Spring 2002 Issue 40
From a number of dictionaries, I found a reasonable agreement that collaboration has three definitions:
- To work jointly with others especially in an intellectual endeavour.
- To co-operate with or willingly assist an enemy of one's country.
- To co-operate with an organisation with which one is not immediately connected.
I trust that you will agree that definition two must be left to the James Bond 007 category and does not directly concern us.
We are left with two working definitions, one intellectual and the other practical. I do not wish to differentiate between these approaches, so I will combine both and shorten the whole definition to: working with others .
The benefits derived from working with others must be the driving force for collaboration. These benefits can be intangible or tangible. Typically, collaborative work can be of greater worth than a series of smaller and independent tasks; they can give access to better resources (money or equipment) or greater credibility.
Collaborative projects start in various ways. The seed of the idea is a most interesting stage. This seed must come from the mind of a single individual - there is no other mechanism that I am aware of. It must be nurtured to become a real idea that can be communicated to others in order to win their support and backing. Those that are convinced will wish to collaborate. This loose project team must then seek further agreement from their peers, bosses or financial backers. At this stage the idea will be in the form of a project brief that describes and outlines the outcomes, the financial costs etc. It is this project brief that will form the basis of any contract.
The extent of collaboration is very dependent on the particular tasks within the project. To describe the extent of collaboration I am immediately taken back to my school days and Venn diagrams. Venn diagrams are those intersecting circles, often coloured, that demonstrate to me how collaboration works by the degree of overlap.
To examine some real collaborative projects in which I have been directly involved, I will need to establish some background.
The Science Section exists to:
Contribute to the knowledge and understanding of objects and their environment in collaboration with the Conservation Department, the Museum and fellow professionals by:
- concentrating on collection-centred work,
- balancing education, research, consultancy,
- meeting clearly agreed goals, in keeping with our professional responsibilities.
It is clear that collaboration was very much in mind, along with collection-centred work, when this statement was drawn up. For the particular project entitled Assessment and Monitoring of the Environment of Cultural Property (AMECP) 1, this clearly fitted within the statement.
AMECP was first conceived as a collaborative project in about 1990 when two sections of the V&A Conservation Department were independently approached by colleagues who worked for the Fraunhofer-Institut für Silicatforschung in Würzburg, Germany. In essence, the 'thought' was to develop a glass-based dosimeter for use in museums and galleries to assess the environmental conditions. A major funding source (the EU Framework Programme) had been identified and a third partner was required. Previous contacts with the Museu do Mosteiro de Santa Maria da Vitória, Batalha, Portugal were good and it was known that the Portuguese potential partner would be open-minded.
So far then, we had the idea, the partners and potential funding source. The requirement now was to submit a detailed project plan, financial breakdown and outline European Community benefits to the major funding source - the EU. Do not underestimate this task - my advice to others is that the preparation of a good proposal takes around three person months to complete. Then you submit the application and await the verdict of the referees. This can be a most harrowing and drawn out experience, as a minimum of six months is typical between submission and receipt of verdict. Meanwhile, there is a project team eager and willing to get on with the task, but sense must prevail.
The AMECP project did not start for another year and a half. Due to the internal institutional commitments of one of the partners it was not possible to take on the project. So, once again, we (the proposed project team) had to be patient. Then came success; all the pieces of the jigsaw were in place - contracts signed, money secured - the project could proceed. It was now a project to be completed in three years, on time and within the approximate 1.2 million European Currency Unit (ecu) budget. For the record, the project team estimated that approximately twenty person years were spent during this three year project.
To examine a project that is active now, I will turn to Smart and Techno Fabrics (S&TF). This project is led by the University of Southampton Textile Conservation Centre (Mary Brookes) and involves the V&A (Brenda Keneghan) as a partner. Essentially, the aim is to look at and move forward on knowledge of the new generation of composite fibres and associated high technology fashion. There are many new fibre systems entering the market and very little thought has been given to their longevity. Once again, the idea and partners were relatively self-selecting but what was needed was a funding source as neither institution could provide adequate resources. The Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB) 2 was identified as a potential funder and an application was submitted for £50k over one year. With the assistance of a dedicated funding officer (Julia Bennet) from the University of Southampton, we were successful in gaining funds about a year after original contacts were made. We will deliver the S&TF project in September 2003.
The conclusion I draw is that collaboration is between people. Collaboration exists between people and these people may be within the same organisation or outside. Collaboration is not the same as a project - the project is a definition of the task whilst collaboration is the processes by which the task may be achieved.
1. Assessment and Monitoring the Environment of Cultural Property (CEC-Contract EV5V-CT9-0144), DGXII (Environment and Climate Programme).