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.

Digitising Africa

The Union Building in Pretoria, South Africa.

Image via Wikipedia

In my opinion (and by now, you are probably aware that I have several of them!), digitisation probably holds the most advantages for the Majority World.  For those who I’ve never met, what I call the ‘Majority World’ is what others call ‘developing’ or ‘third world’.  I think that both of these terms are derogatory, suggesting the marginalised ‘other’ in binary pair conceptualisation.  The Minority World is just that: those of us lucky enough to have access to more than one meal a day, electricity, clean water, sewerage systems, medical care and education are in the minority of the world’s population.

I am glad to share, therefore, this announcement of a forthcoming meeting on digital curation which will take place in South Africa.  Perhaps some of you will be in a position to attend. I particularly like their reference to the importance of collaboration: the very concept that inspired this blog!

From: Dr Martie van Deventer (

The draft programme for the Fourth African Scholarship and Curation
Conference (and its workshops) from 17-19 May 2011 has been posted on
the website: see The
registration function has been activated. We look forward to welcoming
you at the conference!

There is an early bird discount (providing we receive your registration
fees before 15 April 2011).

We would appreciate your assistance in distributing information about
the conference to colleagues in Africa.

4th African Conference for Digital Scholarship and Curation

Dates: 17 -19 May 2011

Venue: CSIR International Convention Centre, Pretoria, South Africa

*Innovation & collaboration in the digital research and learning

Collaboration is an acknowledged and important source of innovative thinking. The rapid development of new and emerging technologies have ensured that the creation and pursuit of new ideas can be brought to community by networks of individuals, selected because of their individual contributions and credibility, and operating in a coordinated manner. This conference will attempt to surface some of the innovations brought about as a result of such collaborations.  We will also endeavour to highlight the role technology plays in enabling collaborations and in collectively building repositories of data and knowledge.

The deployment of powerful computers, high-speed networks, and large scale storage technologies has made the academic and research landscape increasingly dynamic. Emerging professional are much more information and computer literate than ever before.  They also have a very different expectation for both the university and work experience. These transformations oblige us in academia, research and the general information service provision industry to seriously seek and develop strategies and solutions to effectively harness the new opportunities.
The 2-day conference is organized under the joint banner of the Network of Data and Information Curation Centres (NeDICC), the University of Botswana and the University of Pretoria (South Africa). The conference will address various issues of digital scholarship, digital curation and the accompanying emerging technologies.