Interrogating audiences:

What do we mean by engagement and evaluation?

Kate Nash
Institute of Communications Studies
University of Leeds

A process of re(imagining) the audience is at the heart of interactive documentary production and scholarship. Various forms of interaction and participation challenge traditional theories of film and television audience, and we have come to speak, almost routinely, of ‘new relationships’ between audiences, documentary makers and text. It is an exciting exploration that has the potential to bring the civic culture of documentary into dialogue with digital cultures and new forms of media engagement.

Re(imagining) the audience begins by calling into question the logic of mass media and interrogating the interconnected practices of production and reception. Historically relatively marginal, audience research becomes central to both documentary production and scholarship. But how can we theorise and research the interactive documentary audience? What do we mean by engagement? And against what yardstick can we measure success? These questions are significant in shaping idocs production and scholarship.

In this presentation I will talk briefly about my recent experience of idocs audience research.  Approaching interactive documentary through the lens of interactive reception sheds light on the connections between interpretation and interaction, the importance of play narrative and agency and the significance of context. Importantly the research also points to the tremendous value to be gained by both producers and researchers in collaborating to better understand what audiences do, what they experience and how they interpret interactive documentary.