By Dorothy Engelman
Having TVO as a partner brings new opportunities everyday. But on Sunday I had my first immersion in their most recent innovation – Agenda Camp . Civic engagement in action, a TV experiment. They have been at it for a few years, but this year they are using Agenda Camp as a way to shape their coverage for this fall’s election in Ontario.
As a former producer at TVO, I know TVO is committed to engaging in a meaningful dialogue with their audience. But I think Agenda Camp breaks new ground. Too often broadcasters pay lip-service to the idea of viewer engagement – they pepper their networks and online channels with email and social media– too often it’s but a footnote in news and current affairs programming. Agenda Camp is something else, it’s new and it’s an experiment that proves that 1) the audience is listening 2) they want to be more engaged and 3) the audience is educated and often articulate.
How do they do it? Well, it’s a big production and they’ve made a big commitment to it. They provide the time and the space for the audience to provide the framework for the shape of a full hour of a live television. And they are doing it throughout Ontario FOUR more times this year. They launched in Ottawa early on a Sunday morning– everyone from their CEO Lisa De Wilde and their Managing Director Nancy Chapelle to the Agenda’s editorial staff and all their technical crew spent the day with over 100 citizens to listen and dialogue about the issues that matter – a “Citizens’ Agenda.”
Participants signed up online, at 9:30AM started the day with writing questions they’d ask if they were Steve Paikin. The editorial staff organized the content into themes and the citizens broke off into groups to discuss the themes set-out by the larger group.
And then it got interesting. I moved around the tables listening to the group dynamics—tussles over the need for preventive health care, clean power, electoral reform, transit, transfer payments, and transparency. By Noon it was time for a break and the Agenda team sat down with the group over lunch and by 1PM everyone was back at it. The groups were working at refining questions that came out of their discussion and now it was time to find evidence to build their argument. Agenda producers were there to do online searches for research the groups needed to fire up the discussion and then came the finale.
Each table pleaded their case infront of the group and everyone voted with five red dots – “dotmocracy” in action. Everyone was invited to the live broadcast the next day and the winning questions were presented during the show by the group leaders from the Agenda Camp session. Truely a Citizens’ Agenda!
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