Reframing the collaboration debate

Barry Knight

The word ‘collaboration’ is the latest buzzword for foundations. It is used in many situations, both formal and informal, where foundations try to achieve things together. So what do we mean by collaboration? When does it make sense? What are the hurdles to be overcome? In this special feature, we aim to answer these questions. We have contributors from all over the world who tell their real-life stories of how collaboration works in practice.

It is clear that ‘collaboration’ is a warm and fuzzy word that carries subtle messages about how we should behave. This leads to an inherent bias in the writing about collaboration, namely that it is a good thing and that we need more of it. It is striking that two recent reports about collaboration, one from the European Foundation Centre[1] and one from the Council on Foundations, take this line.[2] Both think that collaboration is essential and make recommendations about how to make it more effective.

Caroline HartnellBut is the view that collaboration is a good thing the best starting point? Both reports make clear that, no matter what the received wisdom about the benefits of collaboration, when it comes to practising it, many people and institutions are lukewarm at best and downright resistant at worst. Rather than glossing over these responses and trying to enhance the conditions under which people will collaborate, perhaps it would make more sense to start from the proposition that collaboration has no intrinsic value. This would force us to make the case for collaboration and to identify its proper role in the repertoire of actions available to foundations to get their work done. This sceptical position is our starting point in this special issue.

Is there any intrinsic value in collaboration?

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