Functional collaboration post

"A cycle of functional specialties: a framework for collaborative creativity"

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 the Canadian philosopher, theologian and economist, Bernard Lonergan.

The image above symbolises the movement through the eight functional specialties: Research, Interpretation, History, Dialectic, Foundations, Policies, Systematics and Communications

Functional collaboration takes us from where we are now to implementing something new. It has its foundation in how we as human beings operate. By paying attention to the process we go through as we go from where we are now to implementing something new, we can distinguish eight linked but different stages in that process.

One way in which we can appropriate what we are doing is by first of all paying attention to and distinguishing the different types of questions that spontaneously arise in our thinking and then noting how some questions presuppose other questions. Each type of question anticipates a different type of answer. So, how often questions (such as, how many households in Australia own the dwelling they live in) differ from and can be distinguished from what-is-it questions (what is a dwelling) or purpose questions (what is the purpose of owner-occupied housing) or policy questions (is it worthwhile promoting owner-occupied housing). If we slowly work through the different types of questions we ask, we can distinguish eight types of questions, each of which underpins one stage in the process of going from where we are now to implementing something new. Four of these questions are concerned with the past, four with the future.

Past questions are:

  • Empirical questions (for example, What relevant and significant events have occurred (in time and place) in housing? How often and in association with what other events?)
  • Definitional questions (for example, What is housing? What are the significant, relevant and essential elements that together constitute housing?)
  • Historical questions (for example, What is going forward? What is the vector that has provoked ongoing change in housing?)
  • Evaluative/critical questions (for example, What is the best of our housing past as a pointer to the future?)

Future oriented questions are:

  • Transformative/visionary questions (for example, Who will I be as a researcher? Who will we be as a society?)
  • Policy questions (for example, What is the vector for the future development of housing?)
  • Strategic questions (for example, How can we integrate this vector or new housing policy within the complex series of systems that constitute an already operative housing system?)
  • Practical questions (for example, What events (practices/activities) in this time and place will realize a better operating housing system?)

If you want to explore Functional Collaboration further, you can find references to its application in a number of different areas, as well as references which discuss its significance for the future of humankind and the earth, on the Functional Collaboration resources page.

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  1. To deal with complexity, academia has divided up research among disciplines. This is made it almost impossible to develop an integrated view. The division of labour between disciplines is a dead end.
    Functional collaboration divides up the work functionally, according to one of eight stages. It maintains an integrated view of what is being researched. As such, it is omni-disciplinary.