VOA Director, Amanda Bennett with panelists Geoff Cowan (R) and James Glassman at the ACPD meeting

Impact at the core of VOA’s past, present and future

Voice of America Director Amanda Bennett stole the show mid-way through the March 16 meeting of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy (ACPD) on Capitol Hill. Bennett, who was on a panel to discuss “The Past, Present, and Future of Voice of America,” shared a quote from a recent VOA interview in Seoul with the highest ranking diplomat ever to defect from North Korea:

“My name is Thae Young-ho. I am the former deputy ambassador of North Korea to the United Kingdom, and today I would like to say that the Voice of America has been playing very important role to bring back the human rights to every citizen of the world, and so far, VOA played a very important role to push the world to better world. And when I was in North Korea as a diplomat in Foreign Ministry, I read every morning and afternoon the materials – we called it reference radio materials – of VOA. And North Korean regime also pays great attention on the contents of VOA, so I think it is very important that VOA should further strengthen its activity, and also its contents so that, one day, I hope VOA is remembered by North Korean people as a kind of, you know, the main player who contributed a lot for the reunification of the Korean peninsula.”

That’s impact, folks.

The Advisory Commission, which is charged with appraising U.S. Government public diplomacy including U.S. International Media, also heard about VOA’s unprecedented global audience growth in 2016, up nearly 50 million to nearly 237 million weekly.

That’s impact too.

Capturing audience size indeed is important, but it’s only the beginning of the story. At the BBG we are focused today on assessing impact beyond sheer audience size. In the past year, BBG made major updates to an Impact Model that it has been building since 2012. The muscular new model examines 12 core and 28 optional quantitative and qualitative indicators that can be used by the BBG networks to assess their effectiveness. The model is fed by data collected through representative surveys, digital metrics, qualitative research, and other sources including anecdotal evidence such as expressed by North Korean defector Thae Young-ho. In addition to estimating weekly audience size, the Impact Model measures indicators including the credibility and uniqueness of the networks’ coverage; audience participation rates and whether audience members share our content with others; and whether content prompts some form of action such as an adopted health behavior, a policy change or a cultural shift. And to give credit where credit is due: the ACPD helped introduce BBG to other researchers across the U.S. Government who provided valuable input to help shape the new BBG Impact Model.

Among results that can be found in BBG’s latest Performance and Accountability Report:

  • Over 4 in 5 weekly BBG audience members consider the BBG content somewhat or very trustworthy.
  • Over half the BBG’s weekly audience members share news they heard or saw on BBG products with others at least once a week.
  • Over 4 in 5 weekly BBG audience members find that BBG content increased their understanding of current events somewhat or by a great deal.

Feedback gained from the Impact Model plays a crucial role in influencing the BBG’s strategy and planning. Dynamic geopolitical environments and rapid changes in information and communication technologies mean audience needs are constantly evolving. The Impact Model allows the BBG to assess its ability to meet those needs and determine whether changes need to be made to its strategy or implementation.

CEO and Director John Lansing has designated the improvement of impact and accountability as one of BBG’s top five priorities. That message is getting through loud and clear as VOA and its sister networks — Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, Middle East Broadcasting Networks and Radio and TV Martí — continue their mission to inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy.