Does Advice to Ofcom need a rebrand?

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Advice

A colleague on one of our advisory boards thought we should find a more appropriate name for Advice to Ofcom.

From her perspective, the blog is not focused on giving advice to Ofcom, but on communicating with the public about issues being considered by the advisory committees to Ofcom. She thought we could better and more accurately title the site.

She is right, of course, so I’d encourage colleagues to suggest a better name for the blog site. Thinking back to its recent origins, we took several points in mind in arriving at Advice to Ofcom.

It's not Ofcom

First, we did not want to portray our views as those of Ofcom. We are not speaking for Ofcom or trying to substitute for the Ofcom Web Site. ‘Advice to Ofcom’ captures this distinction.

Secondly, we are all members of the Advisory Committees to Ofcom, so we are trying to advise Ofcom from an outside, nations and regions and public perspective. The blog helps us raise issues, get occasional feedback, and ensure that the committees are not simply talking to themselves, but have a channel of communication to the public. We have over 500 followers on Twitter and our blog. They include leading academics focused on communication policy and regulation, civil society, and others with a serious interest in the concerns of Ofcom.

Public engagement

Thirdly, the blog is an effort of some members of the Advisory Committees to foster greater communication with the public. Blogs and the Web generally are a means to support more transparency and engagement with the public. Advice to Ofcom is one way to nudge our non-blogging colleagues to join this new spirit of openness in governance and regulation that is essential to a more multi-stakeholder approach.

Finally, in duscssing our initial proposal, a member of the Ofcom Board referred to our proposed site as ‘Advice to Ofcom’ and the name seemed to stick and work well enough to move ahead.

That said, if you have suggestions for a better name for Advice to Ofcom, please comment, email or speak to any member of the advisory committees to Ofcom. See: http://www.ofcom.org.uk/about/how-ofcom-is-run/committees/advisory-committees-for-the-nations/

Bill Dutton is Chair of Ofcom's Advisory Committee for England

10 Comments

Rebranding?

As a relatively recent member of the Scottish Advisory Committee, I agree with your post, Bill. If members of the public and members of the various Advisory Committees are to be encouraged to engage in an exchange of thoughts, ideas and opinions, then the page has a) Got to have a name which more accurately communicates what it's about and who it's aimed for and b) Have better SEO so that it comes up more prominently in search engines. I recently posted about the BBC and its future. Given that the BBC is an institution which most adults in the UK have a strong opinion about, I was mildly surprised that my blog of 26/2 has produced one comment, which looks like spam. This could be for 3 reasons i) My piece is boring ii) People aren't interested in the BBC iii) The post is not being read. Not trying to defend my blog, but I suspect the most likely answer is the last one.

This leaves us, as members of the various Advisory Committees, with some decisions/discussions if we want the public to be able to engage more directly with us, as "their Ofcom "representatives". If that's the case, then 1. We definitely need a new name (sorry, have been thinking about it & haven't come up with a snappy one) 2. If we are located on the Ofcom website (does that help if we are to be viewed as truly independent??), then Advice to Ofcom (under a new name) should be clearly signposted from the home page (under Ofcom for Stakeholders perhaps?) 3. Some practical SEO optimisation
4. Much more active participation/tweeting on our related Twitter feed.

Buidling on, Responding to, your Comments, Liz

The Name: Great if you can come up with a better name for the blog, but my own view is that it will develop an identity overtime based on the content, and that renaming is not likely to make a great difference. It couldn't hurt, I think, but time would be better spent on generating more content.

Numbers Game: I know everyone evaluates blogs by the number of views, followers, and comments, but in many respects this is a mass media perspective, when Advice to Ofcom is not selling papers, or ads, and not based on celebrities, but simply committee members ensuring that the public can follow what is on the agendas of its members. We have over 500 followers on Twitter, and they are academics and practitioners with a serious interest in communication regulation. Barnie Choudhury's last post led to interviews on four BBC radio programmes. So I think we are reaching the small group of stakeholders interested in communication regulation issues, and they have the opportunity to respond if they wish. That is what we offer.

