E-democracy remixed: Learning from the BBC's Action Network and the shift from a static commons to a participatory multiplex


  • Alfred Hermida University of British Columbia




BBC, democracy, eParticipation, Internet, public service broadcasting


This paper examines a five-year initiative by the UK's public service broadcaster, the BBC, to reinvigorate civic engagement at a time of declining public participation in politics. The Action Network project, originally called iCan, ran from 2003 to 2008 and was one of the most high profile and ambitious attempts by a public service broadcaster to foster eParticipation through an online civic commons. This study analyzes Action Network within the context of conceptualizations of the Internet as a networked, distributed and participatory environment and the shift towards what scholars describe as a networked public sphere. It suggests that the project did not have the impact anticipated as it was borne out of a paternalistic broadcast legacy, out of step with the trend towards distributed and collaborative discourse online that reassesses the notion that the public is simply a resource to be managed. This paper argues that the BBC experience provides lessons in how the media, and specifically public service broadcasters, can contribute towards greater political participation and democratic dialogue through the Internet by adopting Web 2.0 approaches that enable citizens to engage on different levels and at different times, depending on contexts.


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Author Biography

Alfred Hermida, University of British Columbia

Alfred Hermida is a digital media scholar, journalism educator and online news pioneer. Since 2006, he has been an assistant professor at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of British Columbia, where he leads the school's Integrated Journalism program. His research interests include participatory journalism, social media and emerging genres of digital journalism, with his work appearing in Journalism Practice and Media/Culture Journal. Prof Hermida is an award-winning journalist, having been a founding news editor of the BBC News website in 1997. During 16 years at the BBC, he worked in television, radio and online, covering regional, national and international news. During this time, his work also appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Times of London, The Guardian and NPR.




How to Cite

Hermida, A. (2010). E-democracy remixed: Learning from the BBC’s Action Network and the shift from a static commons to a participatory multiplex. JeDEM - EJournal of EDemocracy and Open Government, 2(2), 119–130. https://doi.org/10.29379/jedem.v2i2.29



Special Issue: Research Papers