Meta Collab

Dave Pollard is the subject of this wikerview which was instigated by Mark Elliott in February of 2006.

He is the author of the exemplar and influential blog How to Save the World which covers topics as diverse as environmental philosophy and activism, natural enterprise, narrative and storytelling, social networking and personal content management and innovation. He has written a number of articles on collaboration (scroll down to the 'collaboration' heading), and recently collaborated with Mitch Ditkoff and Tim Moore of Idea Champions and Carolyn Allen of Innovation Solution Center on a survey to discover what the charictaristics of an ideal collaborator might be. Some of the results of this survey have been incorporated into the collaboration page (as well as material from his blog).

The wikerview

In A Conversation On The Collaboration Process with Mitch Ditkoff, Carolyn Allen & Tim Moore, you defined collaboration as "the creation of a collective work-product by a highly responsive, interactive, iterative give-and-take process that yields something greater than what any set of individuals working alone could produce". Do you think the joint development of shared understandings is a necessary outcome of the above defined process?

Not only is it probably unnecessary, I'm not sure it's even always possible. The collaboration that produced the album Abbey Road was, I suspect, largely a matter of chemistry. So was the work of Eliot, Eliot's wife, & Pound, and so is the improv work of jazz combos. I think great collaboration defies dissection. It's a complex process, and as such is substantially unknowable. And since it is a complex process, any shared understandings would necessarily be emergent, I would think, rather than agreed-upon.

It seems that from your above definition, the wiki drafting process would have no problem fitting in as a collaborative process (as opposed to cooperative). Any general (or specific) ideas on this medium as a collaborative (or cooperative) process? Perhaps you might briefly comment on the mass collaboration article - a Meta Collab article being developed on the wiki collaboration process.

Provided it's respectful and non-hierarchical, I think wikis could be extremely powerful collaborative tools. There will be a substantial learning curve for the collaborators, as there is for all new tools, but the wonderful thing about wikis is their flexibility -- they can evolve as needed to suit the needs of the specific collaboration. What would make them even better would be the ability to incorporate 'conversations', with their ability to iterate rapidly and add deep context. One of the thoughts I had reading your mass collaboration article was that the ability of wikis to identify and track back the individual 'author' might actually impede, rather than enabling, the development of truly collective work-product which, by definition, has no individual author.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the viability of a general theory of collaboration - do you think it would be worthwhile for interested researchers/practitioners etc to work towards the development of a 'collabology' - a study of collaboration?

If we could use it to learn to collaborate better, it would be very worthwhile. We might have to settle for a set of principles of collaboration rather than a cohesive theory. We could start by looking at the attempts to develop principles, rules and theories of how a beehive or an ant colony operates. I suspect that the first principle would be: The more you practice it, learning from your mistakes, the better you get at it. Beyond that, I would think a lot depends on context: Collaborative open source software development, theatrical improvisation, collaborative literary or musical composition, and innovative new business formation might need different collaboration 'theories'.