Earlier this week, we at the BBC World Service Trust published Media and Governance: a survey of policy opinion. Among other conclusions of this survey of policy makers and policy informers was this:
"There is a fairly widespread (though not universal) belief...that media and its contribution to governance is under-researched. Both academics and policy makers believe there are gaps in the research literature."
In early 2009, we worked with the Institute of Development Studies in the UK to organize a research symposium across disciplines on media and democracy in fragile states.
The idea was to bring a small group of serious academic development thinkers and thinktanks from different disciplines together with some renowned media researchers - and practitioners like ourselves. Our aim was to discuss what a more serious and robust research agenda on media and democracy might look like. The focus was especially on developing countries where democracy and governance is fragile.
Conceived as a way of bringing together economists, governance researchers, sociologists, political scientists, and anthropologists as well as media researchers together to identify different perceptions and shared interests of this issue, it included participants from the London School of Economics, Overseas Development Institute, IDS and the Department for International Development.
This was a small group of people gathered together for a single day, so the report should be read in that light. Nevertheless, we think we reached some useful conclusions:
- There is a potentially substantial and increasingly relevant research agenda on media and communication which could provide important policy insights into state fragility, state effectiveness and state-citizen relationships in developing countries.
- Research on this agenda is starting from a low level, both in terms of content and capacity.
- Several priority areas for research were identified. This included looking at state transitions and systems of patronage and how media affects these, and other issues of state-citizen relationships.
- Interdisciplinary research will be important, as will research which connects core development research disciplines with media practice and media research.
- As a beginning, there is an urgent need for more media studies research to be framed within research agendas that resonate with political science and 'mainstream' development research.
- Practitioner organisations are important sources of current research insight and policy analysis and are an important part of the research mix.
- Equally, political analysis and political science, governance, economics, and other disciplines could usefully reassess whether these and other research questions should constitute a more serious component of their own research agendas and how media studies could usefully contribute to their understanding.
- Media and communication trends are especially rapid in character, and policy-useful research will need to be similarly rapid and reflect current reality.
- More needed to be done to determine more precisely a core set of research questions. More also remained to be done in identifying the most effective constellation of research actors, relationships, and methodologies that would deliver timely and research-rooted policy guidance on these issues.
- A more predictable and organised resource base to support such efforts was also necessary for real progress to be made.
We suggested some potential research questions and made several other suggestions. Ultimately, however, the question of what the best way of developing a more robust and compelling research agenda in this area, and what the most effective approach to carrying out this research still needs work.
Comments and suggestions on all this are welcome.