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Collaboration index

20140215175715 cdent  

A place for gathering (again) notes and ideas about collaboration.

collaboration
Two or more people working together in pursuit of shared, collective, bounded goal.

This definition comes from Eugene Kim with whom I founded Blue Oxen Associates, a group exploring high performance collaboration.

Though concise this definition is sufficient to evaluate many pursuits to determine if collaboration is happening and what needs to be explored if it is not.

"Working together" is insufficient. There must be a shared goal. Very often a group perceives that they share a goal but upon closer inspection divergences both large and small are revealed.

A primary goal for collaborative tools is the creation or discovery of, then maintenance of, a shared goal. As implied by "shared" the goal is not something that can be imposed. A goal is only shared when the language used to express it is fully shared by the participants. A goal which is imposed without shared understanding is subject to multiple interpretations and is thus many goals, not one shared.

Achieving a shared goal is primarily a problem of information sharing and access. Information sharing provides the context that leads to the shared language and understanding that are prerequisites for a shared goal.

Effective collaborative tools enable this information processing and help to ensure that everyone can answer the question "What matters?" on many timescales whether it is today or this year.

The web has proven a boon to collaboration. The hypertext of the web (albeit weak) allows not just access to more information for more people than ever before but it also allows the linking and juxtaposition of information that engenders the synthesis that truly drives understanding1.

Ideal collaborative tools are those which augment this native behavior of the web and lower the friction of sharing and accessing information while enhancing opportunities for linking and comparing.

There can be conflicting goals in information processing. At certain times it is important to know the answer to an explicit question. We wish to narrow our view: search and chase links to their conclusion.

At other times it is important to engender discovery, to draw connections between the unknown and to see the similarities in things once perceived to be unconnected. The times are made more fruitful by a surfeit of information, accessible across many dimensions, created and shared by many participants2.

Shared understanding in a group is only possible when members of a group make their own understandings explicit and available. That is, when they publish in a way that allows others to access, link, compare and synthesize their information. Not only does this facilitate existing groups, it enables autonomous group forming as people discover others with similar goals and needs3.