Impact case studies

BBC open archives

Helping BBC Archives develop Democratic Public Engagement

Simon Popple, Visual Media and Communication / Digital Cultures.

School of Media and Communication

Impact summary

Leeds researcher Simon Popple has led a number of projects working with communities to create open source publicly owned archives. One project has addressed the potential for public collaboration and democratic engagement with the BBC archives of the 1984-5 Miners’ Strike.

Popple worked closely with the BBC and participants in the Miners’ Strike. The collaboration not only enriched the coverage of the anniversary of the Strike with a wider range of perspectives, but also enabled participants to develop the confidence to reflect on their experiences, and to express these memories creatively. The project also enabled the BBC to develop new approaches to public engagement, democratised access to their archives, and led to additional collaborations with academic partners.

Underpinning research

Popple’s research stemmed from two AHRC/BBC Knowledge Exchange Partnership funded projects which took place between autumn 2007 and summer 2009, and from a 2012 Creative Technology Lab project, Pararchive, concerned with allowing the public to use online archives to tell stories and develop creative and democratic engagement.

The research was concerned with the cultural ownership of heritage, public access and the potential of the BBC’s archives to act as the basis for democratic engagement through the creation of collaborative partnerships. The research developed models through which audiences could access and interact with the BBC archive and begin to use it as a creative resource.

The initial Open Archive Project was designed to understand the relationships that audiences might have with the archive; how the BBC could digitally facilitate audiences’ ability to interact with, comment on and contextualise these materials; and how audiences could use them to make sense of their own histories and memories. As part of the research, the team produced a report for the BBC, suggesting how to democratise and enrich public use of the archives. The report advocated adding the perspectives of citizens to existing broadcast records and the promotion of collaborative activities (beyond blog comments and the like) through digital storytelling and the development of user generated content.  

Subsequently, Popple worked with a group of original participants drawn from all sides of the 1984-5 Miners’ Strike to create commentaries for archival materials. The result was a series of films, bringing together participants’ stories under the title Strike Stories, and addressing how the Strike was represented. Participants’ voices were added to the ‘official’ version of events represented in the archive, redressing interpretations, challenging editorial decisions a quarter of a century old, and enriching content through much fuller contextualisation.

The research enabled participants in the Miners’ Strike to engage with the archive and respond to a perceived lack of context. It also allowed them to address their own relationships with people and groups with very different perspectives on the strike. 

The initial impacts generated by these projects, and the debates occasioned by presentations at events including BBC staff briefings and academic conferences led to a third project led by Popple, called Pararchive (2012) facilitated by Caper and funded by the Creative and Cultural Industries Exchange, University of Leeds. The project designed an online resource that allows the public to use online archives to tell stories and develop creative materials.