Before one can get too far discussing stigmergic collaboration, one will quickly find that defining the process of ‘collaboration’ is very slippery. In fact, very little cross-disciplinary research has been done towards investigating and understanding this process. What little research has taken place, has happened within the context of a particular discipline such as education, science, artificial intelligence etc. As a result, the outcomes often heavily reflect the interests of that particular discipline. - To date, there exists no 'general theory of collaboration'. Consequently, the definition of the process of collaboration has become a central issue for my research.
In an ordinary dictionary, one finds a definition along the lines of, ‘two or more people working together to achieve a common goal.’ This is very broad indicating that anything from a friendship, to a university, to a city or nation may qualify. In fact, upon further investigation, one may even begin to doubt whether or not this type of definition should be limited to humans — many other social creatures work together to achieve common goals in some way or another. However, based upon research into the many fields where the topic is discussed (and in order to keep my research focused) I’ve narrowed my own notions of a collaboration to:
The process of two or more people thinking, planning, deciding, working and acting together in order to create a shared emergent understanding, process and or outcome that reflects the interests and input of the total body of contributors.
The focus on an emergent shared understanding for me harbours much of the mystery and potential of this ubiquitous phenomenon, for in my opinion and experience, it is the emergent shared understanding that distinguishes collaboration from cooperation, and even provides a means to at least partially overcome the existential barrier of subjective experience.
For more on collaboration, and indeed to collaborate on the definition of collaboration, see the MetaCollab article on collaboration.
I will post on the darker side of collaboration’s etymological history soon…