Engagement Models

The Dot Connector Studio team based our Engagement Models on a decade of research into how participatory media projects connect with users and stakeholders to drive social change.


This model is designed to spread an unexpected bright idea, with a goal of widely influencing conversation. Such media projects aim to disseminate an insight or a new frame, creating opportunities for network-building and outreach. Example: Lean In. Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook made waves with her “Lean In” book on how women can reach their goals in the workplace and beyond. The idea that women can have it all had ample critics but sparked a national conversation about equality for women in the workplace.


Big Bang

This model is designed to generate awareness, to reach as much of the targeted audience as possible. Often, such media projects will include an explosive event or coordinated launch. Example: Half the Sky. Award-winning journalists Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas D. Kristof created a splash with their campaign to end the oppression of women and girls on a global scale. Their cross-platform movement includes a best-selling book, television series, Facebook game, mobile games, partnership with PBS and ongoing public engagement campaign.


Bridge Builder

Bridge Builder

This model is designed to open dialogue across users with differing opinions. Such media projects create new pathways for debate and exchange between communities that don’t typically interact with one another.



This model is designed to hold the attention of users, generating empathy and loyalty. Such media projects aim to transport users into another place or state of mind and are often more interactive than participatory. Example: SPENT. The interactive web game SPENT challenges users to survive for one month on $1,000. Users must make difficult decisions, such as whether to send a sick child to school or stay home from work and lose money or a job.



This model is designed to fund a project through small-scale contributions from individuals using platforms such as Kickstarter. Contributors often receive rewards or perks based on their gifts.



This model uses the public as the source of ideas and information for the content of a project. Individuals make suggestions for topics of investigation, answer questions or surveys, and sometimes participate in the storytelling or project development. Example: The Listening Post. A public media effort that encourages participants to share their ideas, concerns, opinions and information through a range of platforms including recording devices and mobile phones.


Domino EffectDomino Effect

This model is designed to move influencers to action. Such media projects don’t need to reach a large audience but mobilize users to interact with a target as part of a series of steps towards reaching a goal or shifting a debate. Example: Blackfish. Three years after the premiere of the documentary Blackfish, about the mistreatment of captive orcas, SeaWorld announced it was discontining its orca breeding program and orca performances. An ecosystem of activists capitalized on the film to raise awareness and engage in a sustained public campaign that, bit-by-bit, caused SeaWorld stock prices to plummet, ultimately prompting the change.


Empathy GeneratorEmpathy Generator

This model is designed to introduce a new perspective or inspire action by emphasizing the human experience. These projects typically incorporate deeply personal stories. Example: Clouds Over Sidra. In this virtual reality piece, 12-year-old Sidra guides viewers through the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan. Commissioned for advocacy to the leaders at the Davos World Economic Forum, the first-person perspective are designed to build empathy for the vulnerability and future of refugees.


Fan ClubFan Club

This model is centered on a personality, group or brand with a goal of increasing visibility and growing the base. Users of such media projects may connect with one another, but most often communication moves from the hub to the periphery. Example: Happy Hippies. Celebrity and musician Miley Cyrus uses her public appearances to raise awareness and support for vulnerable populations, in particular homeless and LGTBQ youth. She launched the Happy Hippie Foundation to raise money and develop programs, and is outspoken on LGTBQ rights and gender fluidity.



This model is designed to reveal publicly relevant information, often as the result of in-depth investigative research. The element of surprise enforces accountability on the part of public figures or entities who might be implicated in wrongdoing.


Invention EngineInvention Engine

This highly participatory model is designed to stimulate and harness the creativity of users and collaborators. Such media projects serve as perpetual motion machines, constantly engaging new creators and platforms to expand the project. Example: Curious City. Public radio station WBEZ of Chicago launched Curious City to harness the creativity and input of its listeners. The project evolved into the company Hearken, “systems change catalysts.”


Networked HubNetworked Hub

Rather than simply seeking to expand audience size, this model focuses on user engagement and mobilization. Such media projects are designed to intensify connections among users, outlets and related organizations around a particular topic, issue or identity. Example: Not In Our Town, a cross-platform initiative that has built a movement to combat hate, bullying, related crimes and make cities and local communities safer for all residents.


Safe SpaceSafe Space

This model provides content relevant to a targeted community, along with a managed forum that allows users to communicate privately. Such media projects allow members to cohere around a shared issue or identity and hash out internal differences without fear of criticism from outsiders. Example: The Bully Project. The website for the documentary film Bully provides an avenue for kids experiencing bullying to get support immediately via a hotline, along with other resources that address different types of bullying.


You Are HereYou Are Here

This model is designed to build local community and intensify experiences around shared spaces and concerns. Such media projects have a clearly defined geographic focus, and aim to thicken the relationship between community members and local institutions. Example: Sandy Storyline, a participatory documentary organized by residents of areas impacted by Hurricane Sandy.