Understanding the Changing Cultural Value of the BBC World Service and British Council

Lead Research Organisation: Open University
Department Name: Faculty of Social Sciences

Abstract

The BBC World Service (WS) and the British Council (BC) are the UK's largest international cultural organisations: key national-to-global institutions charged with representing British identities and interests. Very well known and respected abroad, 'at home' in the UK awareness of their activities is low. Little academic research has been done into the cultural value they channel and produce. Our project is ambitious in aiming to produce an analytical and methodological framework adequate to understanding, evidencing and explaining the role of WS and BC and their users in curating, creating and translating cultural value abroad and at home.
The project is timely as the future of both organisations is uncertain. Changes to funding and remit make this a vital moment to engage with them in re-assessing their roles. Uses of digital media provide an apt methodological as well as substantive point of entry. Both organisations are investing digitally with the aim of engaging new audiences. For the World Service, internet is as important as radio or television in key markets, and the aim is to curate online audiences in a 'global conversation'. The British Council increasingly uses the internet to share the UK's 'great cultural assets' and so 'build trust' worldwide. Real-time quantitative or 'big' data' on user activities presents real opportunities as well as challenges. In order to understand the quality of individual cultural experiences and how such experiences are valued, we use an innovative methodological approach that builds bridges across social sciences and digital humanities.
WS and BC are often conceived of in terms of their functions for British 'soft power', 'public' or 'cultural' diplomacy and 'nation branding', or in terms of vague notions of intercultural communication, cultural exchange imbued with cosmopolitan values and aspirations. These perspectives rely on assumptions about the intrinsic value of the cultural experiences these institutions offer. We will test prevalent assumptions about cultural value, drawing on an extensive historical and digital archive created during a recently concluded 5-year AHRC-funded set of projects on interculturality at the WS, and extensive work evaluating BC projects. We will also evaluate several new digital projects carefully selected for locating and analysing their significance for reflective individuals and engaged citizens.
Understanding the changing cultural value of the WS and BC through the lens of digital interactions is valuable because they can be tracked and analysed, offering unprecedented insights into users' cultural experiences. Our work will shed light on whether the intercultural dialogue opened up around visual media can be regarded as evidence of trust, a crucial value for both organisations.
Arguably digital media change the nature of trust in/resulting from cultural organisations as they no longer exercise the same levels of control over narratives or audiences. Culture and geography are unbound in the digital domain which makes communication across cultural boundaries and 'soft power' influence more complex to assess. New digital projects also involve trade-offs between fundamental organisational values. Peer-to-peer communication relies on recommendation, openness, transparency and engaging the individual in immersive and atmospheric experiences, or as current WS editorial strategy puts it, 'Living the Story'. Traditional organisational values of impartiality and objectivity are being challenged and even rejected as colonial vestiges. So how do notions of trust and transparency fit in with notions of cultural value? The project will break new ground in understanding and researching cultural value in international organisations bringing the bird's eye view into dialogue with the snail's eye view or in Weber's terms, arriving at verstehen (understanding) by begreiffen (grasping the bigger picture).

Planned Impact

Our main impact will be to provide a culturally sensitive framework for understanding and assessing cultural value from a multi-dimensional perspective that will have high transferability to a variety of cultural organisations, projects and users. It will benefit those who study and assess the arts and culture industries, and the organisations and media that channel, broker and support their representation - those working in conventional places and spaces where culture is valued (museums, galleries, formal face-to-face contexts) and those engaged in virtual contact zones. We hope to support best practice and inspire alternative ways of conceiving and researching cultural value. Putting a financial value on cultural activity is important for these organisations and their funders. They want to see a return on their investment (inward foreign investment, travel and tourism) and be able to measure intangible values such as trust and influence. Sample survey and interview methods are mainly used for such purposes. While useful, alternative concepts and methods are required to open up more nuanced understandings of value.
The initial main beneficiaries will be the organisations themselves and their stakeholders (funders, donors, business and policy-makers). Their triple public-charitable-commercial status means that assumptions about subsidised versus commercial cultural activities need to be challenged. The mutual interdependence of cultural industries and WS and BC needs to be better understood as does the value of the work of cultural brokers and intermediaries. The Foreign and Commonwealth only partly funds WS and BC as public diplomacy partners. Our work will be of particular benefit to FCO's public and digital diplomacy teams, headed by Stephen Townsend with whom we have already established relations as well as to the BBC Trust in disentangling cultural, public, economic and political value. FCO tends to conceive of cultural value in diplomatic or 'soft power' but these concepts require urgent critical scrutiny and ways of developing Diplomacy 2.0 based on dialogue rather than monologic messaging. DFID will also be interested and will benefit. The FCO's diminishing contribution to BC and WS is ring fenced strictly for development purposes. Diplomacy and development goals are being aligned as soft power tactics in come to the fore as major budget cuts bite and hard power operations flounder. Our work will feed into current developments in security and cultural relations in conflict zones at Chatham House with whom the PI has ongoing connections. BC is largest charity in UK and the WS' Media Action operates as a charity. Our work will feed into their evaluative research strategies (as did our prior 'drama for development' projects). Stakeholders of cultural value will be enabled to develop the required skills to assess their current methods, evidence and forms of evaluation, enabling them to reflect on their own experience through this. Our framework will provide a powerful tool for wide-scale application to other projects which require grounded and evidence-based means to establish a workable hypothesis of cultural value. A wide range of assumptions prevail about how culture is valued and how the digital age can act as archive and agency for the promulgation of such value. The framework will increase the effectiveness of evaluation projects and provide a means whereby cultural producers can test the value of their work and evaluators can deepen the skill sets. International professional associations of audience and market researchers (we have close ties with: http://www.cibar.org/) will also benefit. By these means we hope to achieve impact by enhancing the knowledge economy and providing international advancement in knowledge by addressing this issue of global importance. Our main impact would be to enhance individual cultural enrichment through better modes of evaluating cultural experiences.
 
