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Dr. Dave O’Brien Centre for Cultural Policy and Management City University London. Public Value at the BBC Trust: measuring, modernity and cultural policy. The politics of the BBC.

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dr dave o brien centre for cultural policy and management city university london

Dr. Dave O’Brien Centre for Cultural Policy and ManagementCity University London

Public Value at the BBC Trust: measuring, modernity and cultural policy

the politics of the bbc
The politics of the BBC
  • “it is an institution shot through with contradictions: between centralism and decentralisation, authority and fragility, durability and vulnerability, arrogance and a sense of inadequacy” (Born 2003:64)
  • “the BBC needs high ratings and mass audiences to legitimate the flat rate tax licence fee, but at the same time audience-chasing popular programmes are criticized particularly by its industry enemies who would wish to confine the BBC activities to areas of market failure such as arts or regional programming…Thus, the BBC will usually be under attack from aggrieved critics who seek to redefine and restrict its activities and can do no more than please some of the stakeholders some of the time.” (Froudet al 2008:258)
modernity and audit
Modernity and audit
  • “In addition to financial audits we now hear of environmental audits, value for money audits, management audits, quality audits, forensic audits, data audits, intellectual property audits, medical audits and many other besides” (Power 1994:299)
auditing the bbc born 2005
Auditing the BBC (Born 2005)
  • Bureaucratic nature of BBC along with New Right critiques
  • Major internal reforms along market lines
  • With management consultants transforming the organisation
  • Using social scientific measurements of audience satisfaction and ratings numbers
  • Highly damaging to programme quality
  • “the determinedly complex cultural purposes of public service broadcasting were flattened in this mentality to commercial measurements: ‘value for money’ equated with ‘audience performance’ equated in turn with ratings and audience share, came to stand for value itself” (p214)

“Far from being passive, audit actively constructs the contexts in which it operates. The most influential dimension of the audit explosion is the process by which environments are made auditable, structured to conform to the need to be monitored ex-post. Audits do not passively monitor auditee performance but shape the standards of this performance in crucial ways, and public conceptions of the very problems for which it is the solution.” (Power 1996)

the limits of creativity schlesinger 2010
The limits of creativity (Schlesinger 2010)
  • Transformations in management practice
  • Resistance to NPM is captured by management practices...
  • And so Born’s critique and defence of Dyke misses wider changes in management theory and practice
  • BBC audit story and rise of technocratic forms of identity in British society (Savage 2010)
  • “Bureaucracy is not- as its many critics assume- a simple singularity” Du Gay (2005:3)
  • From programme maker to broadcaster to platform (Steemers and Smith 2007)
what is the aim of government policy
What is the aim of government policy?

‘The fundamental reason for national and local government action is based on the economic principle of market failure. Market failure can occur for several reasons, but when it does occur it means the market will under value the benefits of engagement leading to an under supply of culture and sport. Therefore the market alone cannot be relied on to produce a socially optimum level of supply………. It is not sufficient, however, just to identify in principle that a market failure may exist: evidence is required (DCMS 2010:6)’

what is public value
What is public value?
  • Key text Moore’s Creating Public Value (1995)
  • The role of the public manager as a distinct activity
  • Important role for the public in making clear what they think matters
  • ...thus moving beyond traditional bureaucratic hierarchies....
  • But with a distinctly public aspect missing from New Public Management
  • “an amalgam of managerialist ideas around efficiency and focus on achievement and performance, fused with broader notions about the policy role of public managers and the importance of trust and legitimacy in the public domain” (Talbot 2009:168)

“a framework that helps us connect what we believe is valuable....and requires public resources, with improved ways of understanding what out ‘publics’ value and how we connect to them” (Moore 1995, cited in Willaims and Shearer 2011:1371).

four uses of public value alford and o flynn 2009
Four uses of Public Value Alford and O’Flynn (2009)
  • an overarching policy paradigm responding to New Public Management
  • a rhetorical strategy for under-fire bureaucracies and public managers
  • a narrative or ethnographic account of the world and practices of public managers;
  • A framework for measuring the performance of organisations and staff that moves beyond the narrowly managerialist focus of much new public management.
key critiques
Key critiques
  • The role of the public manager (Rhodes and Wanna 2007)
  • Lack of consensus on how to operationalise the idea
  • Its variations have lead to conceptual and practical misunderstandings
public value as social science
Public value as social science
  • A business school version of politics? (Rhodes and Wanna 2009)
  • Case study based analysis
  • Blurring of normative and positive aspects
  • A theory? A description? A set of guidelines?
  • “Moore’s use of non-empirical case studies and vignettes has set the tone for much of what has followed and advocates of a public value approach tend to illustrate arguments with briefly sketched examples rather than support them through specifically designed studies” (Williams and Shearer 2011:1374)
the career of public value
The career of public value
  • Some ideas and practices travel ‘light’ (Miller 2011)
  • Intellectual relationships between key New Labour thinkers and key American theorists
  • ....alongside relationships with think tanks
  • Provide the context for the ‘career’ of public value
  • That is now ‘everyday’ language e.g. Public Value of the Humanities (Bate 2011)
  • But was it just a New Labour idea?
so how can we justify funding
So how can we justify funding?
  • AHRC’s Leading the World (2009)
  • British Academy’s Past, Present and Future (2010)
  • Both use ideas of economic impact, scholarly importance, capacity for innovation and cultural value
  • Bate (2011) The public value of the humanities

