At Nature, we knew our content had concrete impacts in the real world. Sometimes we would find out that a news, feature, or opinion article had influenced policy, scientific research, or the lives of researchers — our core audience. But we didn’t know how often this happened, and our existing metrics like pageviews didn’t capture this important type of value.
So we partnered with Altmetric to build the impact tracker: a digital tool and system to collect real-world impacts of Nature’s journalism and opinion content. It was crucial that it be quick and easy to record impacts because our team members have limited time. So our tool automatically scrapes the metadata of an article to record the title, author, magazine section, publication date, and digital object identifier (DOI), a unique string of words and letters assigned to each piece of our content.
When impacts are recorded, our impact tracker tool populates a database that is easy to use, allowing us to filter and export data in convenient formats. Currently, our database contains nearly 500 impacts.
Collecting this data has taught us about the wide and far-reaching impact of our journalism. We discovered a single opinion piece led to a new conference to build open science infrastructure in Southeast Asia, and also affected research to develop the first national suicide-prevention strategy in Indonesia.
Other content published in Nature has helped bring attention and funding to important scientific endeavours, such as contributing to the Australian government’s decision to fund national wildfire data collection, raising the profile of Zimbabwe’s first private research institute, and garnering funding for thin-film solar cell research.
Our content also had wider social impacts, we’ve learned, such as leading to the U.S. National Academy of Science’s decision to expel two members for harassment for the first time in its history and generating recognition for a long-overlooked female chemist in Uruguay.
Nature content has inspired new scientific collaborations in carbon cycle modeling and has been cited in both the IPCC report and an investigation of the World Health Organisation’s handling of the Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Here’s what we learned about the process of collecting impact data:
- Defining your own custom impact categories helps make sure they support your organisation’s goals and values. Using consistent categories allows us to quickly filter for the type of impact we want to showcase for a particular audience. We devised 12 impact categories, including policy impacts and educational impacts.
- Regular impact reports help the editorial team guide future coverage and further grow our impact. Collecting data on impact also allows us to better demonstrate value to our subscribers.
- Impact data captures valuable information about content that is missed by other metrics. For example, some of our stories with low pageviews have had important policy impacts.
- Impact data drives a new type of story that readers valued. We selected 12 of the most compelling impact narratives and published three digital impact reports – stories of how our global, climate, and COVID coverage have made a difference. Reader surveys showed nearly 80% of respondents found these impact reports valuable.
- Impact affects our team’s well-being. It’s important for media professionals to hear that their labor is making a difference, especially in this time of intense stress and burnout in the media who have spent the last two years reporting on the coronavirus pandemic. Talking about impact reminds us why we work in journalism.