Process and Product are two aspects of community arts which are sometimes considered to be opposing, or to a degree mutually exclusive. I was recently reminded of the debates that raged on about the importance of one, or the other, by an email I received from a student of music and community practice asking which, in my work, do I focus on?
First of all I want to think a little about what process and product mean. Put simply, process is the way we do things, and product is the end result, something tangible like a performance or a CD. I’d like to suggest that the boundaries between these are far more blurred, and we need to look more broadly at what constitutes ‘product’ when working in the community development sphere. For example, the special events that have so far been organised in connection with the Age Concern singing programme (see WittFest and SingFest) were important milestones and focal points for the singing groups involved; punctuation for the rest of the term. For groups who aim for largely soft outcomes, a bi-product of the process is the meeting for coffee at another point in the week.
I have recently been trying to explore more challenging repertoire with one of my groups, with limited success on my part, mainly because of my learning curve in guiding groups through more challenging songs, but also, from the groups perspective (I would posit) because learning more challenging material pushes towards a goal (product), and the purpose of the group is to have fun and build relationships and grow social capital. All these things we are doing – until the music started to get harder (albeit for a couple of weeks) which undermined the confidence and therefore enjoyment of the experience. In this case process is far more valuable than any perceptible product. Indeed, the product can sometimes undermine the process.
The process/product argument is a useful stimulus to get the cogs turning about outcomes. By far the most exciting projects I have been involved with in my short career is one in which outcomes (soft and hard, but mainly soft) were discussed at the beginning – we started from the end and worked backwards, which worked wonders for the creative development process as it gave a real freedom of approach. I didn’t start from what I usually do, I started from the most important thing, what the client will get out of this, whether that be through the ‘process’ of the project, or the ‘product’.