“There is a danger in the UK at least, of public value getting used loosely as a portmanteau phrase expressing ideals and aspirations about public service, but capable of meaning many different things to different people”

(Benington 2009:233)


“The ‘case’ of public value is an instructive lesson in the dangers of policy churn in the context of cultural policy. The way in which the concept was enthusiastically embraced by think tanks, politicians and cultural organizations is indicative of the restless marketplace for ideas that typifies contemporary cultural policy-making.” (Lee et al 2011:297)

public value as defensive strategy
Public value as defensive strategy
  • BBC and public value
  • Broad commitment to public value within the BBC
  • Against the backdrop of organisational change and controversy
  • An institutional commitment to putting the BBC to a ‘public value’ test
  • Across areas like citizenship, education, excellence
  • Market research programme around value for money and licence fee
  • “Both the mechanism and the rationale for the BBC’s decision making” (DCMS 2006:32)
albeit an inconsistent one
....albeit an inconsistent one
  • Public value ill-defined
  • A way of moving beyond the economic....
  • But initially involved economic survey tools
  • Along with economic rhetoric (Davies 2004)
  • “Given the inconsistency with which it was deployed, even in its heyday, it seems clear that the BBC’s use of public value was primarily opportunistic”(Lee et al 2011:293)

“the scale of the BBC, its distinctive ‘constitutional’ independence, the indirect application of the public value principles of co-production and contestation and, above all, the manner in which public value doctrine has been chiefly implemented as a regulatory or quasi-regulatory principle in the form of service licences and a public value test rather than as a management and motivational doctrine sets the BBC apart from the public sector and public value mainstream. The BBC’s adoption of public value doctrines seems likely to be recorded in broadcasting history as an unsuccessful gambit in a bid to secure renewal of its Royal Charter and a new licence fee settlement on favourable terms.”

  • Collins (2007:183)
a social life for public value
A social life for public value?
  • “The concept was not only used discursively, it was also presented as a performance assessment and accountability tool that would inform decisions on the provision of new and significantly changed services. This tool, called the public value test (PVT), proposed to compare the public value a BBC service creates with the negative impact it has on the market. Only when the positive public value created outweighed the negative impact on the market should the service be provided. The test thus proposed the rationale of net public value to justify PSB service provision, which due to the corporation’s public funding represents an intervention into broadcasting markets”
  • Knoll (2012:12)
from rhetoric to organisational device
From rhetoric to organisational device
  • “It was also very obviously a tactic that had been deployed by the BBC to stop the government’s changes being worse than they thought they would be. So I was actually sceptical about how these would turn to be and in practice I have actually found it to be incredibly useful for putting a framework around things which are going to be judgements in the end but making it far more systematic than it might otherwise have been, giving clarity to our stakeholders, involving the public in consultation and making sure that things that aren't actually easy to measure actually don't get lost in the assessment process.”

BBC Trustee

  • “I think you know you are a public body. You are - you have to demonstrate if you have done this thing properly and you have been through the appropriate process quite properly”

BBC Trust Staff

market failure
Market Failure
  • “I guess a pretty obvious theme around how the distinctiveness of the BBC services relative to the marketplace and the importance of that in all kinds of ways. I suppose that at the heart of this distinctiveness lies public value - something that the market alone would not, that adds to the choices for the public model and greater depth and insight into the public would otherwise be provided by the market”
  • BBC Trustee
the bbc trust a thoroughly modern organisation
The BBC Trust: a thoroughly modern organisation?
  • “it represents a strategic change process, which was initiated by the BBC and supported by a wider policy coalition. As a strategic policy idea, public value was devised to provide an alternative rationale for universal popular and niche PSB provision in the digital age by focussing on consumer value maximisation and market impact minimisation. Universal PSB was justified by adopting a dominantly economic approach that chimed with the regulatory and policy environment, thus providing an alternative rationale to the much more restrictive market failure approach” Knoll (2012:268)
  • “a way of trying to bring some quantification and evidence base to something that ultimately is a pretty qualitative judgement”

BBC trust interviewee

  • However interviewees tried to stress the importance of the non-economic, via methodological choices and transfer of Market Impact Assessment to OFCOM
  • The balance between economic and non-economic approaches to policy part of a wider story of public life in modernity

“actually what teased it out more than anything was the deliberative juries and the focus groups because then we were able to have some good conversation and we went right across the demographic groups and it just underlined what we thought ....The numbers are key and then you can build on that so that is what we did.”

  • BBC Trust Staff
conclusion the future of public value
Conclusion: The future of Public Value
  • Discussion has suggested a social life of public value at BBC
  • Which is shaped by audit society, post NPM public policy and BBC’s cultural role
  • Not entirely technocratic exercise, but shaped by technocratic trends (and identities O’Brien 2013)
  • Important for previous charter negotiations
  • Associated with a time of expansion
  • ...rather than budgetary contraction
  • Now diffused within the executive for major decision making
  • Next charter review and the changed political context for public value in UK public administration