Just what do you mean by 'collaboration'

Pick just about any word, and you will find many potential definitions or common usages.  It can be entertaining - assuming you have a good sense of humor.  Take "collaboration," for example.

One of the things I realized in my new job was that the company is using yet another definition of collaboration when talking about a requirement for software.  Usually, it is something like "the software will enable collaboration."  I wasn't surprised by the range of answers that don't quite fit what I think of as collaboration.  Here are some versions of what I've understood this to mean:

  1. The software lets people communicate easily on the project in question.
  2. Many people can work on a project (via the software) at the same time.
  3. Many people will work on the project over the lifetime of the project.
  4. The software stores the project files in an enterprise storage system (document management, file management).

Usually, the goal is some version of #2, that the software is designed such that multiple people around the world could be working on the project files at the same time.  What isn't added to this is whether they are working together, or if they are simply working at the same time.  By together, I envisage people sitting in a virtual huddle, tweaking the model and discussing it in real time.

Let's juxtapose these very operational descriptions with something that Shawn Callahan just dug up in his discussion of Collaboration's resurgence.  It's a quote by Barbara Gray from 20 years ago, Collaboration is "a process through which parties who see different aspects of a problem can constructively explore their differences and search for solutions that go beyond their own limited vision of what is possible."

This is much nearer the idea of collaboration than the list I have above.  co-labor = work together.  Right?  The software is just a mediation device to help bring people together over distance and time.

2 Comment(s)

Jack, I'm glad to see discussions of what "collaboration" means. I've even added a tag to my blog's pick list of tags for posts that discuss definitional issues ("definitions").

People need to be clearer about the process in order to understand what technology can and cannot do. One author who has discussed this definition in the academic realm is Murray Turrof, whom I refer to in a recent post from my blog, "Collaborative Decisionmaking in Disaster Response Situations" (http://www.ddmcd.com/response.html).

Also, I've started to use the phrase "technology-enabled collaboration" when referring to collaboration in the context of social media and social networking applications, in an attempt to be more specific.

Adrian@pennsylvania said:

Hello Jack, I like your way of approach in your post. This really gives me a lot of suggestions for me easily. Thanks for your great appreciation of work.

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