Measuring Success

Our crowd-funding campaign has been successful! Over the last three weeks, we gathered $3,020 from a community of 76 people. This marks a major step for Marco Polo Project. Not only can we now develop a proposed set of improvements to our website, and make our platform more attractive to translators; this is also the first time we’ve had money coming in on such a scale from outside the core founding team. There now is a community supporting us, and we’re accountable to them to do the best we can.

As a form of meditative acknowledgement for this extremely generous support, I would like to end this series of reflections with a post on evaluation. As an organisation looking for government, community and philanthropic support, it is crucial for us to measure success efficiently: transparency and accountability are, rightfully, basic requirements to receive such funding. But we should also spend time to meaningfully reflect about what actually constitutes a good measure of success for our organisation.

The project is now two years old, and meets all the basic conditions for fulfilling our mission. From what was originally just an idea and a group of people, we have set up a formal organisation, built a website, selected a catalogue of texts, gathered a community, and defined a working model. This phase of ‘initial set up’ is over, now we must move on to more strategic development.

Our goal is to contribute to Chinese and China literacy on a global scale. We propose to do so by developing an online platform gathering a digital community that translates, reads and discusses contemporary Chinese writing. And as we grow, we would like more translators to spend more time on our website, producing more and better translations as a result, which more readers will read, share and discuss. This defines three core areas for measuring success: translator engagement, readership, and contents.

The last one – contents – is probably the easiest to measure. The absolute number of translations on our website is an indicator of success. For more refined appreciation, we should produce a set of measures combining the number of texts translated, their average length, and the ‘level of completion’ reached. This, however, does not indicate the quality of our selection – which will be more subtly appreciated by proxy measures, such as number of ‘shares’, feedback from users (comments, star ratings), and mentions of our selection quality in the media or on blogs.

To measure readership engagement, web analytics are a good starting point. The best indicator derived from web analytics is probably the total time spent on the website – number of visits * average time per visit. The number of comments and shares is another indicator. Proxy measures include social media reach out (number of people ‘liking’ our facebook page and twitter followers; and their level of interaction), link-backs to our website on other blogs or websites, and media collaborations, such as guest-blogging or re-posts.

At a basic level, translator engagement will be measured as the total number of registered users and, among them, the number of active users (actually producing translations). Comments from users or – if they are students – by their teachers about their increased Chinese language fluency, understanding of China, and motivation to learn Chinese, will also allow us to indirectly measure the success of our translator engagement. This data will be gathered ad hoc; pending funding availability, we may also conduct a survey or focus group to better assess success.

We are currently devising a series of strategic documents that will articulate both our core activities and projects aiming to improve readership, contents, or translators engagement. When these are finished – in a month or so – we will be ready for the second phase of Marco Polo Project’s existence, beyond initial set up, towards building a sustainable organisation.

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