Private and Public Sector Collaboration - Collabojam

03/08/2011

Technophobia is proud to have participated in this year’s Collabojam hosted by Sheffield City Region’s Creative and Digital Industries team.

The event aimed to capitalise on the current buzz surrounding Sheffield’s creativity scene and bring together innovative companies to share experiences to create a support network and develop a sustainable local collaborative culture.

Technophobia’s Innovation Director Chris Dymond was invited to speak to the delegates, most of whom were a mix of aspiring and seasoned collaborators, about public and private sector collaboration. This is something Chris and indeed our company as a whole feel extremely passionate about, particularly due to our involvement in projects such as the Technology Strategy Board _Connect platform, which is primarily designed to cultivate collaboration in the UK’s research and innovation communities.

The following highlights are taken from Chris’ presentation:

'Collaboration is one of those generic words that describes something so big and contested it doesn't really describe anything on its own, like ‘innovation’ or 'knowledge work' or ‘engagement’. But that's also what makes it interesting - we wouldn’t be here to discuss it if it was simple.

Technophobia has worked with both public sector and private companies on large, high value and long term web development contracts and each presented their own challenges in terms of collaboration.

However, it is important to remember that there are always external influences on the level of collaboration possible: the parameters of the contract, the client organisation’s culture, personalities and the level of stakeholder knowledge always vary and consequently the influences of these factors differ greatly.

Often with private sector projects an agency’s engagement is with one small team from the client’s side and they are responsible for handling stakeholder engagement and change management. Public sector organisations, on the other hand, are generally less averse to you approaching stakeholders directly. Also, public sector organisations are, perhaps counter-intuitively, often less conservative than the private sector and more open to embracing new innovation from outside.

There are three major dynamics within which collaboration needs to occur on projects of this type:

Firstly, the product being designed and built, and its effectiveness at being a platform for collaboration; secondly, the stakeholders and the extent to which they are involved in a collaborative process; and finally the project itself and the effectiveness of team members to collaborate with each other and externally.

Each of these dynamics is crucial to the success of the project.

Regarding the product, collaboration should be ‘baked in’ to the strategy so that is doesn’t just become a forgotten ideal, and a conscious effort should be made to review and reiterate the collaborative potential of the product as it develops.

Regarding stakeholder engagement, it can be difficult to get collaboration going in certain environments - people are generally time-poor and perhaps too focused on the internal dynamics of large programmes. However, the crucial thing is to continually reiterate *why* the project is happening and what the objectives are so that when people later on suddenly recognise the change that's happening, they remember the intentions and adjust better.

In addition, Technophobia operates agile development methods, so teams have a stand-up 'scrum' every morning in which the product owners are involved, and at the beginning of each development 'sprint'. Collaborative planning sessions are also held; these review the roadmap and produce the detailed work schedule. Client-appointed programme managers are involved in this process and form the connection back to senior management.

These collaborative processes allow project team members and client representatives to learn and practice collaboration, but, on long projects that is not enough. It is occasionally prudent for the team to disengage from the day-to-day work for a little bit and collaboratively think about and discuss the bigger picture. Pre-arranged periodic ‘project refresh’ days allow this to happen.

To sum up, it shouldn’t be assumed that everyone ‘naturally’ knows how to collaborate - it is a learned behaviour. People need to practise it both in routine contexts and more widely. Sometimes collaborating over trivial things early on can prime people for collaborating over important things later.

If done well and often, collaboration improves efficiency, communication and team motivation, improves outcomes and reduces the very significant risk of ineffective knowledge-sharing.'

The day was a great success, the next event is already planned for 10th August. Images from the day can be seen on the Collabojam Flickr group

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