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What's the key to co-creation? Veteran co-creators say it involves supporting and investing in process, not only in deliverables and products. We identify six key recommendations for next steps in the field.

Published onJun 03, 2019


Throughout the interviews, discussions, and gatherings we held for this project, we systematically heard that co-creation insists on profound attention to process. The media industry has commodified the construction and telling of stories, so the prevailing standards of funding, researching, evaluating, and producing leave little room for process-oriented work. The current pipelines of production rely on and demand highly specialized, often extractive processes that are defined by the deliverables, and the outcomes. Co-creation questions these modes of production and offers alternatives. Co-creation requires time, trust, and iteration.

There are multiple dimensions within the ecosystems of co-creation, and stakeholders come from a wide variety of starting points. Co-creation is about the opportunities afforded by the meeting grounds, although boundary-setting by historically vulnerable communities is often non-negotiable. Co-creation can contribute to bridge-building amongst divergent stakeholders, as well as bonding within very fixed groups. Tensions and distinctions are many. It is necessary to recognize that not one person, one system, one discipline, nor one agent (human or non-human) should/could singularly hold the power to address some of the biggest challenges of our time, and of this moment.

In this report, we have attempted to name and illustrate processes that are all too often invisible or implicit. The next step is to gather concrete and detailed procedures and make them available to communities, festivals, organizations, funding bodies, and colleagues in other fields. Some of this work may be appropriate at, or in partnership with, the Co-Creation Studio at MIT Open Documentary Lab, while others may best be conducted elsewhere.


Overwhelmingly, our research found that the key to co-creation involves supporting and investing in process, not only in deliverables and products. This recommendation extends across individual projects, community initiatives, institutional support, and argues for systemic changes in the way that media is produced, and connected to social movements.

1. Research

More research should be conducted by many stakeholders, in order to map and understand the operations of co-creation in the context of our dominant culture, one predisposed to individual ownership, accumulation, and appropriation. We need to understand the implications of co-creation in a society of systemic inequity and in an era of fast-changing biological and technological (AI, VR, etc.) developments. We need to continue to learn from historical and current human practices by studying and understanding: business/organizational models; co-creation in diverse communities; co-creation beyond the U.S. and Canada; ownership and intellectual-property models; art collectives; co-operative economic models; transdisciplinarity models and matchmaking; art and AI; deepfake and synthetic media, and new non-hierarchical forms of convening.

2. A Library of Toolkits and Curricula

There is a need to create resources for teaching, sharing, and learning co-creative models. This involves co-creative strategic planning that will create networks and hubs to document, organize, and create an accessible library of existing toolkits (contracts, worksheets, community agreement forms), best practices, and document and share failures through modular curricula. These networks and hubs should include media-makers, community groups, non-profits, private companies, public institutions, media institutions, and universities. These resources should be intended for professional development as well.

3. Structural Changes at Institutions

More research and prototyping within institutions, both public and private, must be undertaken. This will develop pathways for co-creative practices internally, and methods to reach communities that already co-create. These processes must be ethical, just, transparent, and equitable.

4. Spaces for Incubation and Production

More sustainable programs, fellowships, workshops, streams, and incubators should be developed to facilitate co-creative projects that honor the processes, multiple partnerships, and timeframes involved. The governance of these spaces and the projects needs to be interrogated. These sites need to provide adequate resources, mentors, cross-disciplinary supports, witnesses, and, intentional healing and trauma-informed practices should be implemented.

5. Networks for Distribution

Spaces and networks for distributing co-creative projects need to be supported, including community centers, libraries, alternative spaces, schools, festivals, universities, and among allied funders engaged in projects.


Together, we share a vast history of co-creation. From early rock art, to the development of our sacred texts, to the politicized twentieth-century newsreel collectives, to the latest experiments in immersive technologies fueled by AI, co-creation is remarkably commonplace. But it is also remarkably invisible. Before it is co-opted by digital empires, and marketeers, we have a chance to define, it, claim it, and ground it to principles of equity, justice and authentic collective models of ownership.

Performance in the village at 47 km, by Zhang Menqi. Photo courtesy of The Folk Memory Project.

Media co-creation allows for new, better questions, and for paths in which there are not always singular answers. Co-creation can enrich daily practice, it demands self-reflection, and forges harmonious, equitable relationships between partners, within and across communities, beyond disciplines, and working with non-human systems, many of which we do not yet fully understand.

Throughout the making of this study, primarily through the listening, we have been humbled and inspired by the phenomenal stories of co-creation, and by the openness of all stakeholders to learn from each other and to engage in courageous questioning. The conversations have been nuanced, messy, difficult, exciting, and above all, overflowing. Co-creation carries with it a profound respect for each person’s unique expertise, and also the knowledge that we must share both the burden and the liberation of determining our future collectively. There is an urgency to the challenges we face in this moment in history, and no one person, organization, or discipline can determine all the answers alone.

Making can divide, alienate, and exploit — or it has the potential to be inclusive, equitable, and respectful. The latter conditions are far more conducive to the collective efforts it will take to address the immense challenges of structural inequality, exponential population growth, the Anthropocene, and the ever-diminishing resources that follow in their wake. In reaching beyond the mere sum of our collective intelligence, we stand a chance at finding our collective wisdom. Co-creation offers hope.

Photo image from Marisa Jahn’s “Mirror Mask” project, collage by Helios Design Labs.

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Are you familiar with the P2P foundation which has been reporting on and building a movement toward collective wisdom through what it calls peer-to-peer sharing and a transition to a commons based economy? Here Davis Bollier discusses this idea.

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How do we define power in this instance. It has traditionally been defined in the US system as being those with the most money or buying power.

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The extractive nature significantly hampers trust, which is essential for truth in storytelling.