Ofcom, the communications regulator in the UK, expects community radio stations to adhere to good governance practices.[i] Community radio stations, like other voluntary service and civic society organisations, are expected to operate in a transparent, accountable, and inclusive manner, reflecting the principles of good governance outlined in the Charity Governance Code and the National Code of Good Governance for the Voluntary Sector.[ii] These principles include having a clear organisational purpose, effective leadership, integrity, and openness and accountability.[iii] Primarily, the Broadcast Code governs all on-air content that a community radio station puts out, but other standards of service development also apply, such as safeguarding and accountable governance.[iv]
While community radio stations are expected to reflect the needs and interests of their audience and become a central part of their community, they must undertake this work in a way that is inclusive and accessible, involving their listeners in the management and development of the station, by offering training opportunities, on-air roles, off-air roles, and involvement in the management and planning for a station’s activities.[v] While there is no fixed model that Ofcom expects community radio stations to follow, they do expect that the principles that each service follows are aligned with the broader principles of good governance for voluntary sector organisations.[vi]
Ofcom expects community radio stations in the UK to adhere to a set of Key Commitments, which outline the obligations and services that each community radio station is required to deliver.[vii] These Key Commitments are designed to ensure that the stations serve their target communities, adapt to the changing needs of those communities, and deliver social gain.[viii] The stations are expected to communicate with their target community about their activities and provide clear statements on their websites about their social gain, participation, and accountability activities.[ix] The Key Commitments are used by Ofcom in making licence award decisions and to ensure that stations continue to deliver a service consistent with their obligations. Community radio operators may apply to Ofcom to have the station’s Key Commitments changed, and Ofcom has procedures in place to consider and review such change requests.[x]
The key commitments that community radio stations in the UK are required to meet include:
- Defining Social Gain Activities: Community radio stations are required to define their ‘social gain’ activity in their key commitments, serving as a record of purpose.[xi]
- Broadcast Content: For analogue community radio stations, the key commitments set out the content that the station must broadcast over the course of each week, including the type of music and speech content, language(s), and the amount of original and locally produced output.[xii]
- Catering to Local Areas or Specific Communities: Community radio stations can cater for local areas or specific communities of interest, such as a particular ethnic group, age group, or interest group. For example, some stations cater for dance or experimental music, while others are aimed at younger people, religious communities, or the Armed Forces and their families.[xiii]
- Delivering Social Gain: Community radio stations are designed and required to deliver social gain to their target community, for example through training, access to facilities, and the discussion of issues that are important to the community.[xiv]
- Community Benefits: Both analogue and digital community radio station key commitments set out a range of on-air and off-air community benefits that the service must provide for its target community in the form of community participation and education and training opportunities for volunteers.
These key commitments are used by Ofcom in making licence award decisions and to ensure that stations continue to deliver a service consistent with their obligations.
Community radio stations can ensure that they meet their key commitments through various means. When they have defined their social gain activities, stations must also communicate those principles and purposes with the people and communities that they serve, and the volunteers who help the station deliver its content. Some stations do this via their website, others through their social media channels. Some produce a public report, and others broadcast updates on air. Ofcom states in any licence application that it must be possible for members of the target community to view and monitor the way stations engage with their communities, so they can track how each station demonstrates that they are providing significant social gain.
Similarly, everyone who volunteers or participates in a community radio station must know what its principal purpose is, and how this purpose is enshrined as a legal obligation in the Key Commitments that are detailed in the licence awarded by Ofcom. This means including reference to social gain activities in the training that is given to volunteers. It also means that any communication with partners and stakeholders should indicate how these key commitments drive the purpose of the station, its style of content, and its requirement to be inclusive and allow members of the community being served to take part.
Two specific approaches to catering for the target communities are, firstly, those based on local areas, with specific content designed for people associated with those areas, i.e. by place; and secondly, for specific communities, i.e. those groups of people who are defined by their social and cultural identity, their social needs and their cultural interests. Community radio stations must cater for people living in local areas and specific places, and within those places they must cater for people with specific needs, such as health and wellbeing, community identity, religious expression, being members of a particular ethnic group, age group, or interest group, and so on. A community radio station is required to demonstrate how it delivers social gain to their target community, for example through training, targeted information, opportunities for volunteer to get involved, and the general discussion of its services with its listeners.
