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Friday 30 March 2018

Interested in time travel? Identify collaborative time interlocks and carefully plan your approach to them

(To see the other posts in this series go to the March and April 2018 Blog Archive.)

There are predictable and identifiable crucial moments that occur during the development of a collaboration. Seeing these through the lens of time, and because they occur at moments of transition from one stage of a collaboration's development to another, they could be called 'Collaborative Time Interlocks'.

Specifically, these interlocks are most likely to occur between the following stages of a collaboration's development:
  • Informal contacts and discussions.
  • Forming clear understandings (often leading to the creation and agreement of Memorandums of Understanding).
  • Planning and agreeing what the collaboration will do and how it will do it.
  • Expanding the collaboration through increasing the number of partners and agreeing contracts.
  • Implementing the collaboration's plan.
  • Different phases of a collaboration's implementation that occur because of additional and unforeseen pressures and demands.
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of the collaboration.
  • Ensuring the collaboration's legacy
And they usually take the following forms:
  • Public announcements that signal a collaboration's progress from one of the above stages to another.
  • Extraordinary General meetings called to address urgent and significant issues connected to the purpose, work and development of a collaboration.  
  • Regular formal meetings that coincide with a collaboration's progress from one stage to another (e.g., regular planning and review meetings or AGMs, etc.)
  • Conferences, workshops, presentations, training and other events that coincide with progress from one of the above stages to another.    
  • Calls for new partners.
  • Meetings which bring old and new partners together.
  • Drafting and agreeing contracts and other legally binding documents.
  • Announcing changes to priorities and strategies and amending contract agreements in response to pressures and demands that occur during the implementation phase. (These become additional time interlocks between often quite different phases of implementation.)
  • Interim evaluation meetings that coincide with changes to the work of a collaboration (Again, these become additional interlocks between one phase of implementation and another.)
  • Final evaluation meetings and announcements and presentations/publications of reports re. evaluation findings.
  • Post collaboration meetings that seek to safeguard legacy by ensuring achievements are adopted and adapted more widely and within mainstream practice and institutions.          
The above will range from being high profile within a collaboration to being high profile publicly. This high profile nature, together with the increased scrutiny that accompanies it, can lead to the previously mentioned mix of time perceptions and preferences and time speeds (and any tensions and conflicts they create) becoming more clearly apparent than during a collaboration's routine activity and progress.      

If (through exploration and discussion) these time perceptions and preferences and time speeds have been identified and managed well during the everyday work and progress of the collaboration, it is likely the above time interlocks will act as catalysts that help the collaboration grow and transform into something even more relevant and effective than previously thought possible.

But if these time perceptions and preferences and time speeds have not been identified and managed well, it is likely the above time interlocks will act as anticatalysts that stall progress and cause the collaboration to regress into something less relevant and effective than expected. 

Indeed, in the worst of cases, the time interlocks can become the sites of intense time battles: battlefields where conflicts between differing time perceptions and preferences and between differing time speeds will play themselves out in a chaotically injurious way and result in winners and losers.

The winners will impose their will upon the collaboration: activity may speed-up or slow down; immediate results may take precedence over long-term innovation (or vice versa); maybe past or even future achievements will be promoted as the collaboration's potential 'legacy objects' (and it will be these that the collaboration seeks to promote and develop and have adopted and adapted within the mainstream of established institutional and societal practice).

Meanwhile, the embittered losers of the time wars will not fade away. They will still be very active within the timelines of the collaboration and seek to reset its history and/or change its future by conducting guerrilla time warfare against the ruling 'Time Lords'.
This will power an absurd 'warping of times' within which people use the same evidence as proof of incompetence or competence (dependent upon their beliefs and motivations).

Losers of the past times will persist in travelling back to and focusing upon past times and agreements that support their causes and motives. Original agreements that were changed because of new demands and pressures will be held up as sacrosanct and unchangeable moments in time that should retake their rightful place upon the present and future timelines flowing through the collaboration and its work.

The losers of past times will construct an alternative view of the collaboration's much vaunted future legacy objects, presenting them as irrelevant and worthless white elephants even before they are made reality.   

Losers of the future times will do similar in reverse. They will focus on the future to expunge unwanted aspects of the past. They will focus upon future times and potential new agreements that support their causes and motives. New demands and pressures will be unequivocally emphasised as reasons to dispense with and replace old inflexible agreements that should no longer influence the present and future timelines flowing through the collaboration and its work.

Losers of future times will construct and present an alternative view of the collaboration's much vaunted past legacy objects, presenting them as irrelevant and worthless white elephants that should never have been made reality (and which, consequently, must be urgently demolished and replaced).
The above time rebels will seek to gather partners and other allies who support their cause and who would normally and naturally be separated by the flow of time. The combined presence and cries of these allies will add credibility to the anti-establishment view of the collaboration's achievements and potential.  

The rebels will present risky and crucial moments in the past or future development of a collaboration as actual or potential 'panic points' where bad decisions were or could be made (and where those who made or will make them did or could do more harm than good). 

So, what happens during time interlocks has the potential to transform adequacy into excellence and average into outstanding. It also has the potential to turn tension into conflict and, on occasion, conflict into war: it can lift the collaboration to another level of mutual support and effectiveness -- or plunge it deep into internecine conflict.

A collaboration can increase its chances of realising the above positive outcomes by continuously working to identify and manage the mix of partners' time preferences and perceptions and creating a shared sense of 'collaborative or partnership time' that all involved are comfortable with and willing to maintain. This has been explored in previous posts herehere and here. 

