Collaboration spaces and autobiography

csm interior

CSM, King’s Cross.

In thinking about spaces for creative collaboration I have been looking at publishing companies that have been reorganizing their work spaces. Four of the big companies are looking at this area as they move offices and/or integrate. Creating opportunities to collaborate either through work spaces or through location, to encourage both internal and external collaborative behaviours, these companies have taken different approaches. Open plan space is key across all these reorganizations – to see and be seen, to see what other people do and make connections. Meeting places are also critical and new work patterns encouraged.

But this is really about a small, personal example of collaborative activity taking place on the fly in CSM. I was there waiting for a meeting and settled down on a bench to write up some notes; Antonius spotted me and came by to say hello and we ended up working quickly on the presentation for the research week at LCC. Sharing ideas, touching up the presentation on the cloud as well as mapping our thinking in a diagrammatic way in a sketch book, the whole episode only took about 15 minutes in a most effective piece of team working, particularly impressive as it was not even planned!

Significant things enabling this were:

a) Like-minded thinking – both in terms of the topic in question but also in the grabbing the time then and there – cutting to the chase and getting on with it – taking the opportunity thrown before one. A strand of my research is showing that successful collaboration is facilitated by some like-mindedness – making things quick and smooth between team players, while still preserving certain differences to lead to the serendipity of creativity.
b) There are issues of location here – it was eased by being in the same place – face to face – rather than delayed around planning in remote working time. Reading Collaborative Circles by Farrell shows that physical location is critical in the development of artists’ groups.
c) Building design – spotting people is key, in my case across the bridges of CSM is something that can play a part – you need to be seen so need spaces to be seen, yet allow privacy.
d) Infrastructure is essential to make this sort of thing work – the wifi needed to be solid enough to get on quickly to the presentation and cloud to hold the information, to slip in and out quickly of google docs. As another example, in the publishers developing their workspaces, the way the mobile phones and the work phones interact is an important part of the freedom to communicate seamlessly whatever the situation.
e) To achieve more collaboration, more time is needed, to pursue more ideas – so the ability to collaborate then needs to be made easy; this can be facilitated through the work spaces, the quick easy meetings on the spur of the moment, with no need to book but the ability to take the opportunity.
f) Easy places to talk – CSM is full of collaborative spaces –huddle sofas, corners for discussion, benches on the bridges, moveable furniture, pin boards – the emphasis on sharing ideas is key here from the very start. Creative industries, particularly smaller operations, set up spaces very much in this line already – it is the larger ones (like the publishing companies above) that are trying to work this into a more corporate environment.
g) If UAL students get used to collaborating in this way, then they will be ready to continue this is their industry practice – those industry work spaces therefore need to accommodate this.

It was very satisfying to have made some progress on the presentation in person and some additional connections between the frames of reference in our research; we needed then to carry the conversation on with Simon but unexpected progress was made and it didn’t take much time. Serendipity of meeting and the space to have collaboration both were critical.

In terms of creative collaboration the wider theoretical themes include issues of diversity, learning, empathy, network behaviour (from structural holes to weak ties), strategic management and innovation theory among others, but all collaboration requires a level of connection that is enabled by spaces, not just the larger spaces of cultural hubs of Florida’s cities for example, but small spaces in which to connect: then for those who are innovative the culture to contribute is effortless.

Bringing in one’s own narrative to the research in question is certainly an approach that is encouraged by reflexive methodology and indeed articles like Levine and Moreland’s work on theory development from collaboration specifically use their own situation to apply the theory laid out in the earlier part of the article as they reflect on their own practice. In my case this is a small example of autobiographical reflection but one which is not only very relevant to my own research, but also looks forward to the sort of outputs planned from our hub as a whole – how do we work together to lead to theory development? Taking opportunities to collaborate, understanding the importance spaces and times to do this, these are not only part of our research topics, they will also help us develop our research aims.

Frania Hall

Alvesson, M., Skoldberg, K., 2009. Reflexive Methodology: New Vistas for Qualitative Research: New Vistas in Qualitative Research, Second Edition edition. ed. SAGE Publications Ltd, Los Angeles ; London.

Farrell, M.P., 2003. Collaborative Circles: Friendship Dynamics and Creative Work, New edition edition. ed. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Ill.; London.

Florida, R., 2004. Cities and the Creative Class, New Ed edition. ed. Routledge, New York.

Levine, J.M., Moreland, R.L., 2004. Collaboration: The Social Context of Theory Development. Pers Soc Psychol Rev 8, 164–172. doi:10.1207/s15327957pspr0802_10