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4619 N. Ravenswood Ave., Ste 305
Chicago, IL 60640
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773.271.1990

We are a multidisciplinary innovation studio working with diverse partners to understand sustainability challenges and identify holistic, resilient solutions, and we are committed to training the next generation of leaders.

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Insights, inspiration and opportunities to create a more vibrant and resilient future.

What Does Collaboration Even Mean?

Lyndon Valicenti

The complexity and magnitude of the pressing challenges we face today, from poverty to climate change, transcend jurisdictional and disciplinary boundaries and cannot be addressed by any one sector or institution alone. Collaboration is critical. But what does that even mean?

As we saw in the complex definition, “com” in Latin means together. When followed by a word that starts with “l” like “laborare” (Latin for labor), “com” becomes “col”. So, quite straightforwardly, collaborate means to work together. But what does working together really mean?

Given the nature of our projects, Foresight has long studied and practiced the mechanics of collaboration, and found it to be quite nuanced. We often think of collaboration as the far end of a spectrum that spans communication, cooperation, coordination, and finally collaboration. The type of problem you are trying to solve, or change you are seeking to make, determines the degree to which stakeholders must work together. Often the problem to solve is simple, so a mutually-beneficial, transactional exchange of resources or information between two parties can be achieved through cooperation. In instances where two parties share a common goal, like improving the efficiency of a process, greater coordination can further enhance their mutual capacity.

True collaboration, then, is reserved for the co-creation of deeper, transformational change, where individual partner benefits are secondary to a higher sense of purpose. Agendas, resources, and workplans are aligned, and a new identity emerges. The Calumet Stormwater Collaborative provides a solid case study on collaboration. Diverse partners from across jurisdictions and sectors have come together, bringing their individual expertise and resources, for collective impact on stormwater management in the Calumet region. Learn more about their important work here.