Cooperation or collaboration : what differences ?

Card's author : Outils-réseaux
Card's type of licence : Creative Commons BY-SA
Description : Between cooperation and collaboration, the difference is finely shaded.
F. Henri and K. Lundgren-Cayrol analyse in a very clear way the difference between these two notions.
The following presentation resume widely this analysis.

The first difference : how is the work shared?

Generally, collaborative and cooperative groups work together on a common or shared purpose.
The difference is very much visible in the way the work is shared :

By cooperating


The group is divided in specialized teams which take over part of the tasks. Members of each team have specific responsibilities. The set is achieved only when all members have done their part of the work.

The first difference : how is the work shared?

By collaborating


Members of the group work on a common purpose. But each, individually, tries to reach by himself the consensual purpose. Two productions occur in parallel : a collective production and the individual productions of each participant.

Other differences

From this way of doing the common task ensue other differences :
  • Groups maturity
  • Interactions between people
  • The way to consider the purpose

Groups maturity

  • The cooperative approach is more structured and framing. The manager organizes and "checks" the work. That kind of work suits better the "child group";
  • The collaborative approach is more flexible and members of the group have more freedom. It suits the "adult group".

image maturite_groupe.png

The cooperative approach can be seen as a method of initiation and preparation to true collaboration.

Interactions between people

Interactions between members of the group play a major role.
  • by cooperating, the complementarity of tasks creates a feeling of mutual dependence, interactions are therefore very strong but "hierarchized"
  • by collaborating, pooling of ideas prevails, interactions are rather associative, they are then richer and more intense.

The way to consider the purpose

Why are we working together?

image coop (5.6kB)

By cooperating, each member is responsible for an action or an under-task. The purpose is a collective production, the group reaches a purpose as an entity.
image coll.png (5.6kB)

In collaborative approaches, each one uses all the resources within the group.

In conclusion

These two notions are not "stabilized" yet even though we agree that collaboration involves a more democratic process: relations are more egalitarian.

Cultural filters are strong and in both cases they may have a "negative" connotation :
  • "collaborate" sends back to the dark days of World War II,
  • "cooperating" associates with abusive policies of rich African countries

In reality the difference between these two ways of doing is not as clear-cut: we swap easily from one approach to the other