Cooperating, Collaborating


The New Year holiday has given me an opportunity to think about how I can engage more effectively with the world around me. The profusion of MOOCs at the moment is helping me clarify my interest in cooperative endeavour whilst I will have a number of projects in 2013 where I will collaborate with colleagues.

One of the catalysts for my thinking this week has been discovering Ron Berger’s work. I am attracted to the potential of learning expeditions and think they offer a fascinating interface between collaboration and cooperation.

Stephen and Harold on Cooperation and Collaboration

Two years ago, Stephen Downes wrote about the distinguishing features of cooperation and collaboration. I was particularly interested in his views on cooperation.

He suggested that cooperation is typical of a network. In a network “the individual retains his or her individuality, while the whole is an emergent property of the collection of individuals” (original emphasis).

In a cooperative enterprise each individual:

  • Participates out of his or her own volition, and acts according to individually defined values or principles (Autonomy).
  • Engages in a completely unique set of interactions based on his or her own needs and preferences. There is no expectation even of a common language or world view (Diversity).

Membership in a network may be tenuous, individuals drift in and out (Openness) and in a cooperative enterprise, there is a relative equality of communications and connectivity (Interactivity).

Last year, Harold Jarche produced an excellent visualisation of the path to cooperation.



I was reminded of these posts today whilst reading Ben Hecht’s Harvard Business Review post Collaboration is the New Competition. He observes “what we’re seeing around the country is the coming together of non-traditional partners, and a willingness to embrace new ways of working together”. Ben offers presents “five lessons for driving large-scale social change through collaboration”:

  • Clearly define what you can do together
  • Transcend parochialism
  • Adapt to data
  • Share what you learn
  • Support the backbone to keep the group’s work moving forward

I think supporting the backbone is a vital characteristic of a collaborating group. In Ben’s thinking:

a “backbone organization,” keeps the group’s work moving forward. Staff at these organizations ensure that work is completed between meetings, track data, enable adaptation, disseminate knowledge, and build buy-in and ownership from all participants.

Effective collaboration does need this service. The support and nurture Ben identifies prompted me to think about the increasing importance of community drivers.

One of my hopes for 2013 is that I can develop my community driving abilities.


One of the comments on Ben’s post led me to Gangplank, a group of “connected individuals and small businesses creating an economy of innovation and creativity”. It was interesting to learn that Gangplank has created a co-working environment that is highly regarded.

I liked the clarity of the group’s Manifesto:

We are a group of connected individuals and small businesses creating an economy of innovation and creativity. We envision a new economic engine comprised of collaboration and community … We have the talent. We just need to work together.

Gangplank values:

  • collaboration over competition
  • community over agendas
  • participation over observation
  • doing over saying
  • friendship over formality
  • boldness over assurance
  • learning over expertise
  • people over personalities

In addition:

We believe that innovation breeds innovation. We will transform our culture into one supportive of the entrepreneurial spirit, of risk taking, of pioneering into the unknown territories as the founders of our municipalities once did. This requires education, entrepreneurship and creative workspaces.

I think I am particularly attracted to this Manifesto due to my own interest in collaborative work spaces. Six years ago I had the opportunity to develop a space I thought of as a Collaboratory. Its aim was to act as a physical hub for transforming work practices that could be supported remotely too. I think the INSPIRE Centre at the University of Canberra has this potential for my present day practice.

The Co-Op

Whenever I see the word ‘co-operate’ a picture of a shop appears in my thoughts. Where I grew up there was a Co-op building that had been founded upon the Rochdale Principles. This shop acted upon the seven Principles and provided a local focus for mutual flourishing through periods of economic hardship:

  1. Open membership.
  2. Democratic control (one person, one vote).
  3. Distribution of surplus in proportion to trade.
  4. Payment of limited interest on capital.
  5. Political and religious neutrality.
  6. Cash trading (no credit extended).
  7. Promotion of education.

Perhaps this is why I am particularly attracted to co-operative endeavour.

I hope that in 2013 I will be able to move easily along the collaboration-co-operation continuum. I do like the idea of driving learning expeditions as well as being a participant in them.

Photo Credit

Old-style ad for Co-op Tea (Ben Sutherland, CC BY 2.0)

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