Description This project has developed a much deeper ethnographic understanding of diasporic and transnational communication - most recently being applied to Europe's refugee crisis (see publications and new partnerships). The full set of findings are available in my Final report to the AHRC which is a 20 page document. It would be helpful to receive acknowledgement of this report and for it to be available. the impact and consequences of this AHRC project run deep and go far.
Exploitation Route Yes, in the policy domains
a) information precarity among refugees
b) radicalisation and social media
c) soft power, security and dipomacy
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy
URL http://www.open.ac.uk/researchprojects/diasporas/
 
Description by BBCWS and France Medias Monde and Conference of Broadcasting Audience Researchers (CIBAR) by the European Commission
First Year Of Impact 2007
Sector Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services
 
Description British Council 
Organisation British Council
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution This collaboration started as part of my AHRC Cultural Value Project - see http://www.open.ac.uk/researchprojects/diasporas/cvp We have created the Cultural Value Model which is being adapted and adopted by use in the organisation as a conceptual and methodological tool for assessing cultural and digital activities and projects - see http://www.open.ac.uk/researchprojects/diasporas/cvp/cultural-value-framework
Collaborator Contribution Resources - time, skills, knowledge, ideas
Impact Please see our final report (final section) for a full list of publications and outputs http://www.open.ac.uk/researchprojects/diasporas/cvp (scroll down to end of page) In 2015 we conducted a cultural value analysis of the Uk-Iran Season of Culture and the report can be found at the link above
Start Year 2013
 
Description Cultural Value Workshops 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The workshops outlined below led to a reconsideration of modes of assessment, shifted the frame of analysis from impact to value of cultural and digital activities in these organisations, and led to experimentation with, testing of, adaption and adoption of our Cultural Value Model


2014 The Cultural Value Framework. OU/BC Lunchtime Seminar at British Council with Senior Management, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Cabinet Office, NGOs. Spring Gardens. 20 February.
2014 The Cultural Value Framework. OU/BBC WS Lunchtime Seminar Series (with Senior Management and Staff). New Broadcasting House. 13 February
2014 Understanding Changing Cultural Value: Academic / BBC WS Workshop, The Open University, Camden, London, 14 January.
2013 News Coverage of Syria August 2013: A Social Media Analysis. OU/BBC World Service Lunchtime Seminar, New Broadcasting House, London, 18 December.
2013 Understanding Changing Cultural Value of the British Council. OU/BC Workshop. The Open University, Camden, London, 21 November.
2013 Understanding the Cultural Value of the British Council. OU/BC Workshop. 35 participants from British Council. The Open University. Camden, 5 November.
2013 Understanding the Cultural Value of the BBC World Service. 40 BBCWS participants. The Open University, Camden, London, 29 October.


After the series of workshops, the organisations asked f we could test and develop the model on other projects and activities - in particular The 'A Richer World' season at the BBC WS and The Iran Season at British Council
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013,2014
URL http://www.open.ac.uk/researchprojects/diasporas/cvp
 
Description How Do We Value the BBC World Service? 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk led to further requests for information about our research and invitations to publish

I published an article in The Conversation
The BBC World Service is a force for good - look after it, or risk losing it. The Conversation. Online magazine: www.theconversation.com/uk 1 April.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://theconversation.com/uk
 
Description International Broadcasting, Social Media and the 'New Cold War': A Case Study of the Reporting of the Sochi Olympics on RT and BBC 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Policymakers/parliamentarians
Results and Impact Talk sparked an ongoing debate with the FCO and contributed to policy debate

(with Stephen Hutchings, Ilya Yablokov, Ilya Lvov and Alex Voss). Invited Presentation to FCO. Hosted by Rebecca Loughna, Research Analyst to Eastern Research Group, Eastern Europe and Central Asia Directorate, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The seminar included staff from BBC Monitoring. 21 May.

