Office of Communications (Ofcom) work has a common thread – communications, and the impact they have on people’s lives.
The Making Sense of Media (MSOM) team, which has members across Ofcom’s offices in Belfast, Edinburgh, Cardiff and London, focuses on helping people to become media literate – and in turn lead a savvier and safer life online.
Ofcom work is about helping people to become informed digital decision-makers, armed with skills to protect themselves online and able to fully participate in life online and stay connected. From supporting organisations to improve online media literacy skills among groups and communities most at risk of online harm to working with the platforms to ensure they have measures in place to help people understand their content, to producing high-quality research into adults’ and children’s media use, the emphasis is on people.
An important part of their role is supporting those specialist organisations in the UK, often charities, who are out there doing this work in schools, libraries, community centres, youth clubs and beyond. Ofcom bring them together via their Making Sense of Media network and hold regular events where ideas and learnings can be shared.
Through this network, Ofcom know that these organisations are often asked by the people who fund them to demonstrate how well their projects went – including how effective they were at improving people’s media literacy. But this specialist reporting – or evaluation – requires expertise, time, and can be an additional financial burden on already hard-pressed charities.
With that in mind Ofcom has published an Evaluation toolkit – step-by-step, practical guidance to demystify and simplify this process. They’ve brought together a team of experts to do this and spoke regularly to the organisations they hope will use it, to make sure it works for them.
Written in plain language, the toolkit is a series of illustrated sections which can be downloaded from the Ofcom website. Each section is linked to a different stage of the evaluation process and is designed in the same way, with specialist language explained in pull-out text boxes with a further reading list at the end of each section. Ofcom came up with a fictional media literacy organisation called Digital Sleuth Club and used it as an example to explain certain points.
A key aspect of Ofcom’s work is sharing – both knowledge and practice. As further help to the sector they’ve created two searchable libraries, one listing existing media literacy projects so that anyone thinking of starting a new programme can check and see what is already out there, and another including recent media literacy research – including Ofcom’s reports.
The toolkit also sets out the ‘why’ as well as the ‘what’ of evaluation. It explains how using effective evaluation from the start of a project can help organisations both show how the work they did made a difference to peoples’ skills, knowledge and behaviour, and also modify and improve that work for next time. This can help them attract future funding, and if the organisations then feel confident sharing their evaluation reports, Ofcom can show how these projects combined to make a real difference to people’s media literacy skills.
Of course, Ofcom don’t want the toolkit to sit on a digital shelf and gather dust. They want it to be a living, evolving resource that meets a very real need among those organisations doing vital work across the UK supporting people to become more informed digital decision-makers.
Ofcom will be listening, and will refine the toolkit once it has been road-tested and initial thoughts fed back to them: walking the talk of the importance of learning as they go, modifying outputs in response to feedback
More robust evaluation will make these projects – whether they’re online resources, workshops or lessons – more effective and better able to flourish and thrive into the future.
And flourishing projects mean more people in the UK will have the opportunity to learn how to live a safer, savvier life online.
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