I was reading through Eric Holdeman’s commentary about a new book (Collaborate or Perish – disclosure: Amazon.ca affiliate link) – though he, like me hasn’t read the full book – there is a Q&A with one of the authors and he knows the players.

Eric disagrees with many of the broad-brush statements raised in the Q&A (follow Eric’s blog to the Q&A). He then brings up a good approach that collaboration can only occur after trust has been established – at the individual and organization level. He is correct that establishing this trust takes time – a lot more time than one would think.

Eric’s point about old baggage isn’t lost on the work that I’m lucky enough to be doing with the MASAS team.  We’ve seen barriers fall down in front of us – between groups that we had assumed were working together. Groups that may even have been hostile in the past (baggage) are working together and establishing those critical individual and organization-level relationships. It took a while for us to realize why this is – but Eric’s point about a possible solution, is one that I would say is a mandatory – a “third party neutral party” must be involved.

To me the third party must be there – any system of collaboration that is hosted by a single entity, as good/great as that entity is – will be seen as “their system”. Some groups will join, but many will stand back and stay out for various reasons (past relationships, information ownership, and many others). Others will actively campaign against it either to put forward their own solution or to simply fight the idea.

What we have seen with MASAS is that information exchange will only begin after creating that neutral third-party that isn’t run by any one particular interest – this may be influenced and funded by groups, but it is its own entity with a mandate of neutrality. Further, it needs transparency in its operations and governance. Trust is a hard thing – it takes time to build and it builds slowly. So, to make things work you can’t rush it and you can’t skip steps.

Establishing situational awareness is tough. It gets tougher when multiple agencies are involved. The dynamic of what information is needed changes as each agency has its own focus and context. Adding a trust barrier makes it only harder. Working collaboratively requires that trust but being shown a “trust me – I’m big” type of system isn’t going to get us through that trust barrier.