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Collaboration Landscape

March 23, 2015

Collaboration Landscape


March 23, 2015


  1. 1  The Harmony Equity Group is a learning community

    focused on developing just and sustainable economic enterprises that lead to shared human prosperity. See www.harmonyequity.com for a complete description of the Harmony Equity Group’s purpose and principles. 2  The longer version of the collaboration literature review may be found on https://speakerdeck.com/secondmuse. 1 COLLABORATION LANDSCAPE Today’s global society faces serious, complex and interconnected social and environmental challenges on an unprecedented scale. Composed of closely interactive systems and processes involving individuals, families, cultures, institutions, organizations, businesses, global society must adopt new approaches to solve these challenges of the day. A collaborative approach is needed which recognizes the strengths of diversity, the interconnectedness of reality, and the high aims which humanity can aspire towards. This is SecondMuse’s passion. It strives to put into practice principles of the Harmony Equity Group1 to foster systemic change both within and across institutions, organizations and businesses. To encourage a richer dialogue on collaboration, SecondMuse offers this synthesis of its collaboration literature review2.
  2. The Word and Concept in Academic Discourses The word collaborate

    is derived from the latin “collaborare”, meaning working together. Although its usage peaked in books during World War 2 with its wartime quisling interpretation, it continued to increase in the 1990s. Over the years academics have struggled to define it. Key concepts associated with the concept over time included “relational system”, “shared power and authority”, “emergent process,” “mutual benefit,” neither “market” nor “hierarchical.” In the 2000s authors attempted to synthesize the various definitions. In 2012, after reviewing 63 definitions of papers written between 1977 and 2008, Bedwell et al.3 wrote that: Collaboration is an evolving process whereby two or more social entities actively and reciprocally engage in joint activities aimed at achieving at least one shared goal. SecondMuse’s Perspective on Collaboration SecondMuse’s core team, a group with significant experience in helping public and private organizations collaborate more effectively, engaged in exercises to define collaboration. The results were distilled to the following definition: Participants may be said to be collaborating when they are guided by a shared purpose to engage in a reciprocal process of sharing and reforming ideas to create or discover something new which is collectively owned. Bedwell et al. and SecondMuse’s technical definitions for the concept are very similar; however, SecondMuse engages in collaboration from a distinct perspective. Operating under the Harmony Equity Group’s conceptual framework, four principles inform both motive and conception. The following list provides one example of an implication from each principle. •  Coherence between the material and spiritual dimensions of reality. In addition to fostering technical capacities pertaining to collaboration, people and communities need to develop relational capacities such as camaraderie, generosity and commitment. •  Recognition of the organic unity and interdependence of humanity. Relationships should be characterized by cooperation and reciprocity--many of which will need to be increasingly collaborative. •  Reciprocal relationship between justice and unity in human affairs. Collaboration should strive for the betterment of the world and search for truth. •  Importance of cultivating the capacity for altruistic service to others. Collaborations should have aims higher than any one individual. 3  Bedwell, W. L., Wildman, J. L., DiazGranados, D., Salazar, M., Kramer, W. S. & Salas, E. (2012). Collaboration at work: An integrative multilevel conceptualization. Human Resource Management Review. Elsevier. 2 COLLABORATION LANDSCAPE
  3. How is collaboration being discussed in the published literature? A

    total of 260 papers were coded (over 500 reviewed) for the landscape review. All mention collaboration in the abstract, introductory text, and/or title. Concepts typically associated with collaboration include “public, “management”, “process”, and “networks”. Most papers were published in the journals “Public Administration Review” and “The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science”. Most were published after 1980 and explore some aspect of a collaborative framework- -in many cases using a case study or hypothesis test. Authors mostly explore inter-organizational collaboration; however, some explore inter-personal collaboration or various forms of coalitions, partnerships, and inter-organizational alliances. The subject of collaboration is examined in various contexts. Papers detailing a case study examined collaboration in settings such as social services, natural resources, healthcare, research, technology, and/or education. Authors explored intersections among governmental, non-governmental, private, and non-profit sectors. 3 COLLABORATION LANDSCAPE
  4. How have academics organized the thinking about collaboration? Among the

    hundreds of papers written on the subject of collaboration, eleven contain an exhaustive literature review on the topic. These eleven papers cite 927 unique written sources; 106 of which are cited by more than one paper. Despite the interdisciplinary nature of the topic, very few formal theories, let alone mathematical or logical models, have been developed. In the majority of cases, authors discuss general frameworks within which to think about collaboration. These frameworks typically follow an input- mediator-output formulation. In the first case authors typically include the following input or antecedents to collaboration: “sector failure”, “power-resource-knowledge asymmetries”, “institutional design”, “contextual features”, or “individual characteristics.” To describe the collaborative process or dynamics, one author refers to concepts such as “structure/governance” and “formal/informal processes”, another to the interaction between collaborative behavior and emergent states. Another author describes the collaborative process as a cycle including: face-to-face dialogue, trust- building, commitment to the process, shared understanding, and intermediate outcomes, which lead to further face-to-face dialogue. Finally, many authors mention how these dynamics, combined in various ways with the initial conditions, generate outcomes. One set of authors4 describes collaboration in a system context, through the concept of collaborative dynamics embedded within a collaborative governance regime. These dynamics are described as a virtuous cycle wherein shared motivation, principled engagement and capacity for joint action interact. To move the discipline forward, some authors point to the need for better elaborations of collaboration theory and several more recognize the need to operationalize framework concepts and formulate testable models and hypotheses. Several authors recognize the need for research to be of better use to practitioners and to strengthen interdisciplinary research. Other needs include: usable research by practitioners, stronger interdisciplinary collaboration, and an exploration of the costs vis a vis benefits of collaboration. 4 COLLABORATION LANDSCAPE 3  Emerson, K., Nabatchi, T. & Balogh, S. (2012). An integrative framework for collaborative governance. Journal of Public Administra- tion Research and Theory, 22(1), 1–29. Photo: Ryan Siegel
  5. Retrospect and prospect: Towards a systems framework for collaboration Metaphors

    guide thinking. Observable phenomena such as spinning solar systems or a balance may inspire models depicting atoms or an economy. For SecondMuse, the metaphor of the human body and the principles enunciated by the Harmony Equity Group guide its thinking about society. Among other things, it suggests, that society is a complex system, much like a living being, and its relationships, when healthy, are characterized by cooperation and reciprocity. As shown above, many individuals and organizations are eager to learn about and practice collaboration. Academics have peered into the collaborative process and attempted to describe some of its essential features, yet, an instrumental and somewhat mechanistic conception of collaboration reigns. It’s time to re-envision collaboration as a more organic, holistic process. The world is changing. The complex systems that comprise our global society, such as economies, institutions, and physical environments are becoming more tightly interconnected. Humanity’s consciousness about these relationships is increasing. The time is ripe for humanity to learn how it can leverage its diversity of viewpoints to collaboratively reshape its collective destiny, fostering simultaneously individual and social transformation. Such an effort requires evolving dialogue and practice which strives for consistency; helping the endeavor remain scientific. For SecondMuse, the Harmony Equity Group’s evolving framework guides this learning process. And projects in various contexts provide an empirical basis to explore hypotheses. Building upon the body- metaphor, system mapping and diagramming has shown promise as an instrument to strengthen collaboration, by helping people think systemically. SecondMuse is eager to build upon the efforts made thus far to learn about and foster a new vision for the world. 5 COLLABORATION LANDSCAPE