For the last 18months I’ve been working as part of the management team of the JISC Trialling Online Collaborative Tools for BCE project. The project has had 8 Trial Projects, each examining the use of technology to enhance some form of collaborative activity between a higher or further education institution and its business or community partners.
The project is coming towards a close – indeed the Showcase Event was just last week – and I’m busy reviewing final reports. However, one thing I’m aware of is that the majority of the focus and discussion is regarding use of the online tools rather than the actual collaboration.
It strikes me that “collaboration” is a much overused term, often used to refer to varied modes and methods of collective working or thinking. I’ve done some reading about different definitions of collaboration and particularly like the sub-categorisation of “collaborative endeavours” offered in this 2008 Economist Intelligence Unit/Cisco publication (pdf). They offer the following distinction:
- Collaboration: a more open-ended series of interactions intended to go beyond individual strengths to create a new source of value.
- Co-operation: a project with a clearly defined goal and some freedom around the means to accomplish the goal.
- Co-ordination: a trivial project requiring individuals to follow instructions.
I don’t see these as mutually exclusive, rather being on a continuous scale. It is my feeling that much of our Trial Projects’ work has (understandably) been concerned with the use of online tools for co-operation, not the top-end collaboration. At this extremity is where new innovation happens. “Collaboration pushes beyond the limits of existing conditions or a single stakeholder.” It’s not necessarily goal-orientated and outcomes don’t have to be pre-planned or even achieved. (Note the notion of the creation of “a new source of value” in the definition given above).
I’ve been mulling over the role of technology at this innovative end of collaboration for a while, thinking about it’s effective use perhaps facilitating the process and enabling disparate people to come together. This tweet from @GoCollaboration today linked me to a post that uses the term “immersive collaboration” that adds further insights. It references a video about a collaborative design process regarding a “patient-centered future for health care”. This fully-adoptive, immersive use of technology oils the collaborative process with the primary focus remaining on the new source of value, not the technology.
There are plenty of resonant issues raised in the video, it’s well shot and worth a watch. But, in the interests of getting this posted, for now i’ll stick to my points about collaboration. Further thoughts regarding use of language, stakeholders, empowerment, and future thinking can wait…