In 2015-2019 Dr Michał Głowacki and Professor Lizzie Jackson investigated the internal organisational cultures of ten successful high technology clusters in North America and Europe to identify strategies to support the evolution of Public Service Media worldwide. Four media clusters were located in North America: Austin (Texas), Boston/Cambridge (Massachusetts), Detroit (Michigan) and Toronto (Canada). European clusters included London (UK), Warsaw (Poland), Copenhagen (Denmark), Brussels (Belgium), Tallinn (Estonia), and Vienna (Austria). To answer the question ‘what people, values and processes’ should Public Service Media embody going forward we found there is an urgent need for adaptation. Without internal change there is likely to be a decline in the ability of PSM to survive within the fast-evolving contemporary media and communications production and distribution landscape.
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Six highly linked and inter-woven organisational-cultural characteristics were found, and these vary, often significantly, between firms in the high technology clusters and the local public service media. To be clear, the recommendation is not to ‘clone’ public service media into a mirror image of a cluster of high technology firms, but to identify competencies and approaches that might be useful to adapt.
1. Aggregation vs. Isolation
High technology clusters aggregate large, medium, and small firms where symbiotic action is beneficial to advance business and innovation. In the ten cities a number of interactions between creative and high technology firms were observed in relation to emerging media; for example, podcasts and social media use data-driven technologies to support the aggregation and distribution of content to audience segments. Public-private partnerships were also evident in each city, largely taking the form of jointly operated incubation and acceleration facilities where universities and commercial firms wish to increase symbiotic knowledge flow. Where small firms are aggregated, for example in co-working spaces, success is often expressed as a rating of density per meter of office space, an indication of the importance placed on clustering.
The public service media in the study were found to be partnering with cultural institutions, but it was not common to partner with high technology firms. Furthermore, the partnerships identified were organised under commissioning structures. There was low evidence of collaborative creative working. This contrasts with firms in high technology clusters who have a high level of partnership working which is at a far deeper level than commissioning work. PSM workers have a low awareness of the need for change, and a residual culture of entitlement which is likely to be amplifying isolationism.
2. Entrepreneurialism vs. Islands of Innovation
Firms in high technology clusters are highly entrepreneurial. This is coupled with a toleration of risk, failure is seen as an intrinsic part of the development process. Focussing on small projects or serial segments of larger projects with each stage interspersed by testing and iteration reduces risk. Overall this results in giving high technology firms a greater ability to challenge the status quo than the more traditionally-organised public service media. Successful high technology enterprises (particularly the smaller firms) embed entrepreneurialism within the organisational culture. Most firms we interviewed are ‘mission-led’, working on services for the good of specific groups or wider global goals such as supporting the circular economy, health and wellness, or combating climate change. This is highly compatible with public service media values.
A far lower level of entrepreneurialism was evident in public service media. Isolated active individuals were identified who were working in small research and development departments. These interviewees felt they were working in ‘islands of innovation’. Small experiments were often not taken forward due to a lack of an in-house incubation or acceleration programmes. We argue that entrepreneurialism (activity concerned with developing new ventures in the public good) is likely to be of considerable value to PSM. This is different from commercialism and the commodification of audiences, resulting in potential exploitation and monetary gain.
3. Agility vs. Rigidity
High technology firms have more fluid organisational structures relying instead on trust relationships developed through community-building programmes such as training, networking, and events. These firms also orientate towards processes supporting continuous change. Decision-making is swift, increasing the ability to pivot in response to external technological, cultural, and societal changes.
The rigid departmentalised organisational structures of mass production often found in PSM make decision-making much slower than in high technology firms. These processes have been inherited from the military-style organisational frameworks used when radio began in the 1920s. In many PSMs the Director General, as Editor in Chief, presides over a ‘referral upwards’ process. Content and technology departments are often separated which is different from high technology firms.
4. Advanced vs. Emerging Pro-Social Work Spaces
There was strong evidence that social science is being used to design work spaces for high technology firms that support knowledge exchange and relationship building. Trust relationships have to be developed before projects begin. These are developed in the cafés, bars, project spaces, communication booths, roof gardens, ‘chill-out’ spaces and reading/discussion corners provided in the pro-social workspaces commonly found in high technology clusters. The rituals associated with consuming food and drink enable work relationships to consolidate. Notice boards placed centrally in such gathering spaces also act as a tool for the development of partnerships and to promote the organisational culture of each different community.
Several of the public service media in the study have adapted their offices to provide pro-social spaces. However, on deeper analysis this appeared to be a form of ‘dressing’ as the processes required to support communities of practice and the incubation of projects was not universally evident.
5. Communities of Practice vs. Contractual Frameworks
Co-working was the most common form of aggregation in high technology clusters. Co-working offices enable micro and small firms to undertake projects drawing from a wider pool of skills than in more traditional organisational systems. Each co-working space considers the Community Manager to be the most critical employee. It is their responsibility to run the networking evenings, ‘bagel breakfasts’, ‘beers on a Friday’ and afterwork parties. Trust relationships are seeded in face-to-face interactions which are weighted towards the beginning of a new project. When production is going well, one interviewee commented, project management and communication can move online. This offers the possibility to manage projects virtually between geographic locations in the cloud or on servers to which all parties have access. If the project hits problems the face-to-face meetings temporarily resume.
Public service media have Commissioning Editors, however there is no equivalent role to a Community Manager. The larger PSMs have Partnership Relationship Managers whose role is largely overseeing the contractual frameworks between the PSM and supplier.
6. Technology-oriented Neighbourhoods vs. Corporate Headquarters
High technology clusters are almost exclusively found in city regeneration areas. This is due to pro-active stimulation by City Hall resulting from strategies aiming to grow Creative Corridors, Creative Districts and Regeneration Quarters. Historical analysis of successful ‘prime models’ of clusters such as Silicon Valley and Tech City, London, UK show pre-existing conditions enabled the clusters to form. This has almost always included an active relationship with a university science or technology department. For Silicon Valley it was the post-war proximity of radio enthusiasts in the nearby military base, and communications researchers at the University. For London the fast internet services supplied to the neighbouring financial district encouraged Tech City’s technology firms in Shoreditch to aggregate and prosper.
30% of the public service media in this study are operating in close proximity to a high technology cluster. Others, however, are located in corporate headquarters located either outside of the city centre or close to cultural or civic districts in statement buildings. This is indicative of the longstanding strategic orientations of PSM. In Brussels VRT, the Flemish PSM, will relocate to a Media Park to be with other creative industry firms. This follows the BBC’s model of sharing a site with a university, commercial media firms, and cultural institutions, in this case at Salford Quays in the north of the UK.
Michał Głowacki and Lizzie Jackson (2019), "Organisational Culture of Public Service Media: People, Values, Processes" Project Report, Warsaw and London.