By Pawan V. Bhansing and Arjo Klamer


Public broadcasters are in heavy weather because of changes in the media landscape. It is precisely these circumstances that make it important to set and maintain a course. What is the direction they are heading? What purpose do they serve? How do they answer the why question? Our investigation distilled their most important core value: creating a liveable society.

Recently, Stichting Atelier (a foundation for creativity and cultural entrepreneurship) was asked to help two Dutch public radio and television broadcasting organizations in identifying and revising their core values. These two media organizations are non-profit subsidized organizations and are evaluated by different institutions working on the national level along with the daily opinions of the public. In this complex strategic environment, they look for clarity in assessing and communicating their contribution to society. Such a contribution is difficult to express in a quantitative way. As if a how many is an answer to the why. Numbers about, for example, the amount of viewers and listeners say little about experiences and takeaways of tv-programs. Evaluations should (also) be about what is really important for individuals and society. This is also what people who support the public broadcasters want to hear. What for? What do the broadcasters contribute to society?

Stichting Atelier took the demand for clarity in the why as an opportunity to apply the value-based approach. We specifically based our self’s on Arjo Klamer’s (founder of Stichting Atelier) book Doing the Right Thing: A value-based economy, which discusses relational and social exchange and quality where others would focus on more familiar transactional economic models. It is about another economics; it focuses on values and on the most important goods such as families, homes, communities, knowledge, and art. It places economic processes in their cultural context.

Each broadcast organization produces their content within their own culture of creativity that is in some way based on particular organizational core values. For our research, we subsequentially preformed an analysis of internal and external documents as well as the perspective of various constituents. These were gathered from 56 individuals through focus groups and interviews with top managers, content makers and other employees, and with experts outside the organization, including policy makers, journalists and content partners, followed by a questionnaire administered to the general public (1,046 responses). We focused on three main questions: What is wanted? What is needed, and; What is important? As suspected, in general, people find it difficult to express their values since these are connected to many aspects of an organization’s and individual’s environment.

The conclusions of our investigation come in the form of a dashboard including three types of values – core, goal and behavioural values – ​​in the context of topics in the public interests. This gives the management and content makers the means to determine their ambitions and thus their intended social impact. The main result is their most important core value: creating a liveable society. Both organizations do this in their own particular way and, thereby, focus on different aspects of the liveable society. Where one focuses on understanding and making connections between people that are the same and different in sexual nature, ethnicity, and views on society, the other focuses on providing meaning to life and inciting social support. These core values are further explained by the organizational values that operate on levels of productional and individual goals and behaviour. One may, for example, think of the quality of content, being a breeding ground for craftsmanship, creating a maker’s culture, independence of political and commercial objectives, and empowering the public with facts and supporting them in formulating their own opinions.

Increasing an organization’s meaningful and unambiguous comprehension of their values and the resulting impact increases their effectiveness. When effective, one could argue that the organizational activities enable realizing (or valorizing) values as a way of qualitative contribution to society. One of the interviewed experts places this within the tensions the broadcasters face: “Everyone is talking about competing, and now it seems that the most important thing is to win that competition, but I think the most important thing is to defend the public interest within the public system against other interests that are common in the commercial world, which are more dominant.” The broadcasters’ why is about bringing changes and especially changes in what people find really important, and therefore, changes in their values ​​and desired qualities. If people care little about solidarity, meaning, knowledge of/and respect for other people, then there is an impact if those same people start to think differently because of the content of a public broadcaster.

Our findings underline that the why of public broadcasters is related to enhancing the democratizing mechanisms in society and that this is their main purpose. By having multiple broadcasting organizations, the Dutch system offers pluriformity that is rooted in perceptions on society and life philosophies, which are instrumental in the public’s decision-making. This broadcasting system enables people to share all sorts of events, engage in conversation with one another, deliberate about what to do and what not to do, thereby, shaping society through what they learn from the content of the public broadcasters.

The purpose of public broadcasters may be apparent on a broad political and societal level, however, how this crystallizes on the program and content level is not understood by many people. Moreover, many current evaluation methods and performance indicators are not aligned with the broadcaster’s values and, therefore, with their contribution to society. Our research specifically contributes to aligning performance metrics with organizational values. We hope to follow-up by implementing our tools which monitor this alignment and measures the social contribution of the broadcasters in terms of impact along the core values.


About the authors:

is a freelance researcher and consultant.

Arjo Klamer is Professor Economics of Art and Culture at Erasmus University Rotterdam.

This article is:

An application of Klamer, A. (2017) Doing the Right Thing: A Value Based Approach. Ubiquity Press.

About the image:

TV Masten. Vänersborgs museum (2015)

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