Collaborative Approaches

When should I collaborate?

If  you can tackle a social problem alone, you should. If you can’t tackle a social problem alone, it does not follow that you should collaborate.

Working with others can be difficult, costly and take more time than working on your own.  There are many ways of working with others and it is important to decide which one is the most appropriate.

First determine what type of problem you are trying to solve.  A very useful tool to help you with this determination is the Cynefin framework by Dave Snowden – see below.



Many social problems are technical problems, meaning they are easy to identify and we often know – through best practice or technical analysis – the best ways to solve them.  Technical problems require change in one or a few places, often within organisations.  In the Cynefin framework technical problems are ‘simple’ and ‘complicated’.  In such instances, the most appropriate response might be to work with others to share information or expertise and adjust actions (coordinate), and for others the most appropriate response might be to align resources and activities – such as service integration –(cooperation and coordination).  In this way, both cooperation and coordination are essentially about operating as normal but more ef?ciently.

complex problems graphicHowever, other social problems are complex problems, meaning they are difficult to identify and we don’t easily know the best ways to solve them.  Complex problems are often called wicked or adaptive problems.  These types of social problems have multiple layers of stakeholders, all with different perspective and often disagreement about the causes of the problem and the best solutions.  They require change in numerous places, often across organisational boundaries, meaning they are beyond the capacity of any one organisation or sector to respond to effectively.  Problems such as these require total systems change and innovation.  In such instances, collaboration is the appropriate response.

If you have identified the problem you are trying to solve as being complex, you should invest the time in learning how to do collaboration well.