Functional collaboration is a new way of understanding and doing science. It is a cyclic process that is aligned with how we make progress. As such, by facilitating collaboration between specialists, it improves the prospects of making progress in any area of human endeavour.
Functional collaboration or functional specialisation was first discovered in 1965 by Canadian philosopher, theologian and economist, Bernard Lonergan.
As our knowledge of the world has expanded, science has dealt with its complexity by specialising. Taking its cues from Aristotle, disciplines have become the major form of specialisation. This poses major difficulties as our world is cut and spliced into disciplines and sub-disciplines. So, physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, sociology, theology etc. As a result holistic view of the world or even an issue within our world becomes increasingly difficult. It has become increasily difficult for disciplines to work together despite calls for inter-disciplinary, cross-disciplinary, trans-disciplinary research.
Rather than dividing up the world into disciplines, functional collaboration ‘distinguishes and separates successive stages in the process from data to results’. As successive parts of a single process, these specialties are functionally related to one another. They are functionally interdependent with earlier parts incomplete without the later and the later presupposing and complementing the earlier.
Such interdependence is of the greatest methodological interest. First, without any prejudice to unity, it divides and clarifies the process from data to results. Secondly, it provides an orderly link between field specialization, based on the division of data, and subject specialization, based on a classification of results. Thirdly, the unity of functional specialties will be found, I think, to overcome or, at least, counter-balance the endless divisions of field specialization. (Bernard Lonergan, Method in Theology p.126)
Functional collaboration distinguishes different methodological issues that must be addressed in any research and facilitates efficient collaboration among scientists with those operating at one stage dependent upon and building upon those operating at a prior stage, and then making a contribution to the next stage.
We can grasp both the unity of Functional Collaboration and the eight different stages that constitute this unity, by distinguishing and relating eight different types of questions we ask in going from where we are now to implementing something new, for example, the question, what is it, is a different type of question from, what is its purpose or how do we improve it. So, in the process of going from where we are now to implementing something new, we can distinguish and relate the following stages, each with different type of question. First we can broadly distinguish between two phases: learning from the past and looking to the future. Within these two phases, we can distinguish four types of questions (with examples based on social housing)
Learning from the past:
- an empirical question – what events associated with social housing are occurring in this time and place? How often and in association with what other events? (the functional speciality, Research)
- a definitional question – what is social housing? What are the elements and their relationships that constitute social housing? (the functional speciality, Interpretation)
- an historical question – what dynamic or vector has provoked ongoing change in an actual operating social housing system and moves it from one form to another form? (the functional speciality, History)
- an evaluative/critical question – what is the best dynamic of the past? What has been achieved? What are its limitations? Here we include a critique of power and, of self or group aggrandisement that has resulted in classism, racism, imperialism, sexism etc. How can the best of the past be integrated? (the functional speciality, Dialectic)
Looking to the future:
- a transformative/visionary question – who will I be (as a social housing researcher) or, who will we be (as social housing researchers or as a society)? What do we aspire to? (the functional speciality, Foundations)
- a policy question – what new dynamic or vector will best promote the future development of the current actual operating social housing system into future systems? (the functional speciality, Doctrines or Policies)
- a strategic question – what course of action will integrate this new dynamic or vector within the complex series of contexts – technological, economic, political and cultural – that constitute an actual operative social housing system? (the functional speciality, Systematics)
- a practical question – what practices/activities in this time and place will achieve a strategic course of action which will realise a new actual operative social housing system? (the functional speciality, Communications).