At the moment LIFE-SHARE is busy investigating consortial strategies for digitisation. As part of this process we’ve been looking at what works and what doesn’t across many library consortia spanning the globe, and we’ve also been reading the literature.

A recent event at the Smithsonian in Washington, Yours, Mine, Ours: Leadership Through Collaboration, threw up an interesting paper from OCLC‘s Program Manager, Günter Waibel. You can read Collaboration Contexts: Framing Local, Group and Global Solutions here (.PDF); the part we found particularly useful was the Collaboration Continuum graphic on page 7:

A graphic showing investment, risk and benefit, running as arrows through a continuum made up of Contact, Cooperation, Coordination, Collaboration, Convergence

The Collaboration Continuum. Quoted here from Collaboration Contexts: Framing Local, Group and Global Solutions by Gunter Waibel.

It was one of those moments of serendipitous discovery, where your existing thinking is crystallised by an established model. The stages of the continuum can be explained briefly like this:

  • Contact is when groups first meet up to open dialogue. No joint efforts or projects at this stage, just getting to know each other and building relationships that allow groups to proceed along the continuum.
  • Cooperation is when groups work informally on an activity that offers small but tangible effort. This might be sharing info or helping each other out with an activity; can be one way cooperation at this stage.
  • Coordination is when the work moves beyond an ad hoc or ‘as needed’ basis, and a framework is required to organise the group into everyone knowing what they have to do, when and where. Calendaring, distribution lists, meeting reports and other communication tools emerge to support this frame-work, such as cross-domain advisory committees.
  • Collaboration moves beyond the shared agreements of the previous two stages, to become a process of shared creation – the groups should create new shared understanding that didn’t exist previously and couldn’t be arrived at individually. Something is new that wasn’t there before, including transformation among the collaborators – it is because of this need for actual change that true collaboration occurs so infrequently.
  • Convergence is a state of collaboration that has become so extensive, engrained and assumed, it is no longer really recognised as a collaborative undertaking. It has matured to become infrastructure – a critical system we rely on without considering the collaborative effort that makes it possible.

(Definitions paraphrased from Zorich, Diane, Günter Waibel, and Ricky Erway: 2008. Beyond the Silos of the LAMs: Collaboration Among Libraries, Archives and Museums (.PDF) in which the graphic was first published.)

To come up with a specific model for collaboration is, understandably, a complicated process. This model helps focus that process, and allows you to develop several versions of the same model, each more advanced than the last and going further and further along the continuum – ultimately towards a converged service. As the arrows along the bottom of the graphic suggest, the further along the continuum your ideas lie, the greater the risk, the greater the amount of investment required, and of course the greater the potential benefits.

An example might be two libraries working together in the area of metadata. ‘Contact’ may involve informal discussions of each others’ metadata practices and preferred schema, right through to ‘Convergence’ in which one central Metadata team works across both institutions, describing the materials contained in both collections.

LIFE-SHARE is using the continuum to work towards models in three distinct but related areas of collaboration; as always, Outcomes from the Project will be published on the LIFE-SHARE Project website as soon as they are complete. We’ll also be regularly updating progress via the recently revamped Twitter page.