Collaboration has come to mean many things to many people. For some it is an innate human capacity, for others a skill or a process of engaging with the social world. For a growing number, collaboration is seen as a philosophical orientation, a guiding force shaping one’s actions within the world beyond just human-human interactions. A separation of collaboration into these components is of little value when falsely claimed that it must be one thing or another. Yet when these components are recognised as parts of a whole approach to understanding collaboration, recognising and exploring each component in turn and considering their relationship with one another, we can explicitly develop the power of collaboration as a human capacity, as a skill and as a practice.
As a species we have evolved biologically and socially due to the ongoing activation of processes we collectively term collaboration. Primatologists, anthropologists and evolutionary psychologists highlight the manner in which our interactions with others, our development as a species and our growth as a culture have been shaped by a drive to collaborate with those around us. What has been true for millennia continues to be so, with collaboration between peoples as important as ever. Time and time again we see the need to draw upon our capacity for collaboration in order to solve both the biggest problems we as a species face, and those we face as individuals on a daily basis. Yet a counter narrative pervades many Western societies, withdraw, isolate, and look after yourself. Such an individualistic and selfish approach needs to be tempered by championing collaborative action, as a thriving future for us as individuals and as a collective human society can only be successfully built and navigated together.
When I consider the challenges that lay ahead of us as a species, one of the most powerful products of explicitly engaging in carefully crafted collaborative activity is in developing an understanding and appreciation of the other, which can be recognised as a form of cultural literacy. When individuals come together in interaction, be this virtual or actual, they engage in a cultural exchange of personal cultures (values, views, knowledge, skills) and with this inter and intra-personal growth occurs. Personal cultures are dynamic and continually co-constructed through interactions between people, it is a social and collaborative practice underpinned by intersubjective, empathetic and generous interactions with others within the world. Through deliberately building collaborative practices with others we are able to develop an understanding and respect for diversity, a recognition that difference is good and a metacognitive awareness of how our own culture affects our responses and feelings towards others. Without an understanding of or appreciation for the ‘other’ then we can not hope to build a more sustainable and balanced existence for ourselves and those that occupy this world.
Collaboration happens, actively or passively, every time we interact with the world around us. This collaboration can be deliberate, positive or negative, it may be damaging or beneficial, and it may result in amazing outcomes or fail to achieve its purpose; whatever that may be. For something so present and arguably so important to us as a species, we are not explicitly taught about collaboration as a concept, how to collaborate effectively nor given the time or space to consider our own relationship with collaborative action. As such the latent potential of collaboration is often wasted.
My decade long ‘adventures in collaboration’ have seen me explore the purpose, process and products of collaborative action across multiple contexts and at multiple scales. Through studying the capacity, ability and practice of collaboration between adults, between adolescents and between inter-generational ‘actors’ I have come to build a deep understanding of collaboration from the theoretical to the practical. This has afforded me numerous opportunities to advocate for the deliberate exploration and application of collaboration. I have been fortunate to support schools, students, teachers and adults to make collaboration explicit and to engineer and facilitate increasingly more affective and effective collaborative interactions as part of an approach to curriculum, pedagogy and to everyday life. So why now Cymbrogi Learn, and why the ‘What Matters?’ programme?
What matters is a more sustainable future, for this planet, for us as a species and for us as thriving individuals. We must be able to live a balanced and sustainable life, at the intra and interpersonal levels. We need to better manage our well-being, better manage our interactions with the world and to recognise the relationship that exists between both. To thrive as a world we must thrive as an individual as a part of this world. As such we should recognise, learn, understand and put into action a knowledge of our capacity, our skills and our practice of collaboration. Through Cymbrogi Learn we are offering a journey into collaboration, one which will enable participants to consider the purpose of collaboration, explore their own capacity for collaboration and to develop the skills associated with effective collaborative practice. We will grapple with the concept of collaboration itself and share usable tips and tricks that can help individuals and groups to establish better collaborative interactions with others. In essence this module, Learn to Collaborate, Collaborate to Learn, seeks to make the implicit explicit and to champion the importance of deliberately engaging with and in collaboration in our daily lives, within our workplaces and within our classrooms. Through harnessing the power of collaboration we can become empowered and more able to shape a sustainable world now and into the future.