Sunday, May 24, 2015

The “I” in “Collaboration”

We work in a field that is orientated around the individual, either in terms of our own working practices and/or the clients that we work with (victims or perpetrators of sexual violence); which means that collaboration can be a difficult balancing. What we are learning about our field and working environments is that individualism, in all respects, is problematic and we need to shift towards a more collaborative approach. There are many reasons for collaboration some practical, some financial, some strategic and some common sense; however, the most important reason for collaboration is that it makes us better at our individual jobs and pushes the field forward in new a innovative ways. 

Collaboration is an interesting endeavor that we all struggle with, but has become the staple of our working environment regardless of one’s career (researcher, therapist, civil servant, policy maker, etc), and we are not always effectively taught to collaborate.  Consequentially, true collaboration is a difficult balancing act and does not always work under the best of circumstances. Often times we will hear colleagues and friends telling us about how they collaborate within the teams that they work with; however, this can be misleading as teamwork often involves working on our own part of any project and not always contributing to the big picture. When we collaborate we are effectively surrendering control of a project or task to a group of people, which means that the end result may not be as we individually envisioned and/or a series of compromises.

This then raises the question, why collaborate at all? The simple answer is that it makes our field, our research and our understanding of the world better. For example, the ideal of the lone individual (academic, policy maker, therapist, etc…) is quickly vanishing from the workplace and in its place are a series of collaborations with other others, so other academics (sometimes from other disciplines), other external partners, other professionals and ultimately the public. These collaborations means that the work that we are doing together is fit for purpose, stands up to scrutiny and is applicable in the real world. Collaboration means that that all research can be designed with impact in mind, that the people who will be effected by the research can have an input into how its designed, the questions that are asked and then consider (at the start) what the implications of it maybe.

However, to do good effective collaborative working there are some things that have to do, all of which are not promoted across the board (from degrees to employment) including,
-   Listening to each other and taking on board each others concerns;
-   Effective communication across the group;
-  Making sure that everyone is on the same page, which means using agreed language, goals and compromise;
-    Utilizing constructive criticism, not criticism for its own sake but rather criticism/critical reflection that allows projects to develop ; being a “critical friend”; &
-   Being honest when there are issues as well as working together to overcome them.

We need to be better at collaboration because that will mean that the work that we do impacts more people, especially in the field of sexual abuse. We need to bring policy makers, academics, professional, practitioners and the public to the table to discuss these matters. We need to make sure that collaboration is rooted in the real world, the real issues that people face (whether it be being directly impacted by sexual abuse, not having the funding to keep a programme running, having policies that do not recognize alternatives) and recognize that this will not be solved over night. Collaboration takes time, is built on trust and is a shared endeavor; in working together we all benefit more than we would by working in our own silos.

Kieran McCartan, PhD
David S. Prescott, LISCW

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