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Collaboration Definition - The 3 C's Framework

A powerful and broadly applicable definition of the concept of collaboration, understood in relation to the related concepts of cooperation and coordinaton.

As part of Mark Elliott's Ph.D formulating a General Theory of Collaboration, he defined three processes of coordination, co-operation and collaboration. These three processes are different and distinct but interrelated.

With coordination at the starting point and collaboration at the top end, each of these 'three Cs' addresses an increasing level of complexity. Each process delivers unique outcomes, and is the same no matter the context, culture or scale. These definitions will work whether in business or art, whether its a collaboration happening in America or China, in a physical space or on Wikipedia. These processes are powerful and can be used both as an analysis and as a design tool.

So what exactly do we mean by coordination, cooperation and collaboration?

When we say coordination, we’re talking about independent elements being drawn together as a means to identify and exploit patterns. Web search results, conferences and shopping malls are everyday examples. 

Cooperation builds on this, and refers to individuals making separate contributions that become something more meaningful and valuable when combined. This includes surveys, where participants separately answer questions to generate aggregated findings, voting and recycling, that also aggregate their inputs for a gain. 

True collaboration sits at the top of the 3Cs pyramid, and is where two or more people create through adding, editing and deleting a shared pool of content. Just to name a few, improv jazz, co-authoring and workshopping are all fantastic examples of collaboration.