After the talk members of the FCO asked for follow up information
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Open University and BBC World Service Lunchtime Seminar Series 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Convenor: The Open University / BBC World Service / British Council Lunchtime Seminar Series
2014 The Cultural Value Framework. OU/BC Lunchtime Seminar at British Council with Senior Management, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Cabinet Office, NGOs. Spring Gardens. 20 February.
2014 The Cultural Value Framework. OU/BBC WS Lunchtime Seminar Series (with Senior Management and Staff). New Broadcasting House. 13 February
2014 Understanding Changing Cultural Value: Academic / BBC WS Workshop, The Open University, Camden, London, 14 January.
2013 News Coverage of Syria August 2013: A Social Media Analysis. OU/BBC World Service Lunchtime Seminar, New Broadcasting House, London, 18 December.
2013 Understanding Changing Cultural Value of the British Council. OU/BC Workshop. The Open University, Camden, London, 21 November.
2013 Understanding the Cultural Value of the British Council. OU/BC Workshop. 35 participants from British Council. The Open University. Camden, 5 November.
2013 Understanding the Cultural Value of the BBC World Service. 40 BBCWS participants. The Open University, Camden, London, 29 October.
2012 The Open University and BBC Global News Audiences: Lunchtime Seminar Series: Evaluating the Global Conversation.
2012 Understanding Social Media Use. 30 May 2012. New Broadcasting House. Huw Wheldon VC (with Hugh Mackay).
2012 BBC Arabic and Social Media: A Case Study of Nuqtat Hewar. With Nesrine Abdel Sattar, Nermeen Sayed and Mina Al Lami. New Broadcasting House, 17 May
2012 Measuring Impact - 11 May. New Broadcasting House (with Dr Hugh Mackay)
2011 Citizen Journalism (with Hugh Mackay). Bush House. 14 September.
2011 Social Media Monitoring (with Hugh Mackay) Bush House. 24 August.
2011 Social Media and the Arab Spring (with Hugh Mackay) Bush House. 8 July


As convenor of this ongoing OU/BBC lunchtime seminar series, over the last 3-4 years, we have shared ideas, collaborated on research, communicated our research findings and these exchanges have had considerable impact on strategy, practice and audience research at the BBC World Service as outlined in my REF impact case study 2013.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description The BBC World Service and British Council as Premier Soft Power Assets. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/parliamentarians
Results and Impact Our evidence was name checked in final House of Lords Report

It contributed to national public debate and understanding about role of World Service inside the BBC, in the Uk and abroad
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.parliament.uk/documents/lords-committees/soft-power-uk-influence/SoftPowerEvVol1.pdf
 
Description The BBC World Service, Twitter and the London Olympics: The Challenges of Social Media for International Broadcasters 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This was a presentation based on collaborative research with BBCWS researchers and academics from multiple disciplines across Social and Computer Sciences and Arts and Humanities. It led to further collaborative research on issues of social media and soft power around the Sochi Olympics involving a new partner Russia Today and BBC WS.

Co-authored with Proctor, R., O Loughlin, B., Shreim, N. Aslanyan A., Targhi, M., Aslan, B., Dennis, J and Voss, A.

It stimulated an AHRC bid for a further comparative research on international broadcasters. One of our team Prof Ben O'Loughlin (a politics and international relations specialist) was, following this research and our presentations of it, alongside his work on strategic narratives', appointed Cheif Academic Advisor to the House of Lords Committee on Soft Power in 2013.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description The Cultural Value Framework 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This presentation was part of a series of lunchtime seminars that took place over the course of our 8 month AHRC Cultural Value Project that involved staff from various sections of the British Council and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office as well as users of the organisation. It sparked discussion of how best to assess the value of their activities and in so doing delved deeper into what the criteria of assessment should be.

After the talk we were invited to work with specifci teams at BC to develop our Cultural Value Framework collaboratively for use in the organisation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.open.ac.uk/researchprojects/diasporas/cvp
 
Description The Future of the BBC World Service 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/parliamentarians
Results and Impact It contributed to national public debate and policy-making

It was accepted as evidence (not all evidence is) by BBC Trust Consultation
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/assets/files/pdf/regulatory_framework/other_activities/wsol/cres...