BBC – give us the tools and the space.

Richard Wilson at Involve has commented on the BBC’s tentative steps towards building public participation. “The BBC is stuck in 20th Century top-down parental thinking”, he says, continuing:

if the BBC really wants to support civil renewal it needs to give people the tools to make their own content without the aid of a studio or 10K camera. Yes support people understand what it takes to make a beautiful and inspiring documentary, but not in a way in which we are reliant on their filming or editing skills, but so we can do it ourselves, and eventually on our own.

My experience of BBC conversations about “user generated content” is that it is almost always perceived as something which will help create material for mainstream programming. The principal that the BBC has a role to advance democratic conversation by offering the freedom for people to have that conversation on their own terms seems to be rarely considered.Meanwhile Kevin Harris at the Neighbourhoods blog sets out some principals for wider involvement:

  • consultation without engagement is damaging and always has been. So –
  • start community engagement at the most local level and take the lessons up a level at a time, cautiously
  • do not use the C word to imply consensus
  • try to create a culture of genuine participation in all arenas of social life, including the family, school, and work environments:
  • the habit of participation is precious and a society that neglects it is vulnerable understand that at the present rate, politicians will be following, not leading, this debate (possibly trailed only by the established broadcast media)
  • try and celebrate the hits for participation that are independent of the availability of resources: there are still too many people baying for funding even though we have an unenviable tradition of wasting it because we don’t know how to work collaboratively.

Kevin’s first point about scale is critical for the BBC; learning the hard lesson of trusting people at a local level, with initiatives and ideas driven from below, not above. So agreed Richard, but also grant the license payer one other BBC asset – easy access to it’s own globally appreciated webspace.