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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The findings indicate six highly linked and inter-woven organisational-cultural characteristics. These characteristics differ, often significantly, between firms in the High Technology clusters and Public Service Media.
Aggregation vs. Isolation
High Technology clusters exist to aggregate large, medium and small firms where symbiotic action is beneficial to advance business and innovation. In the ten cities interactions between creative and High Technology firms were observed in relation to emerging media such as podcasts or social media where High Technologies support aggregation and distribution. Public-private partnerships were evident in each of the cities in the form of incubation and acceleration facilities jointly operated by universities and commercial firms, evidence of a wish to increase knowledge flow. The level of aggregation is often expressed as the density of High Technology firms per meter of office space, an indication of the importance placed on clustering.
The Public Service Media in the study mostly partner with cultural and educational institutions and those partnerships are largely organised under commissioning structures. The study therefore found PSM is largely not engaging with High Technology clusters, they are mostly internally focused. This contrasts with emerging media and communications firms who have a high level of partnership working. This is likely to be because they require High Technologies, such as databases and artificial intelligence, for distribution. PSM workers exhibit a low awareness of the need for change, self-importance and this amplifies the isolationism.
Entrepreneurialism vs. Islands of Innovation
Firms in High Technology clusters demonstrate high levels of entrepreneurialism coupled with a high level of ability to tolerate risk, ergo the ability to challenge the status quo. High Technology firms (large, medium and small) are ‘mission-led’, that is they are often working on services for the public good such as enabling a better quality of life for specific audience-members or larger global goals such as the circular economy, health and wellness or climate change. Successful High Technology enterprises (particularly the smaller firms) embed entrepreneurialism in all employees; the failure of any small pilot development is seen as part of the overall iprocess.
A far lower level of entrepreneurialism was evident in Public Service Media. The interviews evidenced entrepreneurial people 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 incubation or acceleration programme. This contrasts with High Technology clusters where agile make/test/feedback/re-make loops are common. We argue that entrepreneurialism (concerned with new ventures) and commercialism (concerned with maximisation of profit) are different characteristics but not incompatible if the currency of exchange is adapted. For PSM gain is expressed as a public good, for commercial firms it’s expressed in economic terms. The study found the non-commercial strategies of many High Technology firms is not incompatible with PSM’s mission.
Agility vs. Rigidity
High Technology firms have more fluid organisational structures than companies based on Fordist principles. They have fewer rules and hierarchies preferring the development of trust relationships through higher levels of sociability. They operate on a basis of continuous change. Decision-making is swift, increasing the ability to pivot in response to external technological, cultural, and societal change.
Rigid organisational structures and Fordist way of mass production inherited from the PSM past do not always allow inter-operability between systems and make the decision-making processes more departamentalised and formalised. Organisational systems of Public Service Media were based on structures inherited from radios gestation in the 1920s. The Director General, as Editor in Chief, presides over a ‘referral upwards’ process, as in the military. This is replicated in the separation between content and technology departments, unlike High Technology firms.
Advanced vs. Emerging Pro-social Workplaces
There was strong evidence in High Technology clusters that the social sciences are increasingly being used to design work spaces that support knowledge exchange and relationship building. Trust relationships have to exist before project begin, if previous collaborations haven’t taken place. 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 provision of food and drink can be seen as a form of ritual enabling work relationships to consolidate. Notice boards placed centrally in gathering spaces act as a tool for the development of partnerships and to consolidate the community.
Several of the Public Service Media included in the study have adapted their offices to provide pro-social spaces. However, this appeared to be a form of ‘dressing’ as the cultural change required to accommodate the high levels of partnership working and co-working found in the High Technology clusters was not universally evident.
Communities of Practice vs. ‘Traditional’ Partnership Relations
All the co-working spaces analysed during the study consider the Community Manager to be the most critical employee. They run networking evenings, ‘bagel breakfasts’, ‘beers on a Friday’ and afterwork parties. Trust relationships are seeded in face to face interactions and there are more meetings at the beginning of a 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 with development happening in the cloud or on servers to which all parties have access. If problems are encountered face to face meetings temporarily resume.
Public Service Media have no equivalent role to a Community Manager. The larger PSMs have Partnership Relationship Managers. Their role, however, is a traditional one, managing the contractual frameworks that enable partnerships. Partnerships usually take the form of Commissioner and supplier.
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 and proximity to a university science or technology department and often a research facility. For London it was the availability of fast internet services that had been supplied to the nearby financial district that encouraged Shoreditch’s technology firms to aggregate and prosper.
30% of the Public Service Media in this study are operating in proximity to a high-technology cluster (Boston/Cambridge, Austin). Others are located in statement buildings, Corporate Headquarters located either outside of the city centre or close to cultural or civic districts, indicating previous strategic orientations of PSM. In Brussels VRT, the Flemish PSM, will relocate to a Media Park to be proximate to other Creative Industry firms. This follows the BBC model of relocating to a newly created creative cluster in Salford in the north of the UK.