Earlier this month I was invited by David Wilcox of Designing for Civil Society and Lizzie Jackson to a BBC Trust event about how blogging could extend the Trust’s engagement with the public in the review of bbc.co.uk, and in the Trust’s other work. From the invite, I guess I qualified as someone 'with a strong interest in Public Service Broadcasting' (as I focus on substantive writing over blogging). The other participants included Charlie Beckett, Lloyd Davis, Simon Dickson, Mick Fealty, Sunny Hundal, Ed Mitchell, and JP Rangaswami The aim of the event was to:
Explain the role of the BBC Trust, how and why it reviews the BBC's services, and the current review and consultation process; invite ideas on how blogging could extend the reach of this and other Trust public engagement; discuss what topics are likely to prove good conversation starters, and guidelines on how best to promote these
Mark Rogers of Market Sentinel also gave a short and engaging presentation on how blog conversations and blog influence can be mapped.
A number of participants have already reflected on the event, and an overview of these responses can be found on David Wilcox's Reaching out to bloggers? post. My thoughts, which I largely expressed during the discussion, follow.
It is a positive step that the Trust is innovating around its consultation process. But as ever in media-related discourse we need to consider the broader context. This initiative has been taken, it was explained, partly as there is a regulatory requirement to consult but also as there is a 'desire for legitimacy'. This ties into the broader contemporary discussion of the legitimacy of and trust in the established media -- a phenomenon that is more profound than might be understood by the hoo-ha around the naming of cats or, even, fraud in audience interaction models.
To the extent there has been a decline in trust in the BBC, this is a secular trends across all 'established' institutions. The decline is not a product of a lack of consultation but of a general loss of direction and purpose among these institutions and their leaders. This can't be fixed with more (methods of) consultation. In fact a higher profile consultation process may even be seen as an admission of lack of authority, particularly if the process is more about attempting to connect and a desire for legitimacy. However, there are clearly many informed and smart people who have not been part of past consultations who might well contribute valuable reflections and insights.
At the level of process I suggest the following:
- Set an agenda which frames and situates the discussion at a high level, asking for instance 'What is media for?'. (And this may well still be answered by the BBC's Purpose, Vision and Values statement.)
- Provide some background notes on data on the key developments that frame the challenge, from social, business and technological trends and trajectories to BBC specific factors and developments.
- Take note of all the 'live' discussions that are going on around the role of the media in general and the BBC/bbc.co.uk in particular, from the backstage.bbc.co.uk discussion list (which often strays from its geeky heart into these bigger issues) to contributions at the level of the Royal Television Society's Fleming Memorial Lecture lecture 'What the BBC is for' to be delivered in London later this week.
- Develop a mechanism that will allow (most) related blog posts to be found. This might involve agreeing a tag or tags, or creating a page that supports (moderated) trackback, thus allowing links to posts to be aggregated.
- Bring together relevant writing and criticism in this area and give it an (objective) editorial context (kind of a literature review for you academics out there) -- including contributions from bloggers.
- If there were more time for the process I would suggest setting an agenda for the discussion, starting with 'What is media for?', 'closing' and summing up this discussion and moving on to the next item, and concluding with specific questions around the service review. (Of course the bloggerati don't won't be so constrained but it is important to be clear whose agenda it is.)
Meanwhile, I have been asked by the BBC (rather than the Trust) to propose an essay for the bbc.co.uk Service Review which, if it is commissioned, I will write in the next week, and hope to be able to post online.