Understanding the Changing Cultural Value of the BBC World Service and the British Council

Gillespie, Marie; Bell, Simon; Wilding, Colin; Webb, Alban; Fisher, Ali; Voss, Alex; Smith, Andrew W. M.; Macfarlane, Jess; Martin, Nat; Foster, Tot and Lvov, Ilia (2014). Understanding the Changing Cultural Value of the BBC World Service and the British Council. Arts and Humanities Research Council, Swindon.


This project investigated the changing cultural value of the BBC World Service (WS) and the British Council (BC) and how their cultural value can be assessed and measured. For eight decades, these organisations have been the face and voice of Britain overseas. Our research found that their attraction and influence abroad remains strong, but is on the wane, reflecting the UK’s declining economic and political significance on the world stage.

Among the key findings of our historical and contemporary research: Cultural value is the catalyst of all aspects of value at WS and BC, founded on their capacity to act as transcultural intermediaries, fostering international understanding, and setting benchmarks in global standards for journalism and cultural relations work. Cultural value is relational, never independent of political and economic value. It is perspectival: audiences trust the quality and credibility of outputs; high professional standards and prestige benefit staff; funders appreciate the diplomatic and soft power assets. Cultural value accrues slowly over time but can be quickly lost.

Social media afford new ways of connecting, informing and engaging citizens at home and abroad. Our case studies analysing the uses of Twitter and Facebook by BC and WS around global media events underscore the so far limited role of social media in democratising participation and promoting intercultural dialogue.

We developed an innovative, theoretically grounded and empirically informed Cultural Value Model (CVM). This is an innovative device for conceptualising, analysing and assessing value in a multidimensional, composite, visual way. The CVM is designed for planning, monitoring and evaluating projects and organisations over time, alongside existing performance indicators and impact measures. It is currently being tested and developed on further projects at WS and BC as well as at the Swedish Institute.

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