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Non-Work Collaboration

framework research

An inquiry into development of interpersonal relationship towards collaboration



Collaboration has become extremely critical in this world of ever increasing specialization and increasingly global connections among people. The process leading up to collaboration and the development of collaborative relationships, however, has not yet been formalized as such.


This Framework is a formal approach to understand human interactions and allied components which lead to collaboration. It consists of five successive steps.



We believe this methodology will clarify and strengthen the iterative processes of designers, scholars and researchers, making it easier to decompose, dissect, study and design a broad class of solutions dealing with the processes involved in developing collaboration and the quality of collaboration. In addition, the framework has been looked at through the lens of a scenario and an existing application, thereby providing a basis for evaluation of the framework.








research, conceptualization


While there are many studies and frameworks to understand how the process of collaboration takes place, there is not much work that looks at development of relationships that can lead to collaboration. As Thomson et al have put it, the interactive process of Collaboration is least understood [1]. Also, a majority of the existing research focuses on structured collaboration in formal settings such as organizations and schools. Through this paper, we are looking at collaboration not as the main activity under scrutiny but as the end product of a series of interactions that take place between individuals.

We believe this framework will serve to give a comprehensive understanding of the steps necessary for the development of collaboration. It can be used to evaluate and analyze existing communication and collaboration platforms and tools. It can also be used as a model while designing new platforms and tools that cater to not just collaboration but also developing interpersonal relationships in general.

Stage 1: Discovery

The first stage is discovery. It involves a person getting to know about a stranger enough to initiate communication through a set of four sub-stages.



We define it as distinguishability of a person from the crowd. The visibility of individuals differs based on several characteristics. “Sociometric stars” – Individuals who stand out in a community are readily recognized by a high percentage of people

Some factors affecting Visibility are:

  • Frequency of appearance
  • Spatial proximity
  • Peculiar attributes or behavior of the Individual

  • Personal Biases
  • Environmental Factors
  • Reputation [3]


Motivation is any factor that will act as a stimulus for the person to initiate interaction. The possible motivators can be:

  • Attraction – can be physical, intellectual
  • Interest
  • Appreciation
  • Curiosity
  • Networking – a desire to meet new people to enhance your prospect
  • Work – when someone needs to get some work done

  • Help – when someone wants to help or needs help
  • Contextual (chance/serendipity/randomness) – when two people meet randomly and start interacting, say during a festival or a concert.
  • Shared association – Organization, language, location, ethnicity, Interest, Ideology, hobbies, etc.

Mutual Willingness

Mutual willingness can be defined as a willingness (tacit/ stated/ signaled understanding) between the persons involved to interact with each other. This consists of two aspects, first, the willingness of the person who is choosing to interact with the other

Second, perceived willingness of the other person(s) to interact.


  • Personality type
  • Availability of the person
  • Availability and affordance of the channel

  • Choice of the channel
  • Perceived matching / tolerance of values & beliefs
  • Trust

The above mentioned three sub-stages of Discovery relate to the persons involved. While the first three sub-stages are in sequence, the fourth sub-stage is a property of the environment and thus acts in parallel to the three.


Socio-cultural-spatial norms

Interactions can have different connotations based on pre-built socio-cultural-spatial norms which are generally understood by the persons involved. This common understanding also plays a role in mutual willingness of the persons to interact. Some of the factors affecting these norms are:

  • Social/organizational status
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Geographic location
  • Religion
  • Situation

  • Time of the day
  • Spaces of recreation
  • Spaces of transit
  • Spaces of interaction
  • Silent spaces

Stage 2: Communication

For an interaction to progress from discovery to communication the conditions for the four sub-stages of discovery need to be satisfied. The intensity of the individual sub-stages can differ based on the situation and lack of intensity of a certain stage can be compensated by other stages

Communication in this case is the initial interaction that the persons involved have with each other, it may be a face to face conversation or virtual interaction such as call, chat, email, etc.


