How to Collaborate Out Loud
Embracing democracy, generosity & difference
When I co-founded Collaborate Out Loud with Kev Wyke in 2016, it started over a simple cup of coffee. We had a shared passion to bring people together to tackle some of society’s and public services’ toughest challenges while doing so in a radically democratic, transparent and open way.
I’d like to present our current thinking on what helps people to come together in inclusive spaces to collaborate. We work in the spaces between formal systems and organisations, and information networks and communities, as we believe this is where the most impact can be made. The 11 principles below are not a linear series of steps, rather they are 11 things that we have found enable people to Collaborate in an open and transparent way, and therefore come into play at different times. Collaborate Out Loud encourages people to come together and embrace the principles below. Out community manifesto sets out the key ways in which we work and what we do. Here is a taster.
“We are a democratic tribe of innovative and generous public service collaborators who work out loud to hack challenges, hatch new thinking, experiment with implementation and prototype and spread impactful new ideas that will enable the changing public services landscape to get further faster and embracing the power of new ideas, collaboration and democracy”
We spend time creating the conditions for collaboration and innovation. Slowing down to speed up at the start can in fact make the overall innovation journey faster and much more fruitful.
The 11 principles of collaborating Out Loud
1. Harness the energy of difference
As Margaret Wheatley says in her 10 principles of healthy communities, “if you want to change the conversation then change who is in it.” This rings in my ears all the time and inspired and informed our first principle. Bringing different people, professions, sectors, thinking, ideas and more together gives great energy and all collaborate out loud spaces and communities encourage the ‘unusual suspects’ to come along, be part of the conversation and challenge. Attracting difference and different people means thinking about how and where you share what you are doing, encouraging people to take part and making the space accessible and inclusive.
To change the conversation, then change who is in it.
2. Create surprising, simple, and social spaces between the formal structures
The next principle is about the need to create a shared space between the formal and the informal. A space not owned by any one organisation, individual or group. The formal systems such as local government, fire and police have individuals who can be part of the community and influence and change in their world, whilst the informal social networks and communities are able to work in more agile, freer, and socially dynamic ways. By bringing these two together in a shared space, the strengths of both can be drawn out for the benefit of the community. These spaces need to be simple, surprising, and social and the other principles help to create these conditions.
3. Spend time building a community, trust, and a shared intent
It’s also important, as part of creating the shared space, to spend time understanding who is in the space, why they have chosen to be part of this and what they have to offer (not just in a formal role but as their whole self). This will help the group to explore and shape what binds them together and what their shared intent is. A great tool for understanding the roles that help communities to thrive, which we often utilise in our work, is the introduction to communities of practice by Etienne Wenger. Other thinkers that we look to when developing communities are Julian Stodd and Margaret Wheatley.
Trust is the one thing that is essential for all the other things to matter. If it’s missing, then the other principles cannot do their part effectively. Time spent understanding each other helps in establishing trust. That takes work however and can be lost in an instant, so pay attention to building and nurturing it.
4. Embrace the principles of transparency, democracy, and openness
When collaborating out loud, it is essential to ensure that the way you work, what you do and how decisions are made are all done with radical transparency, democracy, and openness. The more radical you can be the better the outcome. Some questions to think about that will help you to build these principles into your work: ‘How will you share your work and learning?’, ‘How will you work hard to break down hierarchies and give everyone an equal voice?’, and, ‘how will you ensure that your community is open to anyone attending and constructively challenging?’
5. Be social, share with generosity and kindness
We live in a social age where people can socialise face to face and virtually at any time of the day or night. The social age helps to break down hierarchies and barriers and democratises information, connections, and learning. A key element of collaborating out loud is embracing the social age, networks, and the connectivity this brings. This allows us to share generously with others, and to do this with kindness. Next time you are looking for people to help you with your goal, instead of starting by asking them for help; why not think about what you have to offer and start by openly sharing. This not only feels good, but also leads to building a stronger network with powerful support of your goals through reciprocal generosity.
6. Choose a challenge to work on collaboratively
Collaborating out loud is not about having a nice time with a different group of people. Yes, it’s fun and a great way to spend time but it is all about making a difference. Therefore, working on real challenges is essential and it’s important that you choose your challenge transparently and democratically. There are loads of great crowdsourcing tools out there like Tricider which you can use to do this. Be open to anything, work with the energy of the group and embrace the power of letting go, allowing the crowd to choose their collective challenge. Remember, people care about what they create.
7. Borrow learning and thinking from anywhere and everywhere to learn collectively
We believe that many of the answers are already out there for many of the challenge we face as a society. But maybe they are not well connected, maybe they need iterating on or maybe they are in a totally different sector, profession of culture. This is why we do not have a set toolbox we give to people to use when working on their challenge, we encourage people to use the collective skills and strengths of their community and the insights and tools they have. Look in the unusual places for learning, mash up ideas and see what happens. Don’t be afraid to experiment and look outside the community for inspiration and ideas.
Don’t be afraid to experiment and look outside the community for inspiration and ideas.
8. Co-create novel solutions and ideas
Coming up with some ideas, solutions, products whatever you want to call them is all part of making it real. Again, this is all about the power of the group and working democratically to curate what you are learning and come up with some questions or ideas to test. You might want to test all your ideas or one or two and think about how you want to choose which ones to explore further. You may want to look outside the core community into the formal and informal systems to help in the decision.
9. Rapidly test and iterate together
Testing is a key part of innovation and collaborating out loud. Find places and spaces that are ripe to test your ideas, these are often the formal or informal spaces that the community members are connected to. Find ways to test ideas out, measure the impact and learn from them. If something doesn’t work, that is fine. Failing small and failing fast is a great way to get to something better. Think about how you can iterate constantly as you go rather than gathering lots of data then making changes.
10. Work out loud as you go — attribute your ideas and inspirations
It’s really important when collaborating out loud to share as you go. This has come to be known as working out loud and there is loads out there on how to do it but basically; it’s all about making you and your work visible, gaining feedback as you go, sharing what you have to offer and growing connectivity and social networks. John Stepper has some great tools for helping you to do this, it’s also really important to attribute any tools, models etc. you use. This is all part of the sharing with generosity principle and we think this also applies to those that inspire you.
11. Spread the best ideas (as well as the learning)
When you have an idea that is tested and you know works, then that is brilliant, but it is only truely powerful if it is spread and adopted across the different communities it can benefit. Think about how you can utilise your networks and connections to spread your ideas. Who do you see working in this space? Who are the natural connectors that can help you to bridge the gaps between communities, networks and groups?
I genuinely believe that if we can work differently together we can achieve amazing things that will benefit everyone.
Conclusion probably isn’t the right word as it suggests drawing the conversation to a close and making recommendations and this is not really in the spirit of Collaborating Out Loud. What I want to share to end this article is a little about why this way of working is so important to me. Through embracing these principles and believing in the power of generosity, difference and collaboration, I have been able to not only achieve more but also inspire and help others to take a different approach forward. I am driven by a deep desire to create a fairer society and I genuinely believe that if we can work differently together we can achieve amazing things that will benefit everyone.
e180 is a social business from Montreal that seeks to unlock human greatness by helping people learn from each other. We are the inventors of braindates — intentional knowledge sharing conversations between people, face-to-face. Since 2011, e180 has helped thousands of humans in harnessing the potential of the people around them, and we won’t stop until we reach millions.