Collaboration versus cooperation

Theme two in my exploration of the big ideas underpinning my research is probably the mother of them all….maybe. I’m toying with the idea of the individual versus the collective, which I’ll write about tomorrow, but this leads me into all sort of political areas that I know I’m interested in, but I’m not knowledgable enough on.

Collaboration became one of my most though about ideas after I visited Adelaide in March. I was so energised and excited about the interviews I conducted there.  Here was a group that were under-resourced, yet banded together to produce great work (I can only assume as I didn’t get time to see it) and, most importantly, valued the role of learning in their community.

From interview one I was intrigued by the idea that working collectively (and I use the different word on purpose) could be a critical factor in the development of leadership capability, and importantly for me, the willingness to embrace leadership identity.  Participants seemed to consciously draw together to achieve shared goals, which is obviously necessary to produce an art form that takes many people, but also recognised the learning they received from each other.

Institutionally, organisationally and academically this learning also seemed to be recognised and mechanisms were put in place to facilitate networks and shared practice. Coming after the final interviews in the visual arts arena, which were highly individualistic in nature, this was a massive difference.

This propelled me down the communities of practice path, an area of learning I had never come across before. To the point that I’m now writing a conference paper on it and in the recent FASS 3MT competition I proposed that this is a primary finding.

But then, in May, I went to Hobart to talk the film community there.  They have many similarities with Adelaide, in that they are a smaller city that requires a supportive community to survive (the role of geography and space is another theme I’m considering too. More on that later.)

The film work experience came up slightly in my Adelaide research, with participants suggesting it was very different and their experiences in the different sector were not positive.  I wanted to test this theory, both disciplines are collective in nature are they not? Surely the same learning would apply?


My primary participant in film told a fascinating story about their university experience, which contrasted incredibly with that of theatre.  (In a strange twist I actually knew this group at the Melbourne University they studied at way back in the 90s as I was a volunteer on some of their projects.)  There was no evidence, early on in this subject’s history, of the shared learning and confidence that developed through communities of practice and participation.  In fact almost the opposite occurred, early career development was stifled by a negative experience of collective learning.

A memory floated into my consciousness. Late last year I met a very successful cinematographer at a party (as you do, though it was probably the only party I went to last year.)  We got talking and he told me that film sets were an exercise in role understanding. Everyone knows their job and they can walk in on day one and produce because of the clear demarcation lines.

One Hobart subject (who predominantly works in film) explained to me took a role in a theatre production where they spent two weeks in a room brainstorming ideas and visiting the Botanic Gardens.  He thought “I’m getting paid for this?” The perceived ‘luxury’ of spending time together jointly producing the work was not something he experienced in his other jobs.

So we see that even though both of these art forms are collective, they are not necessarily collaborative.  Film is a sector I would describe as cooperative, not collaborative.  In the ‘award winning’ paper delivered at AIMAC 2015 Jyrämä and  Äyväri write:

“In order to create joint practice, or activity, for the intersection of communities of practice, it is noteworthy to make a distinction between cooperation and collaboration. Cooperation refers to tasks divided separately with defined responsibilities. Cooperation might occur at the intersection of communities of practice without any changes in respective values and norms. On the other hand collaboration refers to joint problem solving, building interaction, and understanding the others’ values and norms, in other words, creation of a sub- community, team or new joint practice. (Nissen et al., 2014.)”

This explains to me why I saw evidence of leadership capability building and learning early on in the career of my theatre practitioners, but it was less evident at the same stage in film.  However, later on in the film subject’s career she actively created her own community, and credited it as being critical in her development.  It just wasn’t facilitated necessarily through University, institutional or organisational networks as it was in Adelaide and it was driven through activity on a film set, or even film production, it was a writing group.

So here I can use my interviews to illustrate that communities of practice can work in the creative sector to enhance learning, but only when they are collaborative in nature, not cooperative.  While there are authors who say such communities must develop organically, and cannot be facilitated by organisations, it is still beneficial to understand how they are more likely to emerge.

