Co-Creation: Collective Wisdoms on Media Process

As media makers explore new routes for production including collaborative, digital formats, their work becomes increasingly concerned with questions of communal value: To what exactly is this project contributing? Whom does it serve? How does it impact beyond the delivery of a product?

The hybrid field study ‘Collective Wisdom’ dives deep into these questions. It focuses on the collaborative practice of co-creation through qualitative insights and numerous case studies. Its joint authorship lays out the co-creative framework as identifiable through collective practices in arts, documentary and journalism as well as in adjacent areas of knowledge, including open-source tech.

In ‘Collective Wisdom,’ co-creation is highlighted for its nimble nature as many things. Through a creative venture’s timeline, it may be a pedagogy, a mode, a method, perhaps all at once. Co-author, documentarian and storyteller Katerina Cizek loosely defines co-creation as a “toolkit” not meant to be too formulaic. It maps what Cizek coins a “constellation of methodologies”.

Co-creation also provides an alternative to a “singular authorial voice [and] authority”, where the creative process is foregrounded to the highest possible point of transparency (‘Collective Wisdom,’ Summary, p. 4). ‘Collective Wisdom’ reiterates the ancient nature of co-creative chronologies, having been “around for as long as humanity”, while reinforcing its ability to shift makers, subjects and audiences into openly equal influence (p. 1).

Co-Creation Works: Examples in Practice

“How do you move from a competitive system to a collaborative one?” asks Cizek, especially without sacrificing the quality of the work? Her own portfolio proves to be a source of inspiration, highlighted by recent contributions such as the NFB-supported 2011 project ‘Highrise’ or Cizek’s collaborative NFB filmmaker-in-residence initiative at St.Michael’s Hospital. “Whether we like it or not, that’s the direction we’re going in,” Cizek adds.

‘Collective Wisdom’ also dives into deep focus on widespread systems of aggregating, sharing and understanding knowledge — proving itself crucially relevant in the cultural dilemma of fake news, infectious information spreading and associated online communities. In the context of media making, the study presents a comprehensive roadmap on the ways we model processes of creativity — profiling actions forged to scramble and rebuild markers of critical and artistic merit.

The report distinguishes four types of co-creation that are often interlinked. The first of these categories is co-creation within communities as defined by the “real world”, revolving around in-person interactions. ‘The Quipu Project’ (2015) in Peru serves as a cited example. Organizers worked within local community structures and networks to deliver an online interactive documentary.

The second category includes co-creation within virtual, online communities, of which ‘Fireflies VR’ (2018) is a prime example. ‘Fireflies’ presents the world’s first participatory virtual reality project video game in collaboration with the Brownsville Criminal Justice Centre.

Co-creation is also examined across disciplines, constituting its third category in ‘Collective Wisdom’. This category includes works from ‘Eviction Lab,’ an ongoing transdisciplinary project that draws on the collective expertise of co-creators within a wide variety of fields.

Finally, the study differentiates the fourth category of co-creation as work between humans and non-human systems, including Sougwen Chung’s 2018 co-creative performative visual art with robots called DOUG, ‘Drawing Operations’ (p. 5).

Risk and Reluctance in Co-Creative Thought

New media making models prove relevant as the conditions of production and distribution continue to change. Yet as Cizek explains, “some people don’t like the word co-creation.” Its ambitious mandates hold the risk of heightened expectations coupled with unintended consequences. With projects open to the public and often available online, co-creative participation and comment “can be hacked from the outside” (‘Collective Wisdom,’ Practices pp. 4-6).

As an under-recognized and underfunded alternative, relegation in co-creative projects is a general risk of the trade. Traditionally, co-creative projects can become marginalized as “community media”, restricted to museum venues and “an ‘education’ or a ‘public programs’ bucket” (p. 5).

Co-creation is also intended to counteract imbalanced power dynamics present in both the corporate and institutional co-optation of collective media. In doing so, associated language or terms such as “community” and their position within the shared economy situates co-creation as a recently re-popularized field that must inevitably grapple with the issue of credit due. In this process, co-creators and their advocates must strengthen fair and binding IP agreements that allow for the fluid exchange of creative input.

New Insights for the Future

Despite its risks, co-creation sheds light on key questions of artistic revitalization, and the report’s methodological purpose leads related topics by example. The study includes co-authored contributions from a panel of multidisciplinary collaborators, including filmmakers, artist collectives, researchers, and lab/incubator directors, who were in certain cases invited to sign written community benefit agreements (‘Collective Wisdom,’ Summary, p. 11).

In addition, associative practices such as the “snowball methodology” and participatory design help shepherd what Cizek describes as “new legal models but also new moral models” given co-creation emerges as a way toward process innovation in a given mediascape.

Work in co-creation also functions to indirectly acknowledge the dual frustration that exists in media industries such as Canada’s. Cizek describes this as “the people within institutions who are frustrated and want to try and make things better for themselves and content creators, and people who are doing business or creating models that are just outside of the system”.

Co-creation as profiled in ‘Collective Wisdom’ self-identifies with “deep listening” to balance the process with the outcome, “shedding conventional linear formats” within narrative structures (p. 10). As these directives manifest themselves in bodies of work, Cizek stresses the need for a “deep idea and visionary focus” in lab and incubator spaces alongside those of a commercial dimension to build strategies that function beyond bringing products to market.

Overall, ‘Collective Wisdom’ conducted 99 individual interviews and held 10 formal group discussions. A total of 160 people working in media and related fields participated actively in the study, and it examined 251 co-creative insight projects in total (p. 11).

Kathryn Armstrong
Kathryn Armstrong is an independent consultant and media scholar with a body of work driven by the communities and individuals who shape Canada’s diverse media ecosystem. Her most recent publications include her thesis for the University of Toronto’s Cinema Studies Institute on Canadian national film discourse. She also frequently presents at conferences such as the Film Studies Association of Canada, on topics like the relationship between Canada’s independent producers and its national broadcasters. As a connector and intellect, Kathryn has done research for the CMPA and has worked closely with TIFF and Ontario Creates. She holds an MA from Ryerson University in Media Production, as well as both an MA and BA in Cinema Studies from the University of Toronto.
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