Monthly Archives: August 2008

Innovation and location: BBC R&D at Kingswood Warren

As I pack my holiday reading I realise that the books I am taking might be considered to be “work”orientated but after a momentary hesitation in they go to the suitcase. It’s clear now that my work interests are very close to my own life interests, and that is a good thing So books I have dipped into are going to get the proper attention they deserve. And my big question is this : is the power of the network strong enough to overcome the advantages of proximity?

I am thinking about this again as people I work with regularly are all on the move.

I am sad to miss the Kingswood Warren 60th Birthday party however obscure that might soundKingswood Warren has been the home of BBC R&D for 60 years and there is a party to celebrate next week, and a day of demos. But I read in the Guardian yesterday that there may be strike action to coincide with that day. That was news to me and got me thinking about the relationship between innovation and place.

You may have read articles in the press about the closure of Kingswood Warren and what that means to the the BBC , and there is undoubtedly a lot to think about when you start a discussion about the relationship of innovation and creativity to a place, geographical location or to a building.

BBC R&D at Kingswood Warren

BBC R&D at Kingswood Warren

But the fact that this building looks so opulent and other worldly obscures a proper discussion about the relationship between a place and the work that goes on it it. When we talk about an “esprit de corps” in an organisation or team, it’s a body of people we are talking about and their spirit we are highlighting – but does the place in which they work together count in the equation and if so what does it count for? Or can we say that wherever teams who know each other well work it will be the same? Is the power of the network strong enough to beat the power and advantages of proximity?

At the BBC this is the first move for the Kingswood Warren staff to London and that is likely to be followed by a second for some of them and many others to Salford to the MediaCity Development. This is a very interesting and exiciting development and the opportunity to create a groundbreaking research and production centre – but it will be a few years until it is all up and running and lots of transition time is hard for even the most dedicated to handle while keeping productive .I say this as someone who has worked in an organisation for many years whose propensity for change is high, and whose need to change is great.

BBC at MediaCity

BBC at MediaCity

This is not only being debated at the BBC, but more generally by writers such as Clay Shirky and Charles Leadbeater writing about collaboration and the network. What can be done virtually and what has to be done face to face? My take on this has always been that innovation is a social process. The place can be a garage or indeed a dingy forgotten basement such as the birthplace of BBC Imagineering, but the spirit needs to be willing. Networks work well virtually when there is a common purpose and a vision or mission. They also work in real locations for the same reason – the key is in relationships, language, camaraderie and cooperation – in other words in the social.

esprit de corps (-də kôr)

noun

group spirit; sense of pride, honor, etc. shared by those in the same group or undertaking

Etymology: Fr, lit., spirit of a body (of persons)

esprit de corps Synonyms

esprit de corps

n.

morale, group spirit, camaraderie; see cooperation 1, fellowship 1
Organisations need to move people around and change their location a lot for good business reasons. They also need to move people in and out of their organisations for business reasons too.
But what people find hard is when the web of relationships is broken by movement and limbo and so despite best endeavours output can become invisible, less important and at worst ignored as people try to preserve what they feel makes them tick – their teams and their esprit de corps.
What people like is to create webs of relationships which give them meaning beyond transition, or in transition and that is why the social and human will always drive innovation, whatever new technologies come along for them to investigate, explore and exploit. The social web gives people that opportunity whatever is going on in their workplace, but I wonder if anyone has measured the true cost of limbo and transition?
People skills in managing transition and change are vital as is vision. In my own area we do have a new leader, and there is a great sense of hope about the place that he will pull us all together and integrate and capture all the undoubted energy around and between our buildings. Who knows, I might come back to a whole new landscape.

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Michael Wesch does it again: watch and enjoy

An Anthropological Introduction to You Tube, by Dr Michael Wesch ( The Machine is Using Us)  – what else could induce me to stay at my screen for all 52 mins at the end of the day presented at the Library of Congress, June 23rd 2008 and posted a week ago.  Digital Ethnography comes of age.

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Behind the Scenes@the BBC

I said I would return to write more about this projecta while ago. And since I’m currently putting together my final contribution to the project at this stage I can desribe what we at the BBC currently do much more accurately to enable the public to explore how contemporary media content is made.

I was very pleased to be able to do this project given my preoccupation with the value of openness, and getting more value for the audiences out of what we already do.

As I have come to learn the BBC mostly does a lot more than any one member of staff will know about and sometimes I wonder how the public can be expected to find all the good stuff. Much work has been going on to remedy this and the work is beginning to bear fruit – /programmes and /topics are helping bring everything together.

