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)

130111 PLN Finds

DSCF7622My Clyde Street Daily delivered some great links and leads today.

I was an hour late arriving for Martin Weller’s webinar, Open Scholarship and Online Identity. Fortunately as I was joining the Blackboard Connect room a colleague from the University of Canberra was signing out so I have been able to follow up on some of the discussion. I follow Martin’s work with great interest and his writings about Digital Scholarship have had a significant effect on my practice.

In his most recent post, Openness has won -now what?, Martin observes:

As we start the new year and survey the open education landscape, it’s hard not to conclude that openness has prevailed. The victory may not be absolute, but the trend is all one way now – we’ll never go back to closed systems in academia … Whether it’s open access publishing, open data, MOOCs, OERs, open source or open scholarship – the openness battle has largely been won.

After missing the webinar I followed up on another gem from Paper.Li: two Open badge videos shared by Doug Belshaw. I have been following Doug’s work as an advocate for Open Badges. (Doug lnked to this post from November too.)

I followed up on a post about personal learning environments that looked at space design.

Will Richardson gave me a lead to Ron Berger’s Deeper Learning post in which he records:

I travel with a heavy suitcase. Over my 35-year career as a public school teacher and educator at Expeditionary Learning, I have been obsessed with collecting student work of remarkable quality and value. I bring this work with me whenever I visit schools or present at conferences and workshops, because otherwise no one would believe me when I describe it.

The student work in my giant black suitcase is exemplary — beautiful and accurate, representative of strong content knowledge and critical thinking skills — but it’s not from “exceptional” students. It does not come from gifted and talented classrooms or from high-powered private schools. It’s the work of regular students in typical schools around the country. The difference is that these students’ teachers have helped them develop the skills and mindsets necessary to produce work of exceptional quality, and have built classroom and school cultures in which exceptional work is the norm.

Ron led me to the Centre for Student Work and has prompted me to think about curation in a more detailed way. I think this may be an approach that will inform lots of other professional development.

Andy Miah provided a link to a very helpful A to Z of social media. ResearchGate was included in this list. This was mentioned in Martin Weller’s talk too.

RGHoward Rheingold shared a link to NetSmart.

Just after finishing reading the Clyde Street Daily I received The Conversation’s daily update. In it there was a link to a post from three Risk scientists, A history of vulnerability: putting Tasmania’s bushfires in perspective. I thought this paper had insights to share about vulnerability generally but I found the specific data used on bushfire behaviour particularly pertinent at this phase of the fire season in Australia. The post reminded me too of the role long-term data plays in informing discussion about invariant and variant behaviour.

I concluded my early morning journey with another look at the New York Times. In it I found a link to a story about Junior Seau. The story discusses chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and the experiences of American Football. This discussion of the effects of concussion seems particularly timely with the approaching football seasons in Australia. There are guidelines for the management of concussion in Australian Rules, Rugby League, and Rugby Union. Caroline Finch and her colleagues have a recent paper (2012) about implementation of expert guidelines.