The RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) is an institution which has been around for 260 years. Their mission is to “create the conditions for the enlightened thinking and collaborative action needed to address today’s most pressing social challenges.” I was first introduced to their work five or six years ago when Sir Ken Robinson’s speech on Changing Education Paradigms was adapted using the now familiar whiteboard animation style. It’s worth a watch.

Matthew Taylor, the above gentlemen in the pinstripe suit, is the Chief Executive of the RSA. He is a prolific blogger, and his post on Collaboration: Oiling the System offers some insight into how collaboration can support schools and their students.

I really like his suggestion that effective collaboration must be clumsy. For Taylor, collaboration combines individualism, solidarity, and hierarchy. This draws on his Three Powers Theory which argues that “change can be pursued using hierarchical, individualistic or solidaristic means”; and that “often the most effective solutions find some way of combining these sources of power” and “that this is always difficult.”

Collaboration is purposeful, we do not collaborate for collaboration’s sake – it is to achieve a form of change, to find a solution to a problem. Collaboration is difficult. It is difficult because, as Taylor writes, if either of the three powers carries too much weight, collaboration is not the result. An overly hierarchical collaboration can become lifeless and rigidly bureaucratic, an overly solidaristic one is a “friendship,” and an overly individualistic one is a “deal.” Therefore, a Mistry-esque “fine balance” must be found between these competing powers to get the best solutions to the aforementioned problems.

In the school setting, we know that student involvement in setting learning goals is crucial to authentic engagement. How, then, do the concerned parties (teacher, parents, and student) clumsily collaborate to set the stage for student success? How do I encourage student feedback without being too friendly, rigid, or manipulative? How do we teach clumsy collaboration in a world that wants magic bullet solutions to incredibly intricate problems?

I don’t have the answer to these questions… yet. But if you want to get together to chat about it – I could, sort of, ummm, maybe make that work. Whoops – that’s awkward, not clumsy, Sean… I guess we’ll just have to learn how to be clumsy together.