Collaborating: Not as easy as it seems

21 May 2015

You might recognise this: you have a great idea and you are looking for partners to implement your ideas. It seems to go well, but at the end of the day, the whole idea is not executed like you had in mind. This does not have to be a problem, because projects evolve and ideas change along the way. Working with other people can increase creativity and bring fresh ideas to the table, the others can ask questions that make you think and perhaps makes you decide to adjust your idea a bit.

But what if it doesn't work out? That you have a great idea, put it on paper, apply for funding and a couple of months later you find out that the original idea has disappeared and that the partners you found do not stick to the agreements? Sometimes that is not a problem, but it can be when your project is depending on funding and you agreed on a certain output. Will you loose (part of) your funding? Do you tell the partner you do not want to work them anymore because they are not sticking to the agreement? Do you get upset or shrug your shoulders and go with the flow?

It is a challenge and at the Manage Your Art office, we have been talking about this on Monday. How can you avoid the gap? What to do when you see things are going wrong? We did not find a solution, but decided we should do some research. We think it is all about ownership; you think about something and design a project, apply for funding and find partners. You are in charge, because it is YOUR idea and you have the bag of money. You have a couple of meetings with the partner(s) and discuss shared objectives (SMART of course!), what the output should be, how to achieve the results and what should be reported. You agree that the project is based on an equal partnership as you want the partners to have creative input. But is that possible? Can it be equal when one party is the 'owner' of the idea and when that same party is in charge of the money?

Can you have shared ownership if one party is the creator of the concept and in control of the money?

We d not have the answer, but decided to start looking into this. We are going to do research about partnerships & ownership. First we will look into theories about stakeholders, collaboration, cross-cultural management (for European-African projects), franchise models and of course mission/vision & strategies/policies.

That will lead us to the research objective: What are the wishes and needs of the partners? We want to do interviews; be open minded and listen to what the partners have to say. What they want; how they want it executed; what role they want to play; how the money is divided; who is responsible for what; creative freedom & input, etc. We will make a topic list for the (semi-structured) interviews based on the theories and then hopefully we get some more insight in how we can have shared commitment and shared ownership. We start with 2 concrete projects to make it specific, but hopefully we find results that are relevant for other projects as well. For me, one of my personal learning objectives will play a big part in all this; to be curious and approach everything and everyone with an open mind through asking open questions and not judging people but listening to the ideas of others.