Capacity building

Cooperation is one of the sacred words in contemporary working life. It’s connected to networking but to a higher extent authentic, emotional, and human. Cooperation is definitely important, but at the same time difficult – I am sure you have been engaged in collaborations without substance or with bad results. Formulations on cooperation has occurred in job ads in Sweden for many decades, during the last years sometimes in combination with “personal drive” (a dissertation by Karin Helgesson: Platsannonsen i tiden/The Recruitment advertisement was published a few years ago).

So, what is needed to set up a good environment for professional cooperation? Of course you need structures open to collaborations. And one of the basic features is different models of contact areas, connecting competences, departments and individuals. But everyone used to collaborations in real life, knows that there is a personality dimension involved as well. To cooperate with some persons is just wasted time, the same individuals are over and over again involved in collaborations breaking down – groups marked by disharmony and blaming, but without trust and comfort, will never succeed.

How can we understand these conditions and personalities? Should we trust the psychologists? Well, I am not sure, but it is at least an option. A well-known psycho-biologic personality model is TCI, Temperament and Character Inventory (presented by Robert Cloninger in the 90’s).

Robert Cloninger

The model identifies four dimensions of temperament: Novelty seeking, Harm Avoidance, Reward Dependence, and Persistence. These traits are more or less inherited, and could be identified early in life. The character contains three dimensions:

Self-directedness

Cooperativeness

Self-transcendence

These dimensions are affected by socialization and culture, and are formed by the temperament dimensions, content in life and social conditions. All of the temperament and character dimensions are in one way or another involved in collaborations, but cooperativeness is of course of certain interest – to what extent does an individual identify with and accept others?

Cooperative people are tolerant, empathic, helpful, and compassionate, and a low degree of cooperativeness can, according to Cloninger, be found in all categories of personality disorders. Also self-directedness is definitely connected to collaboration; the dimension contains for example responsibility vs. blaming.

A combination of low cooperativeness and low self-directedness is a major obstacle for collaborations, and is, according to Cloninger, actually found in all types of personality disorders.

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According to one of the most referred studies, 53 percent of the work force in Sweden today will be replaced by digital tools in twenty years (research by Stefan Fölster). That’s a lot. Applications and software, instead of business administrators, industrial workers, assemblers, librarians and so on. The only professions left untouched, require originality, artistry or social skills – researchers, interaction designers, some groups of artists and educators, imams…

How should we handle this? Well, to put people in retirement is not an option, the only sustainable way forward is capacity building within organizations and companies. We need to develop learning organizations. New skills, new competencies, new knowledge.  

Cooperativeness is fundamental also within collegial learning and formative assessment, two widely practiced methods in educational settings. As we will see below, the methods certainly requires social skills. (For a comprehensive guide, check out the master – Dylan Wiliam.)

Dylan Wiliam

Collegial learning is a summarizing term for different kinds of capacity building, where colleagues by structured collaborations are gaining knowledge and skills. The method is focused on processes rather than problem-solving – a critical evaluation of your own and your colleagues work. Research has made clear, that individual capacity building is far less effective than collegial learning. To discuss and co-operate is definitely already common at schools and other workplaces today; but new studies highlight the importance of focus, systematics, and long-sightedness in the collegial discussion. The future’s working life is characterized by continues learning processes, which has to be implemented in the organizations and supported by the leaders. To establish this, a social environment of trust, openness, and curiosity is needed. 

Formative assessment is a development focused strategy. It puts the light on the teachers’ and the students’ ability to interpret and use information in order to take the next step in the learning process.

Goal. A clearly defined goal is usually preferable. But within professional capacity building, it is not always possible to articulate clear and unambiguous goals in advance; it is usually more adequate to recognize the goal as a horizon, to which the students can travel on several different roads. The role of the teacher is to make the horizon understandable. The horizon has to be challenging, to keep the motivation up.

Feedback. Feedback can be constructed in several ways. The process-related and the meta-cognitive strategies are highly recommended. Process-related feedback is aimed at the processes used to solve a problem, for example methods for information search or analysis. Meta-cognitive feedback is focused on the student’s ability to force herself, by for example self-evaluation or self-discipline, and to take the responsibility for the feedback. It is really important to get professional feedback – the role of the teacher is to create effective discussions and activities, making the process visible. The feedback should lead the students forward, not judge them. 

Self-evaluation. Meta-cognition is related to self-evaluation. The aim is to activate the students as owners of their own learning process. Self-evaluation is the student’s reflection on the quality of her own work, while self‐regulated learning is connected to the student’s command over her own learning. Students who have developed self-regulation and self-evaluation is more effective than students who have not. Teachers should probably spend more time on preparing these processes.

Peer learning. Peer learning is a way to activate students as resources for each other. The strategy has good effects on learning in several ways; the student discovers alternative ways of dealing with an exercise and is transformed from passive receiver to active transmitter.

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To sum up: Cooperativeness has been one of the most important features in modern working life, but it is a complicated issue, connected to the core character of the individual. The importance of social skills will probably increase in the future, and they are definitely already needed in the capacity building of organizations preparing for tomorrow. It is impossible to succeed in collegial learning and formative assessment without a certain level of cooperativeness.


Fredrik Sandblad || 2016-08-10