///Defining Terms

What does “collaboration” mean in our contexts: the classroom, the street, the city, the workplace, the home? What does “collaboration” mean to artists, activists, designers, economists, social entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, politicians, and families? What ideas will we communicate to one another when we use the terms collaboration, cooperation, coordination, collectivizing, commoning, and community in this classroom? This is a working document that aims to clarify terms so that we might communicate more clearly, distinguishing practices of togetherness (verbs) from forms of coordination (nouns). Related diagrams are located at the bottom of the page, for the visual thinkers in the room. These definitions come from the New Oxford American Dictionary, and are contested. We will refine and reevaluate these terms throughout the semester.

///Practices: describing WHAT you’re doing (verbs)

When you coordinate, you bring different elements of a complex activity or organization into a relationship that will ensure efficiency or harmony. [Watch: Clay Shirkey, Institutions vs. Collaboration]

When you facilitate, you make an action or process easy or easier for the people involved, working with a group process to ensure the process is upheld. [Read: Starhawk, The Empowerment Manual]

When you participate, you take part. [Read: Sherry Arnstein A Ladder of Citizen Participation and the IAPP diagram]

When you collaborate, you work jointly on an activity, especially to produce something. [Read Ann Marie Thompson, Conceptualizing and Measuring Collaboration]

When you cooperate, you act jointly, especially toward the same end. Or, you assist someone or comply with their requests. [Read: Richard Sennett, Together: the Rituals, Pleasures, and Politics of Cooperation]

When you collectivize, you organize something on the basis of ownership by the people or the state, abolishing private ownership or involvement. [Read Raymond Williams, Keywords and Critical Art Ensemble, Observations on Collective Cultural Action]

When you common, you manage shared resources that belong to, are open to, or affect the whole community. [Read Raymond Williams, Keywords and Elinor Ostrom, Governing the Commons]

When you commune, you are in intimate communication or a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other’s feelings or ideas. [Read Raymond Williams, Keywords and Richard Sennett The New Political Economy and Its Culture]

///Forms of Coordination: describing HOW we gather together (nouns)

You’re in a Group when a number of people or things are located close together or are considered or classed together. [Examples: a family, a club, a partnership, a gang, a movement, an alliance, a partnership, and ALL forms listed below.]

You’re in a Collaborative when you share responsibility for actions, resources, or your identity over time. Every collaborative has different agreements, norms, and explicit or implicit rights and responsibilities. [Visit: Hester Street Collaborative]

You’re in a Collective when you share responsibility for actions, resources, or your identity over time. Every collective has different agreements, norms, and explicit or implicit rights and responsibilities. [Visit: WOW Cafe Theater, Interference Archive, Bluestockings, Art and Labor]

You’re in a Cooperative when you follow the 7 Principles of Cooperation: voluntary and open membership, democractic member control, member economic participation, autonomy, sharing information, cooperation among cooperatives, and concern for community. [Visit: Park Slope Food Cooperative and NYC NoWC]

You’re in a Hierarchical Firm when decision-making occurs by communicating with your immediate superior and then informing your immediate subordinates. NOTE: This internal organizational structure [hierarchy] does not make external collaboration impossible. [Visit: IDEO, Google, FaceBook, MeetUp]

You’re in a Commons when you benefit from, access, or manage land or resources that belonging to or affect the whole of a community of commoners. [Visit: The Brooklyn Commons or Maine Lobster Fisheries]

You’re in a “Community” when you are part of: a body of people who live in the same place, usually sharing a common cultural or ethnic identity’ (OED I2a); a group of people who share particular ‘circumstances’, such as their race, religion or sexuality; the ‘civic body to which all belong: the public; society’; or a shared or common quality or state, as in the idea of community ties, or the fact of having a quality or qualities in common. [Read Raymond Williams Keywords, Etienne Wenger’s Communities of Practice, and visit: your local Community Board]

You’re in a Commune when you’re part of a group of people living together and sharing possessions and responsibilities. [Visit: Ganas Intentional Community]


///Sharing Diagrams

  • collaborate: 
  • cooperate:
  • coordinate:
  • collectivize:
  • common:
  • community:

Collaboration matrix

An attempt by Caroline Woolard to diagram collaboration by intentionality (y axis) and group identity (x axis) and level of participation (key colors).

Collaboration ven diagram ordered by participation

An attempt by Caroline Woolard to diagram types of groups by decision making power based on Arnstein’s ladder of participation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *