The Collaboration Continuum

Collaboration is a powerful strategy for achieving shared goals and approaching shared opportunities and solving problems. Collaborations are opportunities to accomplish together what can’t be done alone. They represent opportunity to solve a shared problem, or meet a common challenge that is clearly and easily relatable to the needs of the participants and the goals of the institution (as illustrated in the Statement of Shared Purpose).

But when we talk about collaboration we tend to use the term rather loosely. When we reference collaboration, we actually mean something more like cooperation, coordination, or simple networking. All of these strategies have distinct attributes, benefits, risks, and organizational principles as outlined in the Collaboration Continuum:

  • Networking: exchanging information for mutual benefit. This is easy to do; it requires low initial level of trust, limited time availability and no sharing of turf.
  • Coordinating: exchanging information and altering some activities for mutual benefit and to achieve a common purpose. Coordination requires more organizational involvement than networking with a slightly higher level of trust and some sharing of one’s “turf.”
  • Cooperating: exchanging information, altering activities and sharing resources for mutual benefit and to achieve a common purpose. Cooperation is more formal than coordination and thus requires increased organizational commitment and support and may involve written agreements (Memoranda of Understanding, Project Charters, etc.). Shared resources can include human, financial and technical contributions across organizational boundaries. Cooperation may require a substantial amount of time, high level of trust and significant sharing of turf. Positions may need to be modified to provide time for participation.
  • Collaborating: real collaboration involves exchanging information, altering activities, sharing resources and enhancing each other’s capacity for mutual benefit and to achieve a common goal. The qualitative difference between collaboration and cooperating is that partners are willing to learn from each other to become better at what they do, together. Collaborators are clear that the importance of partners’ success is as great as their own – their own success depends on their partners’ success. Collaborating means that that partners share the risks, responsibilities and rewards. It requires a substantial time commitment, very high level of trust, and sharing of turf.

Collaborative efforts are successful when they are supported from the top down and the bottom up. Administrative support and sponsorship is needed to allow all partners to make decisions about process and resources in a collaborative manner. In this environment both faculty and staff are open and willing to go beyond “business as usual.”

In the development of successful digital curriculum, faculty and staff partner in a truly collaborative manner. Staff partners may include academic technologists, instructional designers, media specialists, students, and librarians. In this model staff are more than “helpful staffers,” they are fundamental to the process. College faculty and staff working to support the digital learning initiative will need to develop these skills together.

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