Process vs. Product

April 23, 2009

I think that a lot of documentary media makers (something I do when I’m not researching) make media that we hope will change things – to bring a problem to light, to help people see an issue in a different way, etc.  It’s always been tricky for me to reconcile what the relationship actually is between media and social change – have I ever seen a film that has truly changed the way I look at things?  I think that much more than watching films themselves, it is the process of making media – talking to storage unit owners, wrangling through an idea, visiting abandoned factories – that has changed me.

I have been thinking lately that some methods of media making put process first, while others prioritize product, and that this is a very important distinction.  For example, participatory video (see this book), power mapping, and issue mapping put process first – the point of these activities is to participate in the process itself. These methods can be used as co-inquiry tools, and may help to surface people’s ideas of what the issues at hand are and how to solve them.  They also may surface people’s assumptions and theories of change. The final product of such exercises in raw form (post-it notes on a wall, DIY videos, etc.) may not be particularly meaningful to those outside the group that produced them, though they could be translated into documents designed for an outside audience.

Alternatively, documentary films and research-based articles typically put product first. The audience is expected to learn by consuming the product instead of learning by participating in its creation (the creation process is left to the “expert”).  Recently, a number of documentary films have attempted to bridge this gap by providing study or discussion guides to accompany the film. For example, Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. Though this may help audiences to engage more deeply with the issues presented, this strategy is probably not a substitution for participation in the making-process itself.

This tension between putting product or process first also shows up in as a knowledge management issue. To share information within an organization or within a community, should you make all of the relevant resources available? (providing a product) Or, should you help connect people involved in the community who may be able to help each other? (encouraging a process)

*This blog post is cross-posted with Amelia’s blog The Whole Fragment.*

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