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Collaborative Practice & Achievement of Social Justice
Throughout our entire life, we often find ourselves working together with other people to help us achieve certain goals. These goals may be of personal value to us or we may have the intention of helping others to achieve their goals, or even to achieve mutual goals collectively. We could define collaboration as just this. Collaboration is arguably a very important aspect when working in professional contexts but is it always the most effective way of progression? What advantages can collaborative practice bring about and also, what disadvantages may arise when working collaboratively, if any at all? We also need to determine the skills required to work collaboratively and how group relationships can affect collaborative practice. I would like to discuss my experience working collaboratively with people from other professions and evaluate the effectiveness of such an approach. We also need to consider the contribution of Primary Education, Social Work and Community Learning and Development to the achievement of social justice outcomes.
Firstly, I would like to consider why we actually work collaboratively to begin with. Throughout our school years and as we grow older, we are constantly reminded about the importance of independence and the idea that we should "learn to do things ourselves for a change". Some people will agree with this, others won't. In my opinion, it is not entirely the best perspective. Those who agree that independence is crucial may believe so, as it indicates a sense of maturity. Conflicts between group members may also occur when working collaboratively and we will discuss this shortly. But why, when we are surrounded by people every day, should we learn to do things on our own when we can succeed and progress faster through interdependence and collaboration? In certain circumstances, we must admit that we have reached our limit and seek the advice and assistance of others. This is particularly true in professional contexts as a person from one profession may not have the same knowledge about a topic as someone from another profession. We work collaboratively so that everyone can be represented to as high as an extent as possible and also to ensure that mutual goals are met and we reach the best solution possible. An effective way to sum up why we work collaboratively is the fact that 'almost anything is, in principle, possible through collaboration because you are not limited by your own resources and expertise' (Huxham and Vangen, 2005). This brings us to the next point to consider which is to determine whether or not collaborative practice is always an effective way to achieve goals. To do this, I will discuss the collaborative practices that formed the focus of our learning circle investigation and also consider the contribution of Primary Education, Social Work and Community Learning and Development to the achievement of social justice outcomes.
Our learning circle task was to select an area of social justice and investigate the contribution of Primary Education, Social Work and Community Learning and Development through collaborative practice to the achievement of social justice outcomes. We immediately noticed that there would be barriers to break. Tjosvold (1991b) suggests that, in order for a group to become effective, members must constructively resolve the conflicts of interests which arise between each other. Further to this, he suggested that 'groups can either be conflict negative or conflict positive'. This is quite clearly my experience whilst working in my learning circle. Although the conflicts were minor and subtle, they did exist and this was the first barrier we had to break and the first example of a disadvantage of collaborative practice. Conflicts will always arise within groups and if not resolved, they can slow group progress dramatically. Thankfully within our group, progress continued despite the conflicts; however, it was a realisation of mine that prior to starting our investigation, we should have appointed group roles to ensure that everyone had a clear idea of what was expected from them. This would have included appointing a co-ordinator to lead the group who, according to Brilhart and Galanes (1998), should 'exert a positive influence on the group to achieve the group goal'. As this is something we were missing, we lacked an affective group structure and therefore collaboration brought about certain challenges along the way. Through completing our task, we had a clearer understanding about how the three different professions worked collaboratively when aiming to achieve social justice outcomes. We realised that certain professions seemed to contribute to a higher extent than others when working to achieve social justice outcomes; however, this is possibly due to beaurocracy and legislation which prevents certain professions from taking a major role in the resolution of such issues. This often leads to 'conflict between the community educator and the head teacher', for example, because of their 'differing purposes' (Tett 2006). We understood that, although certain professions have a lesser role when dealing with specific issues, they would treasure the opportunity to do so in the future.
From this we can conclude that collaboration is unavoidable by the majority of those working to achieve goals, especially those who aim to achieve goals that will affect other people. There can be both advantages and disadvantages to working collaboratively and these are determined by the structure of the group. There is much controversy around whether collaborative practice is more effective than independence and the implication of this is likely to be due to the fact that everyone's abilities are different; however, in order for us to satisfy the needs of the majority, collaboration is essentially vital to ensuring this. Completing our learning circle task highlights the many difficulties faced when working collaboratively but it also emphasises just how important collaborative practice is when the work we do involves potentially affecting the lives and wellbeing of our participants and in addition, we can conclude that it is vital when aiming to achieve social justice outcomes.
- Brilhart, J. and Galanes, G. (1998) Group Discussion (9th edn). Boston: McGraw-Hill.
- Huxham, C. And Vangen, S. (2005) Managing to Collaborate. London: Routledge.
- Tett, L. (2006) Community Education, Lifelong Learning & Social Inclusion (2nd edn). Edinburgh: Dunedin Academic Press.
- Tjosvold, D. (1991b) The conflict-positive organisation. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley.