Debating process, product and progression in community media
by Shawn Sobers — University of the West of England / Firstborn Creatives
June 18, 2009 – 17:21
A popular debate in community arts & media is based on the dichotomy and tensions inherent within the notions of process and product, and which state to value the most, and what ethics and emphasis are placed on each. The liberal position (or more accurately, the centrist conservative position), is to compromise and value both elements in equal measure, which demonstrates a project that healthy in both regards. The radicals on either wing denote the quality of process as protection of the safe environment for the participants, or the necessity of the product to instil a pride that process alone can never deliver.
I argue that these tensions are valid, but flawed. The foundation principles of my research is to analyse beyond the project, and therefore, beyond the product. The process/product debate reaches a glass ceiling of ambition as it misses out the vital element that gives meaning to what product and process actually mean – progression. Without a notion of what happens after a project, no real value can be placed on the elements in the project, as there is nothing to measure it against.
Highlighting value in process or product alone in isolation of what comes afterwards devalues the work being done in both of those states, and fails to take notice of the actual impact that has taken place as a result of both of those states. There is a vital consideration missed in this debate, that can only be viewed when you consider the position of the organisations that are funded to run these participatory projects. The reason they are funded is that they have as their offer the product of participatory practice – that is to say, their product is process led production. Process is product, and when working in a participatory way in community arts & media, and the two are not capable of being separate entities.
The product that community media offers, to sell for funding, is the process way of working that leads to an end production of some kind. Once a facilitator values one element over the other, they are devaluing their entire offer. In pedagogical terms, the product is the lesson and the process is the education. In the same spirit as B.F. Skinner’s famous quote, “education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten”, thus, the process continues long after what has been made has been produced.