A familiar trait of discourses associated with emerging media is a bias toward the 'new', an almost inevitable rhetoric claiming that newer media forms are 'more realistic', or 'more democratic' or offer a 'more engaged' media experience. With digital media (broadly defined) there have been regular pronouncements from industry (serving their own interests) and academic circles (who should know better) that interactive, collaborative, networked platforms involve an inherently more 'active' engagement for users, compared to older media such as film, radio and television which apparently just encouraged 'passivity' from mass audiences. Rather than 'leanback' media which simply flows over you as you watch a screen, the quest is to use digital platforms to generate something with more 'stickiness', or 'impact'.
An implicit, but rarely stated, assumption made by designers of interactive / collaborative documentary is that they are providing forms of engagement for users which are more likely to lead to social and political action. That browsing content, clicking through pathways or multimedia content on a site, commenting on and uploading content, or otherwise 'collaborating' on the construction of meaning involves a deeper and more committed form of engagement. These are assumptions which drive the pursuit of interactive strategies (as compared to editing strategies) to encourage the user to encounter material at their own pace, trace connections between resources, give a sense of 'immersion' into representations of reality, or meaningfully engage with others within a community with a shared purpose.
I have two points to suggest here. The first is that we actually know very little about the nature of audiences engagement with audio-visual nonfiction, and the complexities of how individual viewers might be making sense of, and acting upon, what they are encountering on a screen. The second is that to insist that a deeper more effective 'call to action' is being generated through interactive means might be compounding our misunderstanding of what does and does not make documentary 'work'. Are designers pursuing the experimentation of interactive design strategies for their own sake, or do they have a clear sense of the kinds of interactive strategies which are appropriate for their content, their agenda and their target users?