In addition, a collaboration can increase its ability to identify crucial time interlocks and plan their approach to and through them by creating an 'interlock map': a map that not only identifies the key time interlocks but also places them in time and space (what they will be and when and where they will happen).
The project plan will be the foundation and starting point for creating a map of a collaboration's time interlocks. The plan will identify key activities and milestones and their order and timing. It will also identify dependencies: activities that have to be done and milestones that have to be passed before additional activities can be started and further milestones reached.
To create an interlock map, collaborations need only do the following four things:
  1. Identify (from the project plan) the activities, milestones and dependencies that are most likely to coincide with transitions between the previously described stages of a collaboration's development. (These will be the sites of a collaboration's time interlocks.)
  2. Identify, as specifically as possible, the most probable form and nature of the events that will function as interlocks. Will they be announcements? If so, what kind of announcements will they be (e.g., face to face, through the press, online, a mixture of different kinds)? Will they be meetings and/or presentations? If so, what kind of meetings and/or presentations will they be (formal or informal, public or private, etc.)? Will they take the form of other events (e.g., launch events, conferences, workshops, training days, etc.)? Again, what kind of events will they be?          
  3. Focus upon and carefully plan for these time interlocks. Identify who will be (or should be) affected by and/or involved in the time interlocks and what has been done to manage these people's perceptions of the collaboration and their preferences for how it does its work (including their perceptions and preferences about time's passing and use). Identify what else could be done to ensure that passing through the time interlocks will lead to positive outcomes. Make sure that an interlock's form, feel and style are appropriate to its purpose and the needs and interests of those affected by and/or involved in it.       
  4. Regularly review and revise the time interlocks you have identified. Add or remove (or alter the timing, placement and form) of the time interlocks in response to changing pressures and demands, etc. Pay particular attention to changes and interim evaluations that occur during the implementation phase of a collaboration's work
Probably the simplest and most straightforward way to create an interlock map is to add it as an overlay or supplement to the project plan (with a summary of the key points incorporated into the Gantt chart).

The importance of carefully planning one's approach to the events that act as interlocks between a collaboration's stages of development is illustrated by the following examples:
  • Canadian collaboration working to enhance the way police dealt with those living with mental illness sought to move effectively from informal contacts and discussions to clear understandings (which would, in turn, quickly lead to information sharing and joint planning). It did this by focusing upon and carefully preparing for its first major collaborative interlock: a three-day conference which brought together 320 participants representing the police, those living with mental illness and those who supported them. Careful thought was given to the purpose and approach of this conference. Crucially, the leaders of the collaboration ensured that the discussions and information sharing begun at the conference would keep going via a virtual space that could be accessed by all interested parties. This fused the conference interlock to the collaboration's next stage of development, consolidating the transition from informal contacts and discussions towards clear understandings (which quickly led to joint planning).
  • A carefully timed and thought through interlock served a similar purpose in bringing together the bitterly opposed sides in the long-running conflict in Northern Ireland, UK. In the late 1990s Mo Mowlem, the then Northern Ireland Secretary, attended some carefully timed and stage-managed meetings with Loyalist and IRA prisoners at the Maze Prison. These meetings were controversial at the time, but they moved cooperation between the parties involved from informal 'off the record' discussions (and disagreements) towards 'on the record' understandings (and the potential for agreements). They started the process that eventually led to the Good Friday Agreement and two decades of peace in Northern Ireland.
  • The creation of an Australian Bill of Rights provides an example of an interlock that moved a collaboration from the planning stage to the expanding (and beyond this the implementing) stage. The interlock was in the form of a 'call for contributions'. Careful thought was given to the mode and manner of this call and the decision was made to do it online using the 'wiki' approach. This approach to the 'call for contributions' interlock was particularly effective because it not only ensured the collaboration expanded, gaining contributors from across the Australian population, but also increased the chances of creating a 'legacy of rights' that would become part of mainstream society's expectations. An additional and significant factor in the effectiveness of this 'call interlock' was its careful division into two parts: the first was a call to the general public for contributions; the second was a call to the legal profession to clean-up the contributions and make them legally compliant. This helped ensure the quality, credibility and sustainability of the Bill of Rights that was produced.
  • The collaborative effort that created the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq progressed successfully from the planning stage to expanding its membership and then performing by paying detailed attention to its 'audition process interlock'. This process was carried out using YouTube, which helped increase access to the auditions. Eventually, these auditions were independently assessed and made available for public viewing. This supported the NYOI's aspiration of being as open and transparent as possible in its dealings with musicians and others wanting to support and become involved in its work. The audition process was also carefully monitored so that if anything did go wrong it could be dealt with quickly. This was invaluable when some unsuccessful applicants did not receive their rejection letters because of incorrect email addresses: email addresses were quickly checked and a courteous and beautifully worded rejection letter was sent to those who needed it.
  • A collaboration that helped Columbian coffee growers enhance the quality of their lives through improving their farming and business approaches ensured that the training provided to coffee growers and their families became an effective interlock between planning and implementing. The training not only provided the knowledge and skills people needed to participate fully in the collaboration's work but also, because of its informal and family focused approach, ensured that women and children became influential in how and when this work was done. This achieved two important and interlinked things: 1. it ensured that vital knowledge, skills and experience were shared as widely as possible within communities; 2. it ensured (through the involvement of children) that vital knowledge, skills and experience were carried into future generations. These two things, through enhancing the sustainability of the results and benefits achieved (embedding them deeply into many people's everyday and future lives), ensured the collaboration's legacy.

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