Independence: We are not on the Ofcom site. This is a simple open source software blog that has not impact on the Ofcom budget or resources. Of course, because it is a communication channel for the Advisory Committees of the Nations, then we should not use that name without the support of Ofcom, but we have tried to minimise any cost to make this as independent as possible. It would of course be wonderful if the Ofcom site had a link to Advice to Ofcom, and if Ofcom staff or directors ever commented on our posts, but maybe this will come with time, if the blog continues.

Bringing People to the Site: I try to tweet links to posts on Advice to Ofcom, and would be delighted if others would do the same. However, we have a good number of colleagues who are not 'into' social media and are unlikely to read, much less tweet about our posts. In many respects, blogging about the committees is a cultural change that will take years to become accepted by most members and their networks in the nations and regions. If we add a few bloggers every year, and have patience, we will have more and more success stories in reaching those with a serious interest in the issues we are discussing.

Responding to you Bill

You said in your first post Bill that ATO was set up "to ensure that the committees are not simply talking to themselves, but have a channel of communication to the public". The term "the public" is not quite the same as the "academics and practitioners with a serious interest in communication regulation" that you mention above. The latter group will almost certainly be aware of the blog and follow it already, in which case a name change isn't necessary.

But as the different Nations Committees, shouldn't we also be trying to draw in those members of the public whose experiences, good or bad, of the different Ofcom sectors at a very practical level, might influence our own thinking and advice? This blog probably isn't the right forum but if that principle is seen as part of our role, then a new brand, rather than a re-brand, might be called for….

AdviceToAdviceToOfcom

It isn't that the site needs renaming, it is that the site needs changing to fit it's name.

The site's "About" pages says: "Advice to Ofcom has been set up by Ofcom's National Advisory Committees as a space for you to share your views and experiences on these issues. What works? What doesn't? What do you think of issues and technologies on the horizon?

We'll also use this website to share our opinions with you, as well as to highlight things we've seen which we think are worth sharing. For more information"

The site has become dominated by the second of these and the first, engendering some public debate around the advisory boards, seems to be totally neglected. It is not clear that most of the posts by advisory board members on the site are "communicating with the public about issues being considered by the advisory committees to Ofcom". The advisory boards' members are not short of other avenues for disseminating their views, so does the site in its present perform any useful function? Despite the claim that "we did not want to portray our views as those of Ofcom", the posts are never critical of any Ofcom decisions. If I thought that this anodyne, bordering on narcoleptic, commentary represented the discussion within the advisory boards, I would question the rationale for the boards. The site has also become increasingly focused on issues around media regulation, leaving other areas of Ofcom responsibility, in particular spectrum and post, neglected. There are also posts about film industry support and press regulation with only peripheral connection to Ofcom which is a loss of focus.

There is a need for greater public awareness of Ofcom's responsibilities, a wider discussion of their areas of regulation and a channel for that debate to feed into the advisory boards, but this website currently isn't any of these. There is not a need for another channel that advisory board members can use to disseminate painfully uncontentious opinions.

Wakeup Call

Thanks for this feedback. So we should do more of what we set out to do: "Advice to Ofcom has been set up by Ofcom's National Advisory Committees as a space for you to share your views and experiences on these issues. What works? What doesn't? What do you think of issues and technologies on the horizon?", and spend more time on some areas that we have not focused on, such as post and spectrum. That is helpful. If you could elaborate on the issues related to post and spectrum that you find most relevant, I'll try to encourage one or more members to reflect on some of our discussions. Moreover, you are always welcome to comment on any post to raise issues that you would like to the Advisory Boards to raise or for Ofcom to address. Thanks for your criticism. 

more comments please!

Bill drew my attention to this discussion, as in parallel I was asking for ideas for improving our Consumer Forum for Communications groupsite.

I'm glad to see the comments so far, which I agree with, especially Ian Graham's point on the lack of critical comment on Ofcom's decisions. I'd much prefer it if Advice to Ofcom never reproduced Ofcom news releases, unless prefaced by comments that add value. Most people who take an interest in these matters will be following Ofcom anyway and don't need to get the same news release several times over. It would be great if you could tell us more of what you're thinking about current Ofcom consultations; or even what you see as the issues in them, on which you may have divided or unclear views.

