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‘Shares’ as an indicator of influence

If I read a good paper or listen to a good argument and take it away with me I could say that I’ve been influenced. But how does the author of the paper or source of the argument knows? Now, if I take their paper and share it with someone else, or if I pass on their arguments to my peers, that may be seen as clear indication of influence. I would not share something I think is poorly articulate -or simply plain wrong.

While it might be hard to find out if everyone who reads this blog is influenced by it, I think I can safely say that most of those who chose to share its content with others were. At least they thought that the post or blog was worth passing along. They were willing to put their name to it.

When designing websites think tanks should make sure that they can trace shares for their studies and outputs. Platforms like WordPress make it easy and add the ‘sharing’ buttons. Twitter has a function to see if your tweets have been retweeted.

None of these (and I am sure there are others) cost anything and can be a very useful tool.

This blog has 220 subscribers and 305 Twitter followers. I usually forward each post to a few online communities. About 150 people per day visit the site (sometimes more, sometimes less). But the following posts have been ‘shared’ from the site. Next time I’ll have a look at the top shares in Twitter and Facebook

Top Posts & Pages

These posts on your site got the most shares

Title Shares
on success from TED by Alain de Botton 8
A new think tank model: a focus on productive sectors 7
Evaluation reading list, contacts and resources 6
The onthinktanks interview: Simon Maxwell 5
Independence, dependency, autonomy… is it all about the money? 4
Think tank directories and lists 4
The Standard: Africa home to only 2.3 per cent world’s researchers 3
Impact of Social Sciences: Maximizing the impact of academic research 3
Speed Dating for think tanks: how to meet your future partner? 3
Information, confirmation, and influencing advice 3
Got resources? Think tank them 2
Information Dissemination: Think Tanks, the Media, and the Future of Ideas Distribution 2
Getting Better at Strategic Communication advice from RAND 2
What is the role of the intelligence services? And think tanks? 2
Ideology trumps facts -but facts still matter 2
Policy analysis and influence: researchers or communicators? 2
Manuals 2
Understanding and supporting networks: learning from theory and practice -May 5 2
Different ways to define and describe think tanks 2
‘Think tanks are becoming bland’ from The Guardian’s Comment is Free 1
‘I predict a riot’ -and then explain it 1
Think Tanks and politics/ Think tanks y la política 1
Working Papers are NOT Working 1
An underappreciated benefit of experiments: convincing politicians when their pet projects don’t work | News, views, methods, and insights from the world of impact evaluation 1
Impact evaluations, research, analysis… what is the difference? 1
Think tanks: research findings and some common challenges 1
An unlikely path to aid: Paying to set up think tanks – Doug Saunders 1
What makes a successful policy research organisation in a developing country? Review of Ray Struyk’s latest paper 1
For the 21st Century think tank: mobile data collection and research tools 1
Theories of change: an annotated review of documents and views 1
Corruption free think tanks 1
Contributors 1
When evidence will not make a difference: motivated reasoning 1
Online Course: How to build a policy influence plan 1
more on how to present research 1
on how to organise and present a think tank’s research 1
“Sea Turtles” or “returnees” behind China’s think tank growth 1
Evo, think tanks and policy in Bolivia 1
Think tanks and policy makers in Argentina 1
Why Think Tanks are More Effective than Anyone Else in Changing Policy 1
The rise of conservative think tanks in the U.S. marketplace of ideas 1
Lists and manuals 1
How think tanks change public policy – the Overton Window of Political Possibility 1
Call for proposals for experiments in using evidence for policy influence in South Asia 1
Handbook on monitoring, evaluating and managing knowledge for policy influence 1
After the uprising Egypt will need solutions: bring in the think tanks 1
Another year, another ranking of think tanks (and surprise surprise, Brookings is still the best) 1
on some of Goran’s musings 1
Conformity and groupthink: a tool for think tanks or a danger? 1
Whose money is it anyway? think tanks and the public: an Indian debate 1
A quick poll on the perception of think tanks 1
Ezra Klein – Giving is personal. Make it political. 1
on the definition of think tanks: Towards a more useful discussion 1
Right Thinking, Big Grants, and Long-term Strategy 1
About 1
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6 Comments Post a comment
  1. I think calling shares an indicator of influence may be a step too far, particularly as ‘influence’ is a word that is often used to indicate some level of change or control over someone. Much more likely is that ‘shares’ indicate interest or engagement with content. In ODI, I label shares as engagement – a step before ‘conversion’, where someone acts either for your argument, or against it. A fairly classic communications plan for, say, a business change project, would try to take people through three basic levels: awareness of an idea, change; engagement with the change and what it means; conversion (hopefully in the positive sense) to supporting the change and championing it with others.

    August 30, 2011
    • Wouldn’t engagement imply downloading the document; maybe contacting the researcher to find out more; etc.? Influence in this case refers to being compelled to share this ‘great idea’ with someone else. s you say, to act for your argument (although as you point out I sometimes share something with a sarcastic comment to go along. But I guess, that still means that I’ve been influenced).

      Another matter is if I am influenced to do what the study or argument says I should do. But most of the time the reader is not in power to change things.

      Indicator. An indicator is just a proxy that something is happening. It indicates.

      August 30, 2011
      • Thinking about it more, I think this site has it right (see question 2):

        Here the act of sharing is actually a conversion, not engagement. Engagement is, as you posit, more about visiting the site and reading the content. Fair enough.

        I would still say that ‘influence’ is a very broad term and sharing content indicates only a very low level of influence over events and decisions. I would therefore stay away from it as an indicator of ‘influence’ for ODI – but as an indicator of how well we’re ‘informing’ debate it could be much more useful.

        At the end of the day, it is a just a semantic difference really, as I think we’re pretty agreed in broad terms that it is one of the most useful (and accessible) indicators you can get from a website. Certainly more useful than downloads or page views on their own.

        August 30, 2011
  2. I found both the first 2 comments quite interesting and illuminating on the various ways of looking at ‘influence’. As the above blog has ‘ influenced’ me in one way or the other I will go ahead and hit the ‘share’ button!

    August 30, 2011
  3. Hans Gutbrod #

    Currently thinking about this issue, for another blog post – Nick, Enrique, how has your thinking evolved? Would you call it influence still? Or engagement? Potentially one could also use “reach” or “visibility”, since sharing makes more visible and increases the reach, but it is of course a step down from influence or engagement.

    April 18, 2013
    • The word influence or impact is certainly not correct. But shares suggest something more than visits or views. It may not say much about the quality of the thing begin shared or of the reader agrees with it but it does suggest that he/she respects the author. Enough to consider him/her credible.

      April 18, 2013

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