“Collaboration is Wet” – Updating “Collaboration is Queen”

In a post not too long ago I came up with the following saying and analogy: “Collaboration is queen.”

Online: Content is king. I don’t disagree. But collaboration is queen.
In chess the king is the most important, but the queen is the most powerful.

I see the word collaboration everywhere, which is a GOOD thing!! I earnestly believe it will be the cornerstone of what journalism consist of in the future and I feel like this notion is starting to be adopted throughout the journalism community.

I’d like to build on that phrase and add that “collaboration is wet.” Which is to say – it is sloppy. This isn’t a bad thing – but something that must be kept in mind because if you enter into a collaboration expecting scientific results, you’ll pull out all your hair.

In this video professional mind blower Clay Shirky talks about online collaboration and likens it to predicting the weather.

“The physics of participation is much more like the physics of weather than the physics of gravity. We know all the forces that combine to make these things work: there’s an interesting community over here, there is an interesting sharing model over there, those people are collaborating on open source software. But despite knowing the inputs we can’t know the outputs because there is so much complexity.” (I highly recommend the full video – it was mind blowing for me).

Collaboration is like the weather ie – it is wet. It is sloppy. It is filled with human emotion, trust, friendships, working habits, etc, etc. As a result you can’t create governing laws of collaboration “what comes up must go down.” Instead we can make informed predictions “10% chance of rain today.”

Our ability to predict will get better over time 😉

Every project on Spot.Us by requirement is a collaboration. It is a collaboration between us and the writers. The writers and the editors (or news organizations), that entire group and the donors, the donors with each other, etc. Just as every story is unique – so too is every collaboration.

If somebody could propose a way to make these collaborations cookie-cutter, I’d reject it. It is the wetness of collaboration that makes it difficult – but fun. And it is potentially that wetness that makes it work (my readers know more than I do).

What went perfectly in one collaboration could fall apart in another and vice versa. But that is what makes them learning experiences in addition to being productive.

Here are some pre-requisites I’ve learned in forming good collaborations.

  • Trust – we want to work with folks that we can trust and who trust us.
  • Never forced: In the interest of all parties.
  • “Buy in” with decision makers.
  • Key liaison – somebody from every party who is tasked to the project.
  • Commitment of time/resources and/or money from both parties. It does not need to be all three.
  • The story/project. We are looking for good stories – that has to be at the heart of it all.

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