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What is collaboration, and why would I want to collaborate?

Have you ever wondered what the point is of collaboration? In this article we will look at how you can make collaboration work for you.
Children collaborating on a big floor puzzle.

“Mā whero, mā pango ka oti ai te mahi”. This whakataukī can be understood as many hands make light work. While sharing the load is certainly important, there is more to collaboration.

What is collaboration?

Collaborations is

the situation of two or more people working together to create or achieve the same thing
Cambridge Dictionary

Traditionally, teachers have been “individually responsible for their own lesson plans and materials, and rarely interacted.” (UNESCO: Reimagining our futures together: a new social contract for education, p.87). This is changing: Collaboration is mentioned as a key skill in every model describing 21st century skills. In a world where climate change and the current COVID-19 pandemic impact every country, successful collaboration is one way (some might say the only way) to tackle the world’s big problems.

In the context of education at culture and heritage institutions in Aotearoa New Zealand, we find ourselves as part of a small, medium or larger organisation which, in difference to a school, might have multiple and sometimes competing audiences to cater for. By collaborating across different departments we can enrich each other’s work and achieve common goals.

What is the purpose of collaboration in our context?

Before we start anything new, we should always ask about its purpose: What are we trying to achieve here? In our context of education in culture and heritage settings, we might collaborate with others for different purposes:

  • Teachers bring their classes to us for in-person and virtual learning experiences; when we collaborate with the teachers, we can better meet the needs of learners.
  • Collaboration within our sector can help us better serve our audiences: Be it co-facilitating a learning programme with another educator, co-designing an exhibition or a public programme with a colleague, or collaborating with other organisations in the local area, in the end we want to ensure that our audiences have the best possible experience.
  • Collaboration also has an important role within learning programmes: Our rangatahi | young people will be the problem solvers of the future; just like their teachers in classrooms, we want to help them to develop their collaborative skills so they can tackle the big problems of the future.

What do you need to make collaboration work?

Collaboration comes in different shapes and forms depending on who you collaborate with and for what purpose. Some key elements remain the same, though:

  • A clear focus on the desired outcomes
  • Clear communication
  • Mutually agreed way of working together; this could include attending meetings, splitting tasks between you, working towards agreed deadlines etc.
  • An understanding of how everyone’s part contributes to the bigger picture; with this comes the trust that everyone will do their part, and accountability in case things go off-track.

What does successful collaboration look like?

While not the case in all instances, in general you would expect a collaboration to be non-hierarchical or less hierarchical than other professional relationships. However, it is helpful to assign roles such as minute taking, hosting a meeting, sending out reminders etc. – and possibly share them around amongst the collaborators.

Collaborative activities might include brainstorming, discussing, planning, trialling, reviewing, implementing and evaluating. Every collaboration is as unique as the people involved, but clear communication is a key factor for success.

Over to you

When does collaboration work, and when does it not work for you? How has it helped your work – or not? Who do you enjoy collaborating with, and why? How do you or have you set up a successful collaboration?

As always, use the comments below to share you whakaaro | ideas and thoughts. Please take the time to read through the kōrero | notes of your peers and comment on at least one of them.

Further reading

Mindtools: How to collaborate successfully
TKI: Collaborative teaching
UNESCO: Reimagining our futures together: a new social contract for education

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Best Practices for Culture and Heritage Education in Aotearoa New Zealand

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