Also, on the mechanics, can you arrange for the RSS feed to highlight comments as well as initial posts?

Great Comments and Feedback, but its a Blog

All your comments are constructive and I'll bring them to the attention of others. However, two points I disagree with.

While is seems imminently reasonable that you might wish the content to conform to a particular type, such as critical perspectives on Ofcom's decisions, this is a blog. That means that individual bloggers (20 some have blogged on our site) are encouraged to write what they deem useful, and not to conform to any editorial policy. This is within limits, such as not posting confidential information, but the whole idea of a blog is that you hear the views of individual members of the advisory boards. You really can't apply a mass media paradigm to the blogosphere. It is a different medium. If you disagree with what is posted, then people are invited to comment or to post their own blog - we invite guest bloggers for example. So my challenge would be to show us how to reach people more effectively, such as by joining this disucussion as you have done. 

Moreover, the lion's share of the business before the advisory boards involves acting as a sounding  board for early plans on how Ofcom will implement government policy in particular areas. For this, the committees include an array of advisors with expertise in radio, television, post, telecommunications and new media, such as the Internet. We provide feedback on whether staff have considered x, or anticipated y, but for the most part, these plans are widely agreed as the best approaches to a problem. If smart people are faced with a similar problem they often come up with similar solutions, and that is the normal case. Areas of differences in opinions sometimes occur around implications for different groups, such as older people, or Internet users, etc, or how the implementation might work differently across the nations and regions. For such reasons, the committees are rarely a forum over fundamental policy.

Also, I think it is perfectly appropriate to occasionally post Ofcom press releases. A select few people would ever follow all Ofcom press releases, but there are some that one or another member of the advisory committees might wish to call to the attention of other members and the public. In such cases, it makes perfect sense to report a press release as "News', not 'Views' and give people an opportunity to respond on our blog site. We call attention to some news, and ignore other news, leaving it to others, but generally see a role in informing those who visit our blog.

That said, I am looking in to ways to notify users when comments are posted and will continue to consider all of your comments and bring them to the attention of others. Thanks, Bill

I'm a member of the NI

I'm a member of the NI Advisory Committee. At our meeting this week I jokingly (half jokingly?) suggested that this site be re named 'subjectsandconversations likelytoappealtopeoplewithaninterestintheworkofOFCOM.com'

which obviously wont work as that domain is already taken.

But it reflects the content on the site. Unless we routinely and only publish extended versions of our minutes or the responses we make to various consultation documents etc (and that would make for a very dull blog / website) then we should re name and re brand the site.

What Advice to Ofcom does: A different reading

Brendan, thanks for your comment. Your tongue in cheek suggestion spurred more thinking on my part. If you think about what the site could do, and has done on a number of important occasions, it is to be a voice for the nations - the devolved nations, but also England. The various advisory committees have no real channel of communication to the outside world, other than your interpersonal networks. Maybe that is sufficient for your committee, but the chairs of the committees collectively concluded that (years ago) we had no channel. Once the meeting was over, the mintues signed and posted, we had no means for communicating with the board or the public. We have since established excellent channels of commuication with the board, through the Nations Committee. However, Advice to Ofcom is the only channel the members have to address the public and each other, outside of the committees. Maybe we should rename Advice to Ofcom something like Voices from the Nations, or National Perspectives on Ofcom -- something to convey the central role that the blog can and often does play. Think of how Philip Schlesinger has been able to discuss developments in Scotland as they relate to communication regulation and practice, or how Barnie Choudhury has been able to flag issues of diversity within England. Advice to Ofcom provides a means for advisory committee members to communicate across the national committees, and with the public. Lose that and you will be in a box and soon try to reinvent what is at your fingertips, if used effectively.

reproducing Ofcom news releases

Hi Bill

Thanks for the speedy response. But I'm afraid you misunderstood my suggestion about more comments. My aim is not at all to limit what people blog about, but to get more insight into what they think about issues arising in relation to Ofcom. I'm asking for more, not less, independent thinking!

As regards reproduction of selected Ofcom news releases: if any advisory committee member wants to highlight a particular release because they think it important and otherwise at risk of being missed, couldn't the blog say exactly that? It would be even better if they could say why they think it so important.

Best, Claire