Evaluating media literacy

The difference it makes to people's lives

Evaluating Media Literacy with a Theory of Change

Media literacy is the ability to engage fully with media in our connected daily lives. This means engaging with media safely and healthily, critically and actively, with positive social consequences.

A person sat on a laptop with a phone and icons representing different functions

This project, led by the Centre for Excellence in Media Practice (CEMP) in partnership with the Media and Information Literacy Alliance, will use a theory of change to measure the difference media literacy makes to people’s lives.

This will include the way people engage differently with media, changes to their media behaviours, and how they use their media literacy for positive actions in the world.

A key shift in thinking, this recognises that reducing online harms in the UK needs not only a more media literate population, but also for media literate citizens to take positive actions in the digital environment, thereby improving the health of the media ecosystem - in a similar way to how a vaccine reduces the danger of a virus.

The project has been funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), as part of the UK government's Online Literacy Media Strategy, which aims to empower people to stay safe online by being able to critically evaluate what they see and read on the internet.

What difference does media literacy make? 

This project will meet the urgent need for the independent, consistent and robust evaluation of media literacy projects. It will provide a stronger understanding of ‘what works’ through a theory of change which goes beyond assessing levels of media literacy to measure sustainable positive consequences of media literacy in different contexts.

As a result, we will be able to deliver a transferable and sustainable framework and methodology that can not only be used for the independent evaluation of media literacy projects but also to inform their future design.

Professor Julian McDougall

Project lead

Our theory of change and evaluation framework will go further than any media literacy metrics in the UK have before because our four elements can account for the who, why, what and how of media literacy and, crucially, with what results for society?

Our theory of change is aligned with the Media and Information Literacy Alliance framework’s five lifelong aspirations, for media literate people to be informed; empowered; healthy; socially conscious and connected.

We will embed a new media literacy evaluation framework for DCMS within the refined version of our theory of change for the agentive and consequential uses of media literacy, measuring the impact of project on four elements:  

  • Full and safe access to digital technology and media, 
  • Critical awareness of media representations and what content and information can be trusted
  • The capability to use media literacy actively, rather than as passive consumers
  • The critical understanding of the consequences of actions in the media ecosystem and how to use capabilities for positive consequences

Our evaluation approach will measure the impacts of projects in terms of the difference media literacy makes to people’s lives, the way people engage differently with media, changes to their media behaviours and how they use their media literacy for positive actions in the world.

Project outputs

This project will achieve three strategic objectives: 

  • Provide the DCMS with a robust evaluation framework, aligned with a holistic theory of change for measuring the impact of media literacy projects
  • Provide a review of recent, existing and current UK media literacy projects (supported by DCMS and others), using the evaluation framework and theory of change
  • Deliver to DCMS a fit-for-purpose, sustainable and transferable evaluation framework and guide for use beyond this project to evaluate all work funded in the programme