The “C” Word at the MGS conference

This is a guest post by Gill Hart, The Fitzwillian Museum, who is leading a workshop at the Collaborating to Compete Conference this Friday with Emma Rehm , National Gallery London.

I asked my mum how she would define ‘to collaborate’ and she quickly replied ‘co-operating with the enemy’. That stopped me in my tracks: in the workplace, we always opt for the positive dictionary definition ‘to work together to create something new or achieve a shared goal’.

In recent years a plethora of editorials and keynote speeches have extolled the benefits and virtues of collaborating. Less has been said about how to do it. Why collaborate with that organisation? How will our different areas of expertise co-exist within this process? What will our frame of reference be?

Has a cultural organisation genuinely collaborated with a peer having agreed to a loans programme? Have I genuinely facilitated a collaboration with a third sector partner because I booked in a series of museum visits for them? What must we do, and which ground rules should we set down from the outset to ensure that we fulfill the positive definition of collaborating and avoid the pitfalls of co-operating traitorously for misaligned or poorly defined goals?

Emma and I have worked to social inclusion briefs for over 5 years now. Our conference session developed out of a series of conversations we had about where our work ‘sits’ within our respective organisations. Working ‘in partnership’ and ‘in collaboration’ with organisations from our sector and beyond is part and parcel of our job descriptions yet we were never issued with the ‘How to…’ handbook!

We don’t have all the answers to the questions posed above but it’s been rewarding to take time out from the collaborative delivery processes that occupy most of our time in order to drill down into the meaning and nature of the word itself.

We want to co-operate in order to find creative solutions. However we are not seeking consensus. We aspire to making a valid contribution to organisational change by virtue of collaboration. A process that brings collective wisdom to fruition rather than creates a divergent cacophony sounds good to us. We want to collaborate. What’s your *C* word?

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