In my idealised career path I really wanted to explore the difference between film ways of working and theatre, as I think it could make a great project.  In the real world of my thesis, however, I can see this forming a key claim.

AIMAC CONFERENCE 2015 day two 

Anne from Deakin presented first on coproduction in the museum sector, specifically focusing on professional bodies as co producers. It was an interesting perspective for me given my employment with NAVA in 2012/3. She described a process of institutional inertia with regard to change toward new working models. That sounds familiar. 
The model took change management theory and applied it to professional association’s response to coproduction in museums. It was a great example, to me, of application of theory in a practical context. A great role model. And a note that it is a quirk of this modern world that I travel to the south of France to hear someone who grew up in the same area as me and who studies the local area my father lives in. 
Paper three delivered by Wendy Reid from Montreal in the first session was on role transitions for artists, such as moving into an artistic director role. Given there’s been a bit of focus on artistic directorship in Australia, and our tendency to now import in people from non artistic roles, I thought this was very interesting.

The second plenary session improved on the first, in the sense my headphones were not quite as painful, but still ran as a series of presentation as opposed to real round table. It was on territorial anchoring of cultural activity and not uninteresting to me from a cultural policy and creative cities perspective, but the combination of the format, the heat and the distance created by the language made it hard to maintain concentration. The last speaker, however, was the head of Liverpool 2008- European Capital of Culture who presented a really engaging look at the impact of the festival and societal impact of cultural activity. It was worth listening to the other six just to hear him. 
In the afternoon, really struggling with the heat, I left HR for strategic management to hear Ravid’s presentation on the financial impact of stars in Broadway productions. While clearly a “flashy” topic and one clearly appealing to many of my Surry Hills neighbours, it is really about the measurement of organisational impact created by individuals, similar to the study of CEOs. He is an engaging speaker and the topic was an appealing one (in short: theatre stars impact show performance, but movie stars do not.)
It was different being in the strategic management track for a while because I found myself in the world of quantitative analysis, all statistics and variables. I do love a good statistic in terms of using them to tell a story, but it also reminded me why I failed first year statistics in my undergraduate degree. (After being a maths geek in secondary school.) 
The third session in this block was an investigation into competition and copyright policies and while I like to think I know a little bit about the latter (at least in the Australian context) I had absolutely no idea what was going on after the introduction bar a few terms. The formulas looked impressive. I’m blaming tiredness. 
After a break I returned to strategic management, as I’d met someone who I wanted to support. The first speaker in this block, Dottie, was talking on strategic communication to build arts audiences and fundraising, and was presenting in a classic corporate way, not academic. If corporate style is at one end and academic at the other, I was somewhere in the middle, maybe slightly on the corporate side. Dottie was hanging out as far left as I’d seen since I left American Express. I was really interested to see if she got called on it, not presenting a paper in the traditional sense, given I’d been raked over the coals for the same. (I noted too Dottie had just completed a Masters, so wasn’t engaged in doctoral research or an academic.) And for a 20minute presentation I think she used about 36 slides. She reminded me of the Anna Kendrick character in Up in the Air (at the beginning of the film.) 
Interestingly the third speaker was a management consultant, from Ontario Canada, looking at change in arts organisations. She didn’t use a presentation at all, preferring just to speak. I could see from watching both of these presenters where the critique I received came from. In the first case there was no research, just hypothesis, and in the latter there was extensive research (over three years) but no theoretical underpinnings. While I have both theoretical underpinning AND research I may actually have too much research (as much as I like interviews I think I’m going to have to stop at 50 maximum.) And my challenge is building a comprehensive theoretical framework that aligns to my data outcomes and helps position me where I want to go academically. I think I’ve probably said this in every post but it’s been hammered home.
At 6pm I was happy to retire for an aperitif. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I have two years to sort this stuff out. But at the same time I’m thinking it might be good if I don’t teach in 2016 to really focus on this.