The Imperative to Collaborate

Collaboration and partnership are at the heart of Artscape’s practice in creative placemaking
Breaking Ground at Artscape Wychwood Barns
Cultural facility development is complex, expensive, time-consuming and risky. Quite simply, our projects wouldn’t have a chance of being realized without the commitment of an ever-growing circle of collaborators, partners, stakeholders and supporters. 
 
Charles Leadbeater has described some of the problems cities face as being similar to mending a broken clock - “They are complicated, with many interlocking parts that require technical expertise to solve.”  “Clock problems” can be complex – they require identifiable expertise, resources and infrastructure and have identifiable solutions. Partnerships are understood widely to be an effective approach to solving complex “clock problems” – partnerships come together to address specific challenges with identified, desired outcomes. They are built out of organizations and individuals with specific skills, capabilities and resources suited to solving the problem. Partnerships of this sort are essentially contractual (although this may be explicit or implicit). 
 
“Cloud problems” Leadbetter suggests are, on the other hand, complex, multifaceted, and require “cultural and behavioural change that yields intangible benefits of greater trust, respect, tolerance and social capital.” 
 
Collaboration, within and between the public sector, the not-for-profit sector and the wider community and business spheres offers the potential to address complex “cloud problems” in a more consensual way. It acknowledges the complexity of many of the issues it is grappling with and seeks to widen the pool of problem-solving experience and talent to address them. 
 
Increasingly, we are engaging in complicated cross-sector collaborations in an effort to address complex problems. However, collaboration means different things to different people, organizations, governments, firms, etc., and while collaboration for collective interest sounds good in principle, it is easier said than done. Conflicting interests, egos, cultural barriers and exposure to liability are among the things that can make it hard to find common ground. Difficulties posed by collaboration tend to reinforce conventional approaches and, as urban author and activist Jane Jacobs used to say, “squelch creativity”. Increasingly, it is understood that what is needed is a new way of thinking, one that recognizes that successful collaboration may require different approaches to leadership, design, facilitation, risk analysis, diversity, infrastructure and technology. 
 
When parties that are supposed to be collaborating are not on the same page regarding the purpose and approach to collaboration, the quality of work can suffer, the experience can be painful and the outcomes can be diminished. Many aspects of people’s approach to life and business are driven by vested interest as opposed to shared interest. Collaborations challenge us, therefore, to switch gears mentally in the way we approach things like leadership and risk/return analysis. 
 
Successful collaborations are the building blocks of success and innovation.  They invigorate us, reward us and inspire us to work beyond our individual limits and to take on major challenges and turn them into opportunities. Artscape’s 2009 conference, Creative Places and Spaces: The Collaborative City, explored the concept that collaboration fuels innovation by connecting people, places and ideas. 
 
We believe that project development success is rooted in collaboration to develop a strong shared vision for our projects based on research, sector and community engagement and partner development. Artscape envisons, designs, develops, operates and increasingly programs our facilities as platforms for collaboration supporting cross-discsiplinary and cross sector innovation. The diverse partners we work with and diversity of partnership relationships we build play a critical role in the realization of our development.
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