While working on a Gartner research note that advises about how to develop an Open Government Plan (which is one of the requirements of the Open Government Directive), I found myself reflecting about the distinction between participation and collaboration.
These are the definitions given in the directive:
- Participation allows members of the public to contribute ideas and expertise so that their government can make policies with the benefit of information that is widely dispersed in society.
- Collaboration improves the effectiveness of government by encouraging partnerships and cooperation within the federal government, across levels of government, and between the government and private institutions.
I threw the question about the difference to Twitter and got a number of quite interesting replies. Here are a few findings:
- http://twitter.com/intellitics/statuses/7856939626: Participation relates to government decision making, collaboration not necessarily.
- http://twitter.com/ahier/statuses/7856836950: Participatory work is inherently collaborative in the sense that we choose to join together to reach common goals
- http://twitter.com/ahier/statuses/7857190734 you could have participatory (discussion) without collaboration (working together)
- One tweet pointed to the definitions of collaboration and participation given in Wikipedia. I found remarkable that the definition of participation is exclusively linked to “decision making”.
- Tim Bonneman gives a broader set of definitions, pointing out how clarity would help in an excellent blog post published almost two months before the directive was issued.
On a couple of dictionaries I have found the following definitions:
- Participation: The act or state of participating, or sharing in common with others
- Collaboration: To work together, especially in a joint intellectual effort.
So it would appear that, in order to collaborate, one needs to participate. Further, collaboration seems to imply a specific goal, while participation does not.
There are other nuances too. Collaboration suggests something that is somewhat planned or controlled by government, which chooses who to collaborate with. Participation looks more bottom up, with the public possibly taking the lead and government joining their effort. But I am pretty sure that some people would give the exact opposite interpretation.
Bottom line is that in less than three months federal agencies have to develop a plan to meet requirements based on apparently ambiguous definitions.
Could we have a glossary please?