Representation Versus Participation

February 19, 2008

Good to see some sense being talked by Emily Bell in her Media Guardian column this week, particularly after some of the ill-informed stuff which has been floating around.

This quote from Emily caught my eye: 

“We have moved, almost without noticing, from the age of representation to the age of participation, and there will be a fairly bumpy ride whilst we all adjust to it. Oddly, it is the representative institutions, such as the press and parliament, which should stand to benefit most from the opening of discourse, but are actually most confounded by mass participation. Denial has been a frequently adopted strategy but that hasn’t seemed to pay dividends.”

The problem is as I’ve outlined before, is that participation (e.g. social media) and representation (politics, policy making) currently work in ways which are opposed to each other.

With representation you have to be chosen or elected before you can speak. With participation you speak on your own behalf without getting permission first.

Occasionally people have asked me “what gives you the right to comment on and create forms of social media involving the BBC?”. One of my answers is simply that in this case I happened to be a witness.

A crowd is not the same as an elected body.

Once they are elected, or appointed, politcians and policy makers don’t see the value of the wisdom of the crowd, or the value of participating directly themselves.

Media e.g. the press will be quicker to adapt to “the age of participation” than policy makers and politicians.

N.B. This excellent blog post by David Willcox also seems relevant.

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6 Responses to “Representation Versus Participation”

  1. David Wilcox Says:

    Nick – thanks for the link, Two thoughts:
    * good to see the issue of representation and participation aired here. It’s one that has long exercised people in the (offline) participation field, but doesn’t cross enough online except through e-democracy, which can be a bit institutional. Lee Bryant and I tried bridging the gap a couple of years ago in a chapter for a book published by Involve http://tinyurl.com/b9fqq There’s now a few more bloggers in the participation field, and I’ll point them over here
    * On the BBC’s plans for local news and engagement, raised in my post, I’m concerned that the BBC and the BBC Trust give us a fair chance to engage before a decision is made. A first step would be to have somewhere to talk about this. The Trust doesn’t have an online space. Could the BBC Internet blog host a discussion, or would hat be inappropriate? Should it be a trusted third party? I’ve flown the idea with the RSA over here http://tinyurl.com/28vh8p but no response from them so far.

  2. nickreynoldsatwork Says:

    As I commented on your blog David, its important to seperate out the My BBC Local idea and the Digital Democracy proposals. They’re not the same thing. We are already trying to start a conversation about the Digital Democracy on the Internet Blog, but I don’t know what stage MyBBCLocal is at or whether it would be appropriate for us to blog about it.

  3. David Wilcox Says:

    Thanks Nick for clarification. On representation versus participation, and the role of the web, see also recent speech by Michael Wills referenced here http://tinyurl.com/2m5gom

  4. David Wilcox Says:

    There’s now a lively discussion about the BBC’s role across on the UK and Ireland e-democracy exchange
    http://tinyurl.com/26jjst


  5. […] Comments Jenni on Another Satisfied Customer…David Wilcox on Representation Versus Particip…David Wilcox on Representation Versus Particip…nickreynoldsatwork on Representation Versus […]

  6. socialreporter Says:

    Could the BBC co-design it’s new services with community/citizen media interssts? http://tinyurl.com/3t8dvc


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