Lever for Change CEO Cecilia Conrad and VP of Knowledge Management Jeff Ubois make the case that using video helps organizations tell their story in memorable, informative, and persuasive ways.
More than 50 years ago, media scholar Marshall McLuhan noted that “it is clear that the power of film to store information in accessible form is unrivaled.” He also remarked on a root cause of resistance to new media: “Electric technology seems to favor the inclusive and participational spoken word over the specialist written word. Our Western values, built on the written word have already been considerably affected by the electric media of telephone, radio, and TV. Perhaps that is the reason why many highly literate people in our time find it difficult to examine this question without getting into a moral panic.”
We have sometimes been asked, with a hint of moral panic, why we require a 90-second video as part of every 100&Change application.
Typically, the question seems motivated by one of three reasonable concerns: avoiding undue burdens on applicants; not giving unfair advantage to organizations that can support professional quality productions; and not triggering racial, gender, and other biases among judges.
We have some evidence that these concerns may be exaggerated. Based on our experience over the last three years, we believe that Common Pool, our partner in competition management, was correct to insist that video would be a powerful addition to the process.
Some stories are best told with text, others with data or pictures, and still others with the human voice. Lever for Change competitions, including 100&Change which Lever for Change is managing, give applicants multiple ways to tell their stories, and it is our intent to provide applicants with a range of ways to make their case. Simply put, video helps organizations tell their story in a crisp, compelling way. It is practice for crafting an elevator pitch about complex proposals and, done well, makes for something that is memorable and easy to share.
Video also allows judges to quickly learn more about ideas and proposals. In the inaugural round of 100&Change, judges reported that the video provided context and a high-level overview that was not always apparent from the text of the application. In addition, the video provides other funders, judges, and potential partners a quick introduction to projects and teams. We know of at least one major donor who made it a point to watch all of the videos by the Top 200 scoring applicants.
It is also true that many past applicants reported that producing the video was one of the most challenging parts of the application. And while a small portion of applicants elect to spend money on professional video productions, most do not. We reviewed 181 videos submitted by the Top 200 scoring projects and found that only 14 appeared to be expensive to make, and that the average score received by those projects was no higher than other top scoring proposals. At least one of applications funded by MacArthur in the inaugural round of 100&Change was shot in one take using an iPhone.
Regarding bias, the videos need not reveal the race, ethnic, or gender identity of team members or of the population served. Moreover, important funding decisions are never made without personal contact between project and donor staff.
Even so, we checked the demographics of those with speaking roles in the videos to see if there was any evidence of bias. We found no evidence with respect to people of color. We found a larger gap in average score for projects with videos in which women speak vs. those in which women do not speak, but we also observed that women are less likely to have a speaking role in projects that proposed science research and that judges gave projects of this type higher average scores. Non-speaking depictions of women and of people of color in videos are associated with higher average scores.
In sum, we believe that for many people in the world video is the new vernacular—and more informative and persuasive than text alone. While the call for 100&Change is still open, we invite you to revisit some of the videos created in the last round that staff found particularly compelling:
Prison Fellowship Ministries
Reducing prison recidivism through education and reentry programs
Providing accessible and low-cost eye care in developing countries
Polis Center, Indiana University Purdue University, Indianapolis
Eradicating land mines through technology, mine removal, advocacy, and education
The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge
Developing personalized treatment approaches for dementia
Trustees of Indiana University
Mapping chemical exposure and toxicity to protect human health
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Leveraging microbes to provide nitrogen and phosphorus to crops and minimize harmful fertilizer use
BAIF Development Research Foundation
Fighting malnutrition by deploying solar-powered technology for drying fruits and vegetables
Grand Challenges Canada
Providing universal mental health care through evidence- based community solutions
Plan International USA, Inc.
Accelerating birth and death registrations in Ghana and Zambia to facilitate rights and services