What kind of project is Ecoes?
For all its ubiquity and popularity, "collaborative art making and outcomes" remains under theorized. I have yet to encounter a typology of collaborative art and would appreciate knowing if indeed one exists.
Claire Bishop has done some useful work in this direction in her article "The Social Turn: Collaboration and its Discontents," as does Maria Lind in "The Collaborative Turn".
In the case of Ecoes, the project's repeated (re)iteration is one of its determining characteristics. Ecoes has grown responsively; the focus and constituency have both changed since its conception a year ago. Indeed, a willingness to change is an important characteristic of this enterprise, with different iterations of the project have been instrumentalized for specific opportunities.
All this morphing led Neil to describe Ecoes as having "snowballed" over the course of its development. Wikipedia glosses this kind of elaboration as essentially negative:
Snowball effect is a figurative term for a process that starts from an initial state of small significance and builds upon itself, becoming larger (graver, more serious), and perhaps potentially dangerous or disastrous (a vicious circle, a "spiral of decline"), though it might be beneficial instead (a virtuous circle).
This idea also seems related to something Howard Becker says in his interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist:
A friend of mine says "No film is ever finished, it's just abandoned" and in a way that is rue of every work of of art. (*)
In a more positive vein, Josh Love talks about a similar process as a "bolt-on approach". In contrast to object-oriented artworks that tend to privilege a reductive way of working that culminates in some form of poetic resolution (what's often recognized as an artwork that's "resolved"), the "bolt-on approach" is an iterative process that might be called omnivoracious, insofar as it sufficiently elastic to absorb new dynamics. What differentiates my sense of the "bolt-on approach" is that it's marked by critical reflection on the implication of these dynamics and considers in particular their implications for the works eventual intelligibility. In other words, the bolt on approach makes this consideration explicit and, in so doing, the iteration of artworks reflexive.
It seems this reflectivity/reflexivity was not prioritized in Ecoes, in part because there were so many other dynamics to consider. How might this have been otherwise? A basic and, I think, useful way to grapple with this is to review the project's aims and objectives of the course of it's iterative development and to note how they've shifted in response to the artwork's development. This seems especially crucial when working in groups where there are multiple interpretations in play. True: it may take up valuable time and sometimes be tedious. But the dividends it pays for the clarity it brings are, I believe, well worth it.
For less iterative projects, having clearly defined outcomes seems to be good practice. In this interview with Variant, Pascale Jeannèe describes how the Austrian-based collective WochenKlausur develops its concrete social interventions.
For Cornford and Cross, clearly defining their projects (if not outcomes) involves articulating them in texts.
The form of a project may develop, but we keep intact its core proposition, which exists most clearly in language. For each project, we write and often re-write a text. If a proposal is approved, then the text serves as the basis of an agreement or contract of sorts. If a project remains unrealised, then the proposal stands. Throughout, the texts 'anchor' some of the possible meanings contained within a work, as well as 'relay' meanings from the surrounding context. This method of counter-pointing different aspects of a situation partly reflects our own differences in opinion. (from 'Cornford & Cross: Where is the Work?' posted on the Northern Gallery of Contemporary Art website http://www.ngca.co.uk/home/default.asp?id=76 accessed March 1, 2009)