Having said that people take their own approach with their content – and you’ll find a mix of “making of” films sometime tagged onto the end of a TV programme like Planet Earth and Life in Cold Blood, on the DVD and sometimes on the web; whole programme offerings like Dr Who Confidential and Heroes Unmasked go behind the production process. CBBC have part of their website How We make TV dedicated to how they do their work and BBC Three’s The Baby Borrowersshort film explained the complex sets of arrangements for the care of the borrowed babies. Radio 1’s Meet the DJs recently won a Webby award and gives an insight into what constitutes the job of a DJ on Radio 1. Other examples include Click andNewswatch from the News channel, Feedback, Points of View too offer insight into our workings – that is if an audience member writes in to complain or suggest a subject.

More recently our blogs, particularly The Editors blog, Sports Editors blog and Internet blogs all offer their staff a way of talking to the public about how they do their work behind the scenes, how they make their decisions and sometimes simply what it is like to work at the BBC. The Technology blog has also done a great deal to explain how contemporary media content is made.

You’ll also find a gem of a link if you are very keen to an aggregation of everything all BBC staff past and present are saying on their personal blogs put together by James Cridland.

I Interviewed and met a lot of people during the project and found a great interest in being more pro-active in this respect, if only they had more time – some people though made a virtue of publishing their Behing the scenes workings like the April Fools’ film made by BBC Marketing on the Flying Penguins, and ng, the Making of clip on You Tube. I looked at what other organisations are doing and had a think about how we might bring together what we do and add some new dimensions.

the making of...

the making of...

One of the most rewarding things I found was that the more I went around asking questions about why didn’t we publish photos of where we work and how we work; why didn’t we publish some of our internally created video for staff training ; and what about other research we do that might in the right circumstances be shareable the more I found people coming up with ideas for what they could do, and would do more of. In fact people have started just doing it. What about writing about our events? Describing our jobs or sharing presentations we give at conferences around the world?

So, I hear you asking, who wants to know any of this stuff? We conducted a short audience survey asking general and specific questions about their interest in how the media works; their interest in how content is made – radio, tv and web content; whether they might like the opportunity to question people who run things in the media; whether they would like to learn how to make TV, radio, or create a blog etc and some other general questions about Openness and organisations. This was a very good first step to getting a baseline of interest which was reassuringly positive. Next steps will likely be taken by someone else who will be able to dedicate themselves to the project – and I hope they do some qualitative research to gauge some more latent audience needs, and some prototypes based on what they find before taking up my early recommendations lock stock and barrel or do anything else to them!

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When is not being Open an option anymore?

 I checked out a new site, Demotix the Citizen Wire, last week as a friend came to see me hot from the BritDoc Fesitval full of enthusiasm about it, knowing about my interest in citizen’s journalism, documentaries, blogging and the future of digital media. 

 So I was very suprised indeed to find when I did look that there was nothing at all on the site to tell me who ran it, who the owners were and who was behind the scenes.  I put some feelers out to people who I would expect to know all there is to know about such developments, one inside the BBC who Twittered, (or should that be tweeted?) and posted to find the answer,  and one in the US – to find that at that time neither had heard of it, and one had the same questions as I.  How was I to know what to think about a site , which in this day and age of open credentials and transparency, did not publish the story of the people behind it and provide a way for people to get in touch with them.  They have impressive partners – but this seemingly simple omission might cause a person or organisation to wonder about their credentials and know how and whether to trust them.  So I called my friend and suggested gently that she call her friends. Anyway , perhaps as a result of this we have the answer: published on the Telegraph Blog last Friday.

Interestingly now the website publishes some links to discussion about this site and service in the magazine and daily press.  So now I am hunting around in online newspapers and magazines to find out who is who and what is what.  I find that the owner took the idea to the Telegraph Media Group who might be supporting it in some way.  Certainly their  Assistant editor, Justin Williams, posting about it on his personal blog is very enthusiastic (Why Demotix could be the biggest thing in World News). 

But even stranger I couldn’t find anything on Justin’s blog CounterValue to tell me his name except the picture link to Facebook which told me his name when I hovered over it.  Voila.  Surely things should not be so hard this day and age?

Is any of this important?  I think it is.  I could understand this silence if there were a good reason to do with protecting the identity and whereabouts of contributors – but if that’s the reason, please do tell us.  I am also left wondering whether it wouldn’t help them a great deal in the online space , not to mention the blogosphere if they did publish this info.  It looks like a really interesting project but at the moment they are not helping themselves in this respect.  I don’t think I have lost all sense of proportion here, have I?

 

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