  • Purpose of communication – transactional, conversational, etc.
  • Tone of communication – agreeable, argumentative, positive, etc
  • Channel of communication – email, in person, etc.

  • Style of communication – formal, casual
  • Level of comfort – easy, awkward, difficult
  • Level of involvement

Stage 3: Connection

Connection here means the mutual bond that is formed among the persons communicating with each other. This connection informs if and how frequently the persons involved may interact with each other then on.


  • Personal Biases
  • Channels of Communication
  • Mutual Resonance

  • Mutual acceptance
  • Mutual admiration
  • Perceived gain

Stage 4: Engagement

Engagement involves multiple instances of communication and formation and strengthening of connection. Because of this, every instance of engagement goes through the stages of motivation, mutual willingness, socio-cultural norms, communication and connection.

This stage can last from a very short duration to a very prolonged time and can take place over multiple channels. These can include face to face as well as virtual channels such as social media, email, phone, chat, etc.


  • Frequency of Communication
  • Channels of Communication
  • Responsiveness

  • Proximity
  • Approachability

There can be different levels of engagement between the individuals in increasing order of involvement:

  • Passive – ex: social media visibility, likes, comments
  • Active – Expecting a Response – ex: chatting, email, pokes

  • Activity based – ex: face to face meeting, shared activity

Stage 5: Collaboration

Collaboration involves at least an active level of engagement among people in order to work towards a common objective.

For collaboration to evolve from engagement stage, there needs to be a strong motivation as well as mutual willingness and observation of socio-cultural-spatial norms.

These factors do not relate to the effectiveness or the efficiency of collaboration.

Discussion and Future Scope

While a thorough analysis and validation of the framework is still due, based on the scenario and analysis of the application presented, it can be said that the framework lends itself well to multitude of scenarios and situations.

The framework is also helpful in understanding gaps in ideas and existing solutions to find new opportunity areas for intervention.

The future course of action would be to build a concrete model on how to facilitate the development of collaboration, experimentally testing and validating the model and to use the findings to develop solutions.

A scenario for testing the framework

John shares a lift to the 8th floor with many people in his organization every day

One day, he sees a person carrying a guitar case in the lift (Visibility). John is intrigued since he also plays the guitar. John notices him a few more times. He wants to know if he can jam in office (Motivation).

One day, John sees this person in the cafeteria (Socio-Cultural-Spatial Norms). He seems free at that moment (Mutual Willingness). So, John goes up to him and speaks with him (Communication), He finds out that Romel, is in the music club. Both share an interest in classic rock (Connection).

Over next few days, John & Romel talk several times (Engagement).

John then goes to one of the Jam sessions. He enjoys playing with the group and the company and becomes a member of the music group (Collaboration).

An application through the lens of the framework




  •    Friends of Friends
  •    Friend Suggestions
  •    Members of Groups


  •    Profiles of similar people

Mutual willingness:

  •    Add as Friend
  •    Chat Status Indicators

Socio-cultural-spatial norms:

  •    Censorship
  •    Closed Groups


  •    Poke, Like, Share, Comment
  •    Chat
  •    Audio/video calls


  •    Adding as friends
  •    Adding member to group
  •    Memories


  •    Chat
  •    Audio/video calls


  • Chat
  • Audio/video calls

  • Games with group interaction


  1. Thomson, A. M., Perry, J. L., & Miller, T. K. (2009). Conceptualizing and measuring collaboration.Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 19(1), 23–56. doi:10.1093/jopart/mum036
  2. Paulos, E., & Goodman, E. (2004, April). The Familiar Stranger: Anxiety, Comfort, and Play in Public Places. . Retrieved from http://www.paulos.net/papers/2004/Familiar%20Stranger%20(CHI%202004).pdf
  3. Hinds, P.J., Carley, K.M., Krackhardt, D., and Wholey, D. Choosing group members: Balancing similarity, competence and familiarity. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 81, 2 (2000), 226-251.

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