Practice Briefing 04

Will Taylor
Publication Date
February 1, 2017

BBC Media Action

"Media’s role in shaping public dialogue can help to bridge the gap between information provision and political action, developing more inclusive and effective patterns of interaction between state and society. Supporting people from across society to understand, discuss and influence the issues that matter to them creates an enabling environment for transparency, accountability and citizen engagement. It can also contribute directly to increasing accountability and responsiveness."

This BBC Media Action briefing seeks to explore how the lessons from supporting governance programme broadcasting can contribute to the wider empowerment and accountability agenda. Further, it sets out challenges for the future of media, empowerment, and accountability work. The governance programming developed since 2011, with support from the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID), was, where possible, locally designed by country-based teams with an understanding of local media markets, based upon formative research, with baseline surveys establishing the basis for project evaluation. "Regular audience feedback was built into project design, alongside qualitative research to help teams to refine programming."

Partnering with 135 media and civil society organisations and reaching 190 million people, BBC Media Action created platforms for public dialogue, debate, and conversation on public accountability, broadcast on radio and television with the goal of translating discussion into lasting empowerment of people from different sections of society and accountability of those who make the big decisions that affect their lives.

"The projects supported increases in accountability through:

  1. Empowering people - increasing effective political participation: Across all seven countries where we conducted quantitative research BBC Media Action’s audiences participate more in politics than people who do not listen to and/or watch its programmes, even when taking other influencing factors - such as age, income and interest in politics - into account. There is also a strong, positive association between exposure to BBC Media Action governance programmes and political knowledge and discussion.
  2. Creating space - developing a more inclusive public space: The programmes supported by BBC Media Action give a voice to groups under-represented in public debate, including women, young people and people from rural areas. This influences attitudes in wider society about who should be able to make their views heard, how and on what topics.
  3. Influencing power - improving responsiveness from power-holders: Across different contexts the programmes were regarded by their audiences as having an important role to play in getting answers from decision-makers on key issues, and pushing decision-makers to account for these decisions."

Key characteristics include: scale; trust; reaching all parts of society; facilitating public discussion; resonance (programming driven by issues raised locally); and adaptive programming (responding to changing social, political, and media environments.)

Page 27 outlines refinements of audience-led debate initiatives to increase influence on power and also allow for appropriate space for panelist desicion-making so as to prevent ill-considered policy declarations under pressure. 

  • Refinements include: topic planning; pre-recording testimony of those affected by the topic; using problem-solving formats structured to explore problems and solutions; monitoring follow-up and inviting panelists for future appearances; and combining with drama, magazine format and coll-in shows. 
  • Complementing other initiatives includes: improving coordination with other actors and organisations - developing informal advisory groups to focus discussion and impact; and capitalising on transparency, civic education, and accountability initiatives including exchanging materials and following up on the work of others.
  • Different roles at different times includes: following an electoral cycle approach or reacting to big events such as earthquakes or diseases like Ebola in order to engage different people on issues of accountability. A key learning is to start at the local level, researching, adapting, and refining strategic partnerships, formats, and focus audiences for each issue.

Lessons for the future include the following:

  1. Analyse the barriers that groups face in order to be heard and to influence the shaping of civic space. Consider the online and offline spaces "where political discussion takes place in different societies, the long-term behaviour of media and the responses of people in power."
  2. "[E]nsure a locally-owned theory of change is at the centre of all projects, guiding how implementing staff and partners think and act. In particular, the organisation needs to continue to review whether its internal strategy, budget and review processes incentivise locally rooted, flexible and adaptive programming that achieves the maximum impact on accountability in a given context."
  3. "[E]nsure that [donors] approach the sector strategically and that the cumulative effect of their support improves - rather than undermines - media’s contribution to independent, balanced and effective public discussion."

BBC Media Action website, February 21 2017.