Newspapers that provide blogs to a few readers are merely creating a few amateur guest columnists. That’s not ‘participatory journalism’. What is will be unveiled next Monday by the British Broadcasting Corporation. Called iCAN, the BBC Interactive‘s participatory journalism program lets any resident of a UK community raise issues, promote grassroot campaigns, find people with the same public concerns, and change things within their community or the nation. iCAN provides the hosting, advice, and the online tools and resource, and consists of two main components: self-service public forums that help people raise concerns and find others who share those concerns, and what the BBCi calls a ‘democracy database’ designed to provide the public with a wealth of information on grassroots campaigns and legislative processes.
For example, if a city council plans to close a local school, iCAN can help concerned citizens find each other, facilitate organization of anti-closing public meetings and protests, and learn how citizens of other cities have successfully stopped schools from closing. BBCi architected iCAN after an ethnographic study of real-world grassroots political campaigns. iCAN benefits the BBC by giving it fertile grounds for story leads; six BBC reporters, assigned to different regions of the UK, will watch iCAN for potential stories.
Matt Jones, one of iCAN’s lead developers (who is now leaving BBCi to join Nokia in Helskinki) provides some background theory.