Cross-sector documentary collaborations: Why and how?

The first edition of the Cross-Sector Collaborative Practices for Knowledge-Based Documentary Media guide aims to develop collaborative creative approaches in the documentary industry. Prepared by DOCTalks, the guide examines how to utilize wide-ranging expertise so that media content reflects a diversity of knowledge and perspectives. The guide sheds light on certain cultural and institutional barriers that can impede the collective creative process between partners and provides strategies for dealing with them.

> Read Cross-Sector Collaborative Practices for Knowledge-Based Documentary Media

Assets of a project collaboration ecosystem 

The guide presents a new vision of documentary production based on co-creation rather than a unique story told by one person. In the words of Paul De Decker, associate professor at Memorial University specializing in sociolinguistic research and DOCTalks president, “what we are proposing is to show how knowledge becomes significant for others, especially those involved in a documentary project, and how it can be shared with a wider public.” 

An example of a co-creation with a museum, Every Living Thing – Experiencing a Biobltiz is an incursion into the world of biologists and their relationship with fauna not only as they see it but also as seen by museum volunteers who share their perspective on the importance of biodiversity. The documentary is primarily focused on psychology and the relationships among the protagonists, as well as on the community they form. The documentary is therefore focused on the interaction between the perspectives of ordinary citizens and experts. 

In terms of project management, a cross-sector collaborative approach to documentary production makes room for opposing perspectives. The creative process integrates a range of knowledge from sources such as charitable organizations and scientific observations by researchers, foundations and governments.

All collaborators, whether at the core or on the periphery, are mutually involved in content creation. The possibilities for partnerships and knowledge sharing by various stakeholders in the project are illustrated below.

Knowledge-sharing is consequently coordinated such that each collaborator is responsible for the content, form and positioning of one project component.

The motivation of collaborators to cooperate depends on what they can get out of the project. Learning to collaborate involves taking time to deal with certain obstacles.

Levers to foster collaborator engagement 

Survey results from a hundred respondents and insights gained from discussions at earlier symposiums show two types of collaboration levers: available opportunities, which strengthen partnerships and the collective project, and challenges arising from clashing institutional and cultural mindsets. Whereas the first type of lever highlights the reasons for collaborating, the second identifies divergent and potentially conflictual motivations for the purpose of anticipating hurdles and clarifying mutual expectations. 

The diagram below categorizes levers by type (opportunity versus challenge) and indicates the related management fields.

 

Focus on reasons to collaborate

1) Leverage an approach based on results for investors.

2) Widen the target audience for the benefit of all collaborators.

3) Give the project greater legitimacy by partnering with prestigious organizations.

Anticipate potentially conflictual challenges arising from divergent motivations

4) Consider differing approaches to content creation: as specialists in the world of information collection, documentary producers and academic researchers each have their own method for collecting and processing data.

5) Review the project management timeline to consider delays caused by consensual decision making, bureaucracy and administrative procedures.

6) Meet the professional standards of each collaborator as a valuable contributor.

7) Become familiar with administrative procedures to facilitate the validation process and meet the collaborative project requirements.

8.a) Come to terms with the different funding practices of commercial and non-commercial institutions, which do not share the same goals in allocating resources.

8.b) Anticipate obstacles in the pooling of funds from non-commercial and commercial sources, as the former are not familiar with funding cycles in the documentary industry.

New co-creative roles

New co-creative roles naturally arise from these challenges and opportunities. Investors see enhanced value in their impactful role. Documentary producers, researchers and charitable organizations are brought together to review the creative approach and the manner in which data is collected and processed. Broadcasters are solicited for their support earlier in the process. The documentary producer must incorporate more variables into project management. All these roles can be explicitly set out in a memorandum of understanding, the perfect tool for formalizing a shared vision of the project.

As a rule, collaborative project management inevitably comes face to face with mechanisms of formal power exercised by funding levers, intellectual property and copyright. Who decides and who has power over what are ultimately complex subjects to be clarified among partners. In the interests of developing shared decision-making models, potential solutions should be explored concerning more flexible approaches to copyright and intellectual property, such as Creative Commons licences. This type of initiative is just getting started.

Dr. De Decker points out that the starting point in implementing a collaborative approach to content creation is first and foremost to recognize differences in perspective as an opportunity for enhancing a story. In other words, such an approach requires taking an interest in the content creation process as such, i.e. identifying and making explicit the phenomenon of generating knowledge all the way from inception to institutionalization.

 

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