Collaboration? What in *&^$#* is it anyway?

Cover of "The Wisdom of Teams: Creating t...

Cover via Amazon

Canadianarchivist, in a recent comment on my first blog entry, repeated the important point: that no matter what kind of information or cultural professional we are, we must all be clear on the terms we use so that we can understand each other.  It is only if we share meanings or understandings of the particular concepts that we all deal with – documents, information, artefacts, data, users, preservation and so forth – that we will able to collaborate usefully.

So, what does ‘collaboration’ mean?  It is perhaps easier to understand collaborative processes, which share the following characteristics:

1. Involves more than one person, and usually more than two.  In other words, we can think of ‘collaboration’ taking place in a group or team.

2.  This team or group has identified a problem – which affects each individual in the group – that requires a solution.  The solution should be equally satisfying to all members of the team, even though the effects of the problem or the solution may be more important or significant to some than to others.

3. Problem-solving involves clarity: what the problem is, in its full complexity; clarity in communications between all members of the team (and here conceptual clarity is vital and often becomes the first task of the group); clarity regarding the various implications of proposed solutions.

4. Solving the problem, or set of problems, becomes the goal of the group of people working together.  Achieving the goal does not necessarily have value per se: rather, the solution is understood to have benefits for the team and possibly for a much wider group as well.  These benefits may be economic, social, spiritual, political, professional, educational or cultural.

5. Strangely, the goal may not necessarily be clearly articulated or defined before the process begins: this may stifle innovative and creative ways of seeing the problem.  The process may also identify other issues that require resolution.  Sometimes the collaborative effort may be directed towards clarifying the problems or issues.

6. Collaboration requires creativity.  The culture of the team should encourage open and honest thinking, which is significant and holistic, and which does not skirt or avoid important and perhaps fundamental issues (the so-called ‘elephant in the room‘).

7.  Collaboration requires openess and trust – and mutual respect.  Attached to these notions is readiness to change one’s mind or outlook by listening carefully to ideas and proposals presented by others.

8.  Because of the iterative and possibility of repetition that often occurs in a collaborative process (often indicative of thoughts that have not been well explained or understood, or issues that remain unresolved), constant accurate notetaking or recording of conversations and exchanges is essential.  This is one way to acknowledge the individual contributions that are made.  Such documents should be made easily available to all team members.

9.  While the team may not require formal ‘leadership’ if all members are equally enthusiastic about seeking solutions and are committed to successful, useful outcomes, time frames, goals, meeting times and so on need to be mutually agreed and made known to all team members.  Sometimes, it is necessary for individuals or smaller groups of people to be given tasks to work on independently of the group, providing their answers at group meetings.

10.  Finally, the results of the collaborative effort will frequently affect a much wider group than the participative team members.  Interaction between the team and its stakeholders may be an ongoing process, but the results and conclusions mus be made available to all concerned, whether these are open to further discussion and negotiation or not.

Why, then, is collaboration between the information professionals possible, or even desirable?  Because we are all involved with assisting in the recognition, preservation and communication of ideas so that further knowledge can be created and communicated, we share a great deal, even though some of us may emphasise one or other aspect more than others.  Our overall purpose is, I believe similar.  If this can be clarified, and if we can identify as one large metasystem or metagroup of professionals, retaining and preservation our individual specialties (as ‘experts’) but acknowledging that we also need to confront and deal with a number of similar phenomena, perhaps we can be more efficient and successful in our tasks.  Instead of becoming increasingly fragmented and divided, let us unite.  Failure in our obligations and social responsibilities is rather too awful to contemplate.


Summary of Notes from CMA Collaborations and working together between librarians, records managers and archivists. An interesting discussion concerning vocabulary and culture of each group.

The territories that were at one time or anoth...

Image via Wikipedia The British professional association, CILIP, is currently engaged in a discussion on LinkedIn regard the fragmentation of the information professions. This is a report of the second meeting to discuss this matter.

Just a quick one to start the week

Thank you to all of you who are following the early days of this blog.  We are hoping it will go from strength to strength.  As I learn more about the possibilities offered by WordPress, I will include them here.  What I am examining at the moment is ways in which you – as the community – can participate in a clearer way, other than by adding comments to post I may make.  In other words, I would like to have the possibility that you can initiate your own posts or pages.

Until I get that sorted, I would like to ask you to submit topics/questions/issues/whatever’s on your mind concerning ways in which all of us can work together in more collaborative ways.  Such topics might include those which must be addressed in order to facilitate working together collaboratively, or they may be topics that illustrate and describe projects that we need to (or it would be desirable for us to) work on together.  Then we can think about the different contributions that different sectors can make to such projects.

Larry Medina, a good but until now still virtual friend who lives in California and has extensive experience in managing organisational information, has suggested the idea of developing a protocol that explains and describes processes and procedures that information professionals – especially now in the digital world – should be involved in when others in an organisation (be they senior management, government, councils or whoever) decides to buy technologies, or initiate information strategies.  This protocol is not easy to describe: ‘Strategic asset management’ is one suggestion.  The gist of this notion is that information professionals (of all kinds) should be involved from the very beginning of such projects, so that all the issues relevant to us can be considered in advance and accommodated, rather than being left simply to try and play catch-up, which happens all too often, sadly.  Or is your experience different?

So I’m doing my own ‘crowd sourcing’ here – getting the opinions of a very special group of people.  Please write a couple of sentences, or a couple of words, that can get us thinking, speculating, imagining, describing.

Have a wonderful week, all.