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Designing collaboration - Principles

These principles are a set of assumptions - based on practical experience - about how collaborations do and don’t work. They aim to knit together the main terms and ideas. They could be expanded with practical examples, and suggestions on how to take a collaborative course of action.

Collaboration may not be the right approach, all the time

Not all problems are best solved through collaboration. Even when processes start off collaboratively, different decision-making approaches may be more appropriate later. However, it is important to be explicit where power and control does lie in order to develop and maintain trust and motivation.

People create collaborations - organisations exploit them

Although groups, organisations or other structures may be necessary to bring projects, products and services into being, collaboration takes places between people. Their attitudes, relationships and levels of trust will ultimately determine what works and what doesn’t.

Without an agreed purpose collaboration will be directionless

Collaboration has to have some purpose … to make money, solve a problem, create a new product for yourself or someone else. Unless you can agree on the purpose, the collaboration isn’t going to work because you will be pulling in different directions.

“Users” can be collaborators too

The people who benefit from the collaboration - for example, new product or service users - can also be part of the collaboration. Their views, ideas, feedback can be particularly valuable.

Context can be (almost) everything

The history and culture of “how we do things around here” will have a big influence on how easy it is to bring in new people and fresh ideas. So too will the context - the situation - if there is little room for experimenting.

Attitude is all important

People will only collaborate if they - and other parties - want to. Some motivation to get started, and rewards from the process, are essential, but won’t be enough if people don’t really want to share ideas and work together.

Control kills collaboration

People need to feel they have permission to do things differently if they are to collaborate with new people in new ways, and produce new results. That will eventually mean working out new procedures and agreements, but if these are imposed by one party at the outset they can kill creativity. Intellectual property rights are one example, where a major power-holder in the situation may seek to impose their protocols on others. The Creative Commons system of copyright licenses is designed for collaborative processes. Either way, reward-systems for value created during collaborations have to be explicit and agreed.

Collaboration requires appropriate leadership styles

Someone (or a number of people) have to provide leadership to take the collaboration process forward. The style they adopt - directive, controlling or facilitative - may derive from and/or help establish the culture within which collaboration does or doesn’t take place successfully. Different people and styles may be needed at different times in the process.

Diversity can aid creativity

Different disciplines and backgrounds of people involved can make collaboration challenging at the start - but you are more likely to create something new.

Events often reflect culture - unhelpfully

Committee-style meetings, rigid seating plans and presentational events with experts on the platform reflect a top-down culture unlikely to favour innovative collaboration. Unless they are challenged or circumvented people will be stuck in old patterns of communication and behaviour.

Marketing isn’t engagement, and engagement isn’t collaboration

Phrases like “getting buy-in” and “testing the market” suggest power-holders are taking a tell or sell stance. This won’t build the relationships needed for people to share ideas and work together. Talking about engagement isn’t enough either, unless it leads to co-design and/or co-creation.

Online tools don’t create collaborations

Collaboration depends on strong relationships, shared purpose - and interactions supported by good communications. But while online tools can aid communications they don’t on their own achieve the other conditions. They can be divisive because some people are more adept online than others. What’s needed is a blend of online and offline communications, with facilitation at events and in online forums.

Collaboration requires Trust

While joint working arrangements can be underpinned by contracts, and rewarded through financial or other transactions, situations are likely to arise where one party cannot be sure - purely through those arrangements - how other parties will react. They have to believe that they will act in good faith, in order to achieve their common purpose. This requires trust.

collaboration/principles.txt · Last modified: 2017/06/12 10:20 (external edit)