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Building Up A Head of Steam

Rowena Goldman Rowena Goldman | 13:30 UK time, Monday, 26 October 2009

Like a builders brew deepening into a rich, golden hue, the AHRC/BBC R&D Knowledge Infusion Awards are now ready to be imbibed. Capitalising on a longer period of collaborative research in which eight joint teams of arts and humanities academics worked with BBC staff to deliver 8 wide ranging studies, five of the original eight received extra funding to delve deeper and more intensely into their chosen research subject. The result? A bunch of excellent insights and recommendations for the BBC which serve to further enhance the success of the formal AHRC/BBC Knowledge Exchange Programme started 4 years ago.

The awards this time round went to Westminster, Bath, Cardiff, City and Leeds Universities working with BBC teams from Childrens, Learning, Information and Archives, BBC Yorkshire and the audio and accessibility teams and behavioural science centre within BBC Research and Development.

It's one thing to successfully undertake this cross disciplinary research between two organizations with vastly differing cultures and timescales, quite another to disseminate the findings in meaningful ways. For academia, the tradition has been somewhat more straightforward: conference papers, book chapters, presentations at academic symposia - and these are all recognized measures of success. For the BBC, however, measuring the impact of such knowledge exchange partnerships is altogether trickier since it involves 'softer' more intrinsic impacts such as the general creation of knowledge networks, a fluid two way knowledge transfer pathway, and the application of existing knowledge in new contexts. But with academia now charged by government to make research more relevant, both socially and economically, strategic partnerships like this one can go quite a way to delivering to this impact agenda. So what of the findings from the 5 KI Awards? The results are already tangible. For example,clear recommendations that there are design opportunities as far as Electronic Programme Guides are concerned has been identified by the University of Bath and BBC R&D. This is with respect to the motivation of older users in the drive to greater take-up of digital services amongst this age bracket. The study suggests that EPGs could record and share viewer selections, in an Amazon business model approach, so as to automatically predict viewer preferences and use these as the basis for advertising interactive content in this way. Overall, the emphasis on older viewers' motivations, rather than their cognitive or perceptual limitations, is a very important shift of focus and opens new avenues for accessibility research which will inform ongoing research in BBC R&D for a considerable time to come. University of Westminster has identified a real community of interest comprising academics and producers around the potential of virtual environments and this is a valuable resource in the exploration of public service virtuality. The study showed that older children need to be offered sociable environments online, but younger children find some interest in solo play in immersive media. All useful stuff in designing new virtual spaces for young people.. The BBC Blast study, Alone Together? from University of Bath brilliantly demonstrated, the first time around, the value of its partnership with BBC Learning in that it directly impacted on the Blast site re-launch earlier this year.

This time round, the investigation into comparable websites has produced a critical analysis of the ways and means through which Blast can fulfil its aims and objectives around what a learning environment should look like, and how design and management modifications can facilitate this. The data collected in this study has fed into the future design of Blast and provided a deeper understanding of the potential and actual audiences the site is trying to attract. Cardiff University's study into news provision for younger audiences, What do Children Want from the BBC? Children's content and participatory environments in an age of Citizen Media, has provided data around the 'transitional' audience - that's young people at the upper end of the Newsround target audience (8-12 year olds) and those just falling outside of it - and their own ideas about whether or not it's a good idea to have a news service specifically for their age group, and all the evidence suggests that there is. Open Archive: The Miners Strike: A Case Study in Regional Context, led by Leeds University and BBC Yorkshire, with BBC Information and Archive, has gone so far as to produce eleven short films made by a representative sample of people involved in the 1984 miners strike in order to assess ways in which public audiences and communities could interact, contextualize and deepen the value of the BBC's archive. The films are a clear demonstration of the potential for direct community engagement in the development of broadcast materials and in the active interpretation of archival materials working with this group. Excerpts will be used on the BBC Yorkshire site where geographically appropriate. So, that's a snapshot of some of the top level findings these studies have delivered. As they filter through the relevant echelons of the BBC and take hold in a variety of ways, they are further evidence that this model of engagement with academia is worth mutating, if not replicating. Conversations with academics from disciplines which can map directly onto BBC R&D's strategy and workplan are the real driver for future partnerships, and will include partnering with the research councils. We're delighted by the recent announcement that the EPSRC has greenlit funding for a feasibility study into an online collaborative knowledge exchange network between media professionals and academic researchers. This is to be led by Professor David Gauntlett from the University of Westminster together with Dr. Lizzie Jackson from Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication
The AHRC and the BBC will be key stakeholders. The potential of a formal framework to engage with the whole range of the UK's creative industries, as represented by the Creative Industries Knowledge Transfer Network and its relevance to R&D's portfolio is a rich seam worth exploring. The idea, for example, that early stage R&D can be made available to content providers across a range of creative disciplines is an exciting possibility. Time to put the kettle on.

Cardiff University
Cardiff University partnered with BBC Childrens: What do Children want from the BBC? Children's content and participatory environments in an age of citizen media

Westminster University
Westminster University partnered with BBC Childrens: Audience and Producer Engagement with Immersive Worlds

City University
City University partnered with BBC Learning: 'Alone Together?'

Leeds University
Leeds University partnered with BBC Yorkshire and BBC North Information and Archives

Bath University
Bath University partnered with BBC Research and Development


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