, is a mere functional process to implement over time.

The outcomes of an Impact Assessment using the BVI Model should be able to demonstrate that:

  •  We are more effective and efficient in delivering change and tangible benefits (Internal Impact);
  •  Our organisation is gaining strategic advantage through the innovation inherent in this digital activity (Innovation Impact);
  •  We are delivering a strong economic benefit to our community that demonstrate the worth and value of our endeavours in clear monetary terms (Economic Impact); and
  •  the community has been changed by the resource in beneficial ways that can be clearly identified (Social Impact)


In conclusion, I want to emphasise that Values matter. Sharing is intrinsically fair and promoting those values will benefit us all. Impact is about fairly measuring the way those values are experienced by our communities.

If we do it right then we can show that we shared and that they cared.

It is a hard mountain to climb but the view from the top is worth the effort.


  1. Certainly. And the way it does this is simple and elegant: information. Information equips everything, and arms minds and hearts with usable content and product that customers previously don't have access to. This builds into different active lifestyles, which are then routed into newer, fresher directions.



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