Summary of "Collaborating: Finding Common Ground for Multiparty Problems"

Summary of

Collaborating: Finding Common Ground for Multiparty Problems

Barbara Gray

Summary written by Conflict Research Consortium Staff

Citation: Collaborating: Finding Common Ground for Multiparty Problems, Barbara Gray, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1989) 329 pp.

Collaborating will be of interest to those seeking to implement cooperative approaches to problem solving. This text will also be of interest to those who seek a better theoretical understanding of the collaborative approach to consensual decision making. This work presented in twelve chapters divided into four parts. It includes a foreword by Eric Twist, Professor Emeritus of the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. Part One discusses the need for collaboration. Part Two examines the dynamics of collaboration. Part Three suggests collaborative strategies for problem solving and conflict resolution. Part Four considers the difficulties in implementing collaborative strategies.

Part One, Chapter One, describes collaboration as a process by which stakeholders "actively seek a mutually determined solution" to their problem. The benefits of the collaborative approach are listed, and illustrated by a case study. Chapter Two argues that there is a general trend towards taking collaborative approaches to problem solving. It identifies six contextual incentives behind this trend, and describes their effects and interconnections. Again, case studies illustrate these claims.

Part Two, Chapter Three, describes the process by which collaboration among multiple parties unfolds. A three-phase model of the collaborative process is developed, and the tasks appropriate to each stage are described in detail. Chapter Four illustrates the implementation and successes of the collaborative approach with a comprehensive case study. Chapters Five and Six focus on the political dynamics associated with collaboration. Chapter Five examines three contrasting models of political behavior, and presents a collaborative model of power. Chapter Six uses the case of the National Coal Policy Project to illustrate the role of political dynamics in a large-scale collaborative effort. Chapter Seven considers the role of the mediator in fostering collaborative outcomes, and outlines the tasks of a mediator in the collaborative process.

Part Three, Chapter Eight, describes four general designs for collaboration, based on the motivating factors for, and expected outcomes of collaboration. This chapter describes the collaborative designs for solving shared problems. Chapter Nine describes the collaborative designs for conflict resolution. Chapter Nine contains an extensive treatment of regulatory negotiations and site-specific disputes dealing with environmental hazards.

Part Four, Chapter Ten, develops a theory of collaboration, drawing on organization theory, and negotiated order theory. Chapter Eleven assumes a more practical tone, focusing on overcoming obstacles to successful collaboration. This chapter identifies obstacles to collaboration, suggests strategies for overcoming such obstacles, and discusses those factors which indicate that collaboration is not the wisest course. Chapter twelve argues for adoption of a new generative metaphor, or framework, for guiding thought and action. "We need to switch from an image of individual sovereignty over a problem domain [to] one of shared stewardship." A more general adoption of such a perspective would facilitate collaborative processes, and hence enhance our ability to advance our shared visions and resolve conflicts.

Collaborating offers both a theoretic and practical introduction to the collaborative approach to problem solving and conflict resolution. It emphasizes cooperative, consensus generating procedures.