Once a licence is granted to a community radio station, Ofcom monitors the station’s compliance with its Key Commitments.[xv] This can involve reviewing the station’s output, requiring the station to provide regular reports on its activities, and investigating any complaints. It is then for stakeholders and volunteers to hold each station to account to the extent that each station is delivering on its Key Commitments. This comes in the form of reports to funders, which can clearly demonstrate the benefit of delivering the Key Commitments, showing what social gain and social value the station brings for the money and time that is committed to the station. The social gain report must therefore be able to demonstrate the benefit of involving all stakeholders and volunteers in the management and decision-making processes, and how it ensures that the station is serving the needs of the community and delivering social gain. By adhering to these practices, community radio stations can ensure that they are meeting their key commitments and serving the needs of their target communities.
The principles of good governance and management for voluntary service and civic society organisations in the UK are well established and mapped out in various sources. The Charity Governance Code,[xvi] which is a practical tool to help charities and their trustees develop high standards of governance, identifies seven key principles:
- Organisational purpose: The board is clear about the charity’s aims and ensures that these are being delivered effectively.[xvii]
- Leadership: Every charity is led by an effective board that provides strategic leadership in line with the charity’s aims and values.[xviii]
- Integrity: The board acts with integrity, adopting values and creating a welcoming and supportive culture.[xix]
- Decision-making, risk, and control: The board makes sure that its decision-making processes are informed, rigorous, and timely.[xx]
- Board effectiveness: The board works as an effective team, understanding its role and responsibilities and ensuring constructive relationships.[xxi]
- Equality, diversity, and inclusion: The board promotes equality, diversity, and inclusion.
- Openness and accountability: The board is open and accountable.[xxii]
In addition to the Charity Governance Code, the National Code of Good Governance for the Voluntary Sector also outlines principles for good governance, including board leadership, the board in control, and high performance.[xxiii] Furthermore, the Civil Society Strategy emphasises the importance of measuring social value and enhancing the strength of the social sector, which includes voluntary, community, and social enterprise organisations.[xxiv]
These principles collectively emphasise the significance of clear purpose, effective leadership, integrity, decision-making, inclusivity, and accountability in governing and managing voluntary service and civic society organisations in the UK.
The key principles of social value measurement and management are outlined by Social Value International and Social Value UK.[xxv] These principles provide the basic building blocks for measuring and managing social value or social impact, which are important for accountability and decision-making.[xxvi] The seven principles of social value measurement and management are:
- Involve stakeholders: This principle emphasises the importance of involving all stakeholders who experience the impact of an organisation’s activities, not just the intended beneficiaries.[xxvii]
- Understand what changes: Articulate how change is created and evaluate this through evidence gathered, recognising positive and negative changes as well as those that are intended and unintended.[xxviii]
- Value the things that matter: Making decisions about allocating resources between different options needs to recognise the values. Value refers to the relative importance of different outcomes, informed by stakeholders’ preferences.[xxix]
- Only include what is material: Establish the boundaries of what information and evidence must be included in an account of value to ensure that it is both complete and relevant.
- Do not over-claim: Only claim the value that activities are responsible for creating, based on evidence from stakeholders.
- Be transparent: Provide a full account of the methods and data used to measure social value, and be open about any limitations or uncertainties involved.
- Verify the result: Ensure that the information and data used to measure social value are accurate and reliable, and that any assumptions or limitations are made clear.
These principles are fundamental to organisations in accounting for, measuring, and managing social value, and they enable organisations and individuals to effectively measure and manage the social value they create. The benefits of implementing the principles of social value measurement and management include:
- Increased accountability: By following these principles, organisations can provide a consistent and credible account of the value they create, which enhances accountability to stakeholders and the public.
- Effective decision-making: The principles enable organisations to make informed decisions to optimise their impacts, leading to more effective allocation of resources and activities.
- Stakeholder involvement: Involving stakeholders in the measurement and management process leads to a better understanding of the changes created and the values that matter, ultimately improving the relevance and impact of organisational activities.
- Transparency and credibility: Adhering to these principles promotes transparency by providing a full account of the methods and data used to measure social value, enhancing the credibility of the organisation’s impact assessments.
- Improved performance and relationships: Measuring and managing social value can lead to improved service delivery, innovation opportunities, cost savings, and better external and community relations, ultimately enhancing organisational performance and relationships.
By embracing these principles, organisations can effectively demonstrate and enhance the social value they create, leading to better decision-making, improved relationships, and increased accountability.