Often we find certain terms being used in practice with their meanings taken for granted. Everyone seems to just know what those terms mean, and yet, everyone uses them in different senses. It is only when one starts digging deeper into the possible meanings of these terms, when one uncovers all the true senses of those terms. ‘Collaboration’ is such a term and the goal of this article is to have a closer look at this term, put it in perspective, and identify what that means for my own work on collaborative information seeking.
The Latin roots com amd laborare suggest that collaboration has something to do with working together. However, this seems very close to the meanings of ‘cooperation’ and ‘coordination’. The definitions of these three terms from the New Oxford American Dictionary are given below for reference.
coordination [noun] 1. the process or state of coordinating or being coordinated.
• the organization of the different elements of a complex body or activity so as to enable them to work together effectively : both countries agreed to intensify efforts at economic policy coordination.
• cooperative effort resulting in an effective relationship : action groups work in coordina- tion with local groups to end rain forest destruction.
• the ability to use different parts of the body together smoothly and efficiently : changing from one foot position to another requires coordination and balance.
2. Chemistry the linking of atoms by coordinate bonds ORIGIN mid 17th cent. (in the sense [placing in the same rank] ): from French or from late Latin
coordinatio(n-), based on Latin ordo, ordin- order.
cooperation (also co-operation) [noun]
1. the process of working together to the same end : they worked in close cooperation with the AAA.
• assistance, esp. by ready compliance with requests : we would like to ask for your cooperation in the survey.
• Economics the formation and operation of cooperatives. ORIGIN late Middle English : from Latin cooperatio(n-), from the verb cooperari (see COOPER-
ATE); later reinforced by French coopration. collaboration [noun]
1. the action of working with someone to produce or create something : he wrote on art and architecture in collaboration with John Betjeman.
• something produced or created in this way : his recent opera was a collaboration with Lessing.
2. traitorous cooperation with an enemy : he faces charges of collaboration.
DERIVATIVES collaborationist [noun & adjective (sense 2)]. ORIGIN mid 19th cent.: from Latin collaboratio(n-), from collaborare ‘work together.’
From these dictionary definitions, it is not very clear how we can differentiate these terms from one another. (Denning & Yaholkovsky, 2008) does a good job of putting these terms, along with information sharing, in perspective. While all of the three terms represent some form of working together, they argue that coordination and cooperation are weaker forms of working together. Neither of them requires mutual support and argument. Collaboration, on the other hand, exhibits the highest and synergistic form of working together.