Sunday, 15 August 2010



I have been dipping into a book by Chris Huxham and Siv Vangen, called Managing to collaborate: the theory and practice of collaborative advantage.

No frothy airport-bookstore 'management' book, this. Its authors are from Strathclyde Institute of Management Research and the Open University's Business school. This is a stiff academic read (hence my 'dipping' – most reprehensible). The book seems to have been quite well received.

Chapter 3 is called 'The principles of the theory of collaborative advantage'. In it, Box 3.1 on page 37 summarises some cardinal points:

Top tips for collaborating
Use these with care!
They are intended to provoke thought
Only the first and the last should be taken as absolute truth
1.  Don't do it unless you have to! Joint working with other organisations is inherently difficult and resource-consuming. Unless you can see THE POTENTIAL for real collaborative advantage (that you can achieve something readily worthwhile that you couldn't otherwise achieve, it's more efficient to do it on your own)
10.Assume that you cannot be wholly in control and that partners and environment will be continually changing. Then, with energy. commitment, skill and continual nurturng, you can achieve collaborative advantage

What can I say? Several things...


'Partnership' is one of my personal aversions, the kind of fuzzy, ingratiating word that has me reaching for my pistol – or, since I do not have one, at least taking my custom, my confidence and/or my credulity immediately elsewhere:

Meaning and sense

This word usually seems to mean (or veil) 'in a contractual relationship with' or in the case of one-time public services 'privatised/or and contracted-out'. Its sense is that the arrangement referred to should be seen as unquestionably and inherently a good thing, in the best of all possible world. In other words, it impats a gloss of moral virtue.


The services in which Conductive Eduction finds itself embedded in the United Kingdom (and possibly elsewhere as well) are awash with 'partnerships', the word being invoked time and time again to denote and dignify desperate, enforced arrangements to meet shortages of relevant skills and sufficient money to deliver proper services – and at the same time a wonderful blame-sharing, job-preserving mechanism,

Its basis seems that, if one 'profession' or organisation is not up to a job, then cahoots with another, equally unfit-for-purpose 'discipline' or outfit ought to stand a better chance of getting the given job done. At the level of individual workers this has offered 'multidisciplinary practice'. Now this is increasingly giving way to 'multi-agency working'. Such elaboration, at both levels, tends to involve an ever-swelling panoply of 'communication'

Top tips

Of the 'top tips' from Huxham and Vangen, if you absolutely have no choice but to give partnership a try (item1), items 2-9 offer specifics that just might help tour actually making it to working as in item 10.

Oh dear, what a terrible contradiction we can face as social beings.

Best tip for Conductive Education
  • 'Don't do it unless you have to!' (item 1)
  • You might find that you are no longer in control of your own specific activities (never mind your destiny), and that between you and your 'partners' there just isn't the 'energy. commitment, skill and continual....' required to achieve the intended collaborative advantage (item 10).
Good luck...!


Nothing new in top tip no1, of course. As is often the case, the underlying truth is stated more tersely and more vividly through a work of creative expression:

Down to Gehenna, or up to the Throne,
He travels fastest who travels alone
(R. Kipling)

Goodies and baddies

Gehenna? Hell? Yes, of course. These tips may be a matter for legitimate business and public administration but they surely apply equally to less legitimate businesses too, like the Mafia and drug cartels. And to conspiracies of every kind, including conspiracies against the laity.

Best advice for staying clean –

'Don't do it unless you have to! (Huxham and Vangan, 2007, p. 37)


Huxham, C., Vangen, S. (2007) Managing to collaborate: the theory and practice of collaborative advantage, NY and London, Routledge


  1. Andrew,

    There have been a number of times over the past 17 years as a self-employed conductor when I have been very tempted, for various reasons, by offers of different kinds to not go it alone.

    How glad I am that even in this time of crunching, but probably not on toast anymore, that I am still going it alone. I will keep resisting the offers and remember the tip from this book: not to do it unless I really have to.

    I know it is not quite the same being a one man band as it is being a centre or a school but I still have to weigh up the same arguments before I make such a decision.

    Thanks for reminding me how to "stay clean"


  2. My experience with partnerships is totally different, and partnerships are my default option as I truly believe in its advantages. Tsad Kadima is based on a partnership between parents and professionals, and this partnership is the essence of its existence and the secret of its success. Neither parties could be as effective as the fusion between the two. The reciprocity of influences within and between became the general cause for TK's development.

  3. I forget who said that the first rule of Partnership was to be careful in your choice of partner.

    On the other hand, I do remember a book on the game of Bridge, with a cartoon of four players around a Bridge table, underneath which one was kicking the opposite player's leg. The caption read "Rule 1: Remember to kick your partner before your partner kick's you."

    Never mind partnership, why enter into any enterprise at all? As I read Mike Chitty's reflections (, I couldn't help but substitute "charity" or "CE venture" for enterprise! Have a look at Mike's take on it all. It might amuse.

  4. Rony, we must be careful not to disagree over words while agreeing on substance.

    What you describe as a 'fusion' is, from my outside observation pivotal to the enviable success of TsK (and its lack has contributed to the realtive failure of many other CE initiatives). Fusion, by its very nature, creates a unity, and partnerships, by their own very nature, do not.

    On my Facebook page I have posed myself a question about the apparent contradiction between my deep suspicion of 'partnerships' and my equally deep yearning for greater recourse to the social is all aspects of human activity (I did not write all that on Facebook but that I what I meant!):!/profile.php?id=1540593482

    'Fusion' as I think you mean it here is something rather different from what is generally meant, in British English anyway, by 'partnership' (and of a higher order too?)

    My feeling has been that 'partnerships' as I have met them (and as the above book rather advises against) are founded on the wrong sort of model, incorporating as it does within it a goal of continuing separateness that has to be 'managed'.

    Bringing them together, joining, fusing the components resolves the contradiction. As you and your associates often express it, TsK comprises something new, a new kind of entity within institutional CE: a family. (And it does not escape my notice that a good old Latin word for the bringing together is 'conductio'!)

    My only point of disagreement with you is to urge that you do not sell yourself short by downplaying what you do, by calling it 'partnership'. TsK is of a higher order.


  5. Norman, 'It might amuse,' you wrote above. It does, in a wistful sort of way. Unfortunately, one is in no position to see the joke until well after having volunteered!

    All very true, of course, and yes, there's no right way, and no wrong way, and isn't it good that some people are daft enough to give it a go, and then make a go of it.

    I suppose that my only message to this daft bunch (not that any of them needs any advice from me) is 'Don't find ways of making it harder for yourself'. This includes avoiding the Siren call of partnership. Try on the other hand to find every way to make it easier. This is where TsK's model (not partnership in 'our' sense of the word but a new entity) might come in.


  6. This topic is also being considered on Norman Perrin's Paces blog: