Collaboration: Really Letting Go

A question a lot of us at Penn State struggle with is how to get buy-in from partners to work with us on our projects. I don’t have any magic bullets, but I do have an interesting insight.

In Jan 2009, I became president of our local chapter of the Embroiders’ Guild of America (yeah for me). This is an all-volunteer group, so if I don’t get buy-in…nothing is happening. For various reasons, I was concerned with a sense of lassitude in the group. Membership had dropped, we hadn’t held any community events in a while or even brought in an outside instructor. It’s hard to stay motivated if you’re not sure buying thread online is a good idea because of the economy. So I really wanted to invigorate the chapter if I could…but how?

As you can imagine, I did come up with a list of ideas, but ironically the best ideas had nothing to do with me. Soon after I became president, a group proposed a workshop in a technique I was not too fond of with someone I was not sure about. But…I could tell that there was a core group of the membership who really wanted this. So I initiated a workshop exploratory committee.

As you may have guessed, we did hold a workshop and it worked out well. Not only did a lot of people attend, but a lot of the group helped in the organization. We got some really good ideas about where to hold it, how to get funding, what to feed people during and where to eat dinner afterwards (one of the few original ideas I actually had). It was a lot of fun…and we’re already planning another one (started by someone else).

My lesson was that the collaboration may be more important than the idea. We do have lots of great ideas here at ETS like Media Commons, e-Portfolios and the Educational Gaming Commons, but so do a lot of other folks. Some of our best and most beloved projects have come from suggestions/demands from the “people”. For instance, I remember a time when instructors were doing blogs with “extralegal” platforms. We really needed the Blogs at Penn State project to catch up with them, but ETS has made it so much better.

There are lots of ways we can get “our” projects done and that can be a good thing, especially if we want to demonstrate how technology can be transformative (seeing IS believing). But, if we really want partnerships, maybe we need to figure out ways for our partners to tell us what they want. Who knows what they might come up with?

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