A few tips from GSA on the art of collaboration

Collaboration is more than just people talking about a certain subject, GSA chief Martha Johnson says

PHILADELPHIA — Collaboration is much more than a crowd of people talking together about a subject, according to the administrator of the General Services Administration.

“Collaboration is a way of getting to an answer, of getting to a solution, not just networking,” GSA head Martha Johnson said today during a speech at the Management of Change conference here. The conference is hosted by the American Council for Technology/Industry Advisory Council.

Johnson many people misuse the word collaboration when actually they mean participation. Participation is people talking or brainstorming together about a topic. Participation may be about an issue with interested people who rank proposed ideas based on their merits. The public is engaged, but not like collaboration, she said.

“People think they’re collaborating because everybody’s talking,” which isn’t the case, Johnson said. Collaboration requires a few more elements to make it successful, she added.

Collaboration needs the crowd engaged and offering solutions to a particular problem they are trying to solve, like in participation, she said. It also needs a review board to scan through the proposals for fixing the problem, and it needs experts to recognize which solutions have promise.

Gathering together all these elements is tough for people today because it’s new to the community and it’s outside of its comfort zone, she said.

Collaboration fits into the puzzle of President Barack Obama's initiative to make an open government. It goes hand-in-hand with transparency and getting the public engaged.

Johnson said she's revved up about the opportunities for greater collaboration. "I think this is God's work," she said.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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