Public Service Broadcasters in the Digital Age

Two quick reminders for anyone thinking about the reformation of public service broadcasting in the UK:

(1) The closing date for responding to Phase 1 of Ofcom’s PSB Review is Thursday 19th June. You can read further details here and here about the Review which was launched in April by Ofcom’s Chief Executive Ed Richards.

Ofcom and Tom Loosemore, in particular, are to be congratulated for bringing the consultation process into the blogosphere, and for experimenting with the CommentOnThis / CommentPress approach to allow readers to comment directly on each paragraph in the PSB Review’s interactive Executive Summary.

I love the simplicity of the CommentOnThis and CommentPress approach, which is clearly motivated by similar urge to transparency and read/write participation as Debategraph.

The document-centric approach of CommentOnThis / CommentPress also makes it comparatively simple to enable public participation once the initial time, energy and resources has been expended on creating the original consultation documents.

Debategraph takes a more radical, subject-oriented approach to the same challenge, which if followed to its logical conclusion could (we think) significantly reduce the overall time spent by the consulting body and its stakeholders on the consultation process.

Instead of creating a long consultation document at the outset, the consultation team could start building a public debate map of the consultation issues, and invite the stakeholders to join them in this process—decomposing the subject matter into the individual issue, positions, arguments, evidence and scenarios, and allowing the stakeholders as well as the consultation team to edit, rate, challenge or support the individual arguments.

To give a sense of how this process might work I have produced a seed map of some of the arguments live Ofcom’s interactive summary executive summary (below).

As each element on the map is also its own wiki-page it’s easy to layer in longer commentaries (up to 50,000 words), images, tables, and charts etc as the map builds towards maturity. And as the core, hierarchical structure of the map is similar to the hierarchical outline of a standard report, it’s relatively straightforward at the end of the consultation period to automatically generate the basis of a final report directly from map—with the a key difference being that everyone’s contributions are already represented in the report.

In this way, rather than having multiple people create multiple documents that redundantly repeat many of the same arguments (each of which has to be written and read multiple times), everyone can focus collaboratively and directly on the issues at hand and ensure that all pertinent considerations and all voices are represented fairly on the map. Visualising and exploring the issues and arguments in this way also enhances transparency and trust in the consultation process and helps to ensure that every issues is surfaced and addressed comprehensively.

As well as potentially reducing the cycle time of the consultation process, the debate map could save further time and resources when the next consultation round on the topic begins; as many of the relevant arguments will already be in place on the map and will not need to be recreated from scratch. Indeed, once created, the debate map can be updated over time by the different stakeholders as new arguments, evidence and scenarios emerge; providing a continuously evolving view of the subject; so that when the next formal consultation process begins the majority of the thinking and work involved may have been accomplished on the map already.

(2) The second PSB reminder is that TechCrunch and the BBC are holding a debate at Broadcasting House on 25th June to discuss the issues around the BBC’s assets and technology prompted by the debates here and here.

The debate will be chaired by Steve Bowbrick, with an impressive list of speakers:

* Tony Ageh, BBC New Media controller of internet.

* James Cridland, Head of Future Media & Technology for BBC Audio & Music Interactive.

* Jem Stone, Portfolio Executive, BBC new media.

* Azeem Azhar, startups angel investor, ex-BBC, proposer of the BBC Public License.

* Mike Butcher, Editor, TechCrunch UK.

Web startups and developers are encouraged to attend, with tickets available here. And for anyone interested in exploring the debate in detail in advance or afterwards I have seeded a debate map here:

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