Making Collaboration Transparent

Collaboration image

Hi, my name is Nicole and I’m “that guy” who’s always talking about collaboration. I am a self-proclaimed conversationalist and believe in genuine writing voice… so this may read a little less “professional academic” and a little more “this-is-where-I’m-at when excitedly-yelling about teaching and humanity.”

So–collaboration–the ethics of collaboration! In order to make collaboration ethical and equitable, we’ve come up with a framework for where we’re coming from and why. Collaboration has been heavily theorized and practiced in many spaces and disciplines, but for us in our space, we use: radical support, productive vulnerability, critical openness, and labor transparency.

We’ve found so far that these four dedications are required to have truly equitable and responsible collaboration. We also believe that collaboration across profession, discipline, roles (and subsequent powers from provided authority or privileges), histories, and lived experiences is essential but oftentimes overlooked or perpetuate oppressive structures. Because we want to and celebrate this kind of differential collaboration an intentional framework like ours must be outlined. It would be too easy for the white professional staff of our group to weigh their opinions above those of undergraduate counterparts because of the systems we’re constructed into without this intentional work, for example.

Radical Support

Beginning with a bold claim: support is radical. Radical support just takes everything a little bit further. We define radical support as constant, all-encompassing, advocacy that reinforces agency and amplifies all peoples and voices in relationships or groups. This support extends beyond traditional personal or professional spheres, acknowledging the way walls are built around certain spaces or experiences and works actively to break them down to support whole people. Our lives are shaped by experiences, hurdles, breakthroughs, and access… so are our jobs, writing, relationships. Not only acknowledging this but including it in the equation is radical.

Dedication to radical support–like all of our frameworks–takes practice, time, and reflective praxis; it requires vulnerability, emotional intelligence, and communication. Sometimes someone can offer minimal support because of where they are and other times they may be able to be very generous with support–radical support opens up these affordances. The dedication to constant support is not synonymous with consistent kinds of support, but leaning into the ebb and flow of everyone’s lives and removing guilt or reservation from asking for or accepting a variety of support; constant support knows that support is present always, even when it isn’t active help. Additionally, no one is owed or pays into this system, and that’s what could be the most radical: offering what you can when you can and receiving that support without contract or judgment.

Productive Vulnerability

An essential part of radical support is vulnerability. Similar to radical support, we’ve added descriptors to make more-transparent the goals of this work. Productive vulnerability is not a firehose of modernist stream-of-consciousness to sift through, it is being open to vulnerability and wielding emotional intelligence to know what parts of you or your life may be relevant to a given situation. The productive part helps us to gauge where we, our relationships, and understandings are with the places we want to go, and uniting everyone in the process of growth celebrating every little movement (including “backward”) in the process. It also means that if we “mess up” we feel comfortable admitting it then working as a group to resolve and learn.

When considering vulnerability, it can be defined most simply as exposure. Exposure of oneself can be uncomfortable, sure but it can also be dangerous, and the stakes in being vulnerable cannot be ignored. We argue that acknowledging the risk someone takes in being vulnerable helps to protect the person as well as strengthen relationships–it reminds the speaker that they are safe and the listener that they have a shared interest in people. Productive vulnerability also ideally gives agency to the speaker or sharer, because choosing to share redistributes power and creates a relationship of mutualism. The alternative to this kind of ideal, reciprocal vulnerability is when information or experiences are co-opted; end up being more of an “outing;” or are otherwise forced at a precarious time, place, or audience. We work carefully to ensure our collaboration does not require anyone to share any more than they want or need, but invites the option should a person take it–making room for choice disclosure is essential.

Productive vulnerability provides people with a meaningful, mutual outlet for sharing and processing on their terms toward both common and individual progress.

Critical Openness*

Section by Monica Brown

Critical openness is the ongoing commitment to envision and attempt alternative scholarly practices that further the process of knowledge decolonization. It juxtaposes the ongoing practices of scholarship that maintain hierarchy and one-way information sharing that is the historical legacy of the academy. It brings collaboration, researcher-researched proximity, and accountability together to devise methods for constructing knowledge that are not beholden to publishing companies, expectations of tenure, and the traditional models for understanding intellectual property.

Using critical openness in our work means that we work together to resist the habits and practices of an academic culture that makes knowledge creation and distribution exclusionary. It asks us to work in public ways (as we are doing here) and be accountable for the ways in which the knowledge we produce impacts the world. As such, critical openness is very much the practice of collaboration that occurs beyond the research or writer group–it is a collaboration with readers and researchers far beyond our walls and our ongoing obligations to work alongside and be responsive to those peoples. Critical openness de-incentivizes the monetization of intellectual work and allows for more-collaborative, more-open, and more-accountable praxis. This framework is essential to us because of the ways critical openness mirrors our collaborative practices and values.

Labor Transparency

More a dedication than a theoretical framework, labor transparency is all about being clear about who is doing what, when, how, and why. Certain work may be more taxing for some than others, or feel either destructive or empowering from person to person. Acknowledging what may be easier or harder for people and accommodating that is basic inclusive practice, and is essential for equitable collaboration because of the ways it shifts kinds of labor and histories into productive, meaningful work.

We strive to be transparent in all of our jobs, writing, work, and relationships so that the hidden, oppressive structures in society may be unveiled and challenged day-to-day. This plays out in how we work as a group, but also the ways we interact with other people and experts intentionally within a critical openness framework outlined above. We work to decolonize knowledge by citing experts and students and people without intent to take from, and being transparent with them about our goals. Then, within our group, by being clear about what labor is being done not just the actual labor of work but the invisible emotional labor are weighed equally in collaboration. Similarly to productive vulnerability, this does not mean that we are not constantly only talking extensively about our own lives or labors, but on the same page and embed ethical labor practices and transparency into the systems we set up our professional spaces and demands. Such ethical practices include, but are not limited to: careful attribution, checking in with one another honestly and redistributing work if needed, generally knowing how oppressive structures play out in society and setting up group membership so no one is set up to fail from the beginning (breaking work apart carefully, and rotating positions, etc).

What This Looks Like For Us

What all of these frameworks for our version of collaboration looks like for us: tears. I’m mostly kidding. Keyword: mostly. Back to the serious, though–these frameworks and differential collaboration we name is hard and rewarding. We end up in-tune with the people we’re working, writing, meeting, and hustling with. Victories are shared, conversations are loud, and failures are a redirection. Collaboration–and this critical, differential collaboration especially–is never done because new challenges, discussions, politics, or people will come and go and with these changing landscapes reflexive praxis must embedded.

Additionally, all of the frameworks work together to create this kind of on-going, radical collaboration. Radical support helps with labor transparency and productive vulnerability by acknowledging people and actively working to support them. Labor transparency and productive vulnerability are then often paired when making decisions–to be transparent, people have to know where you’re coming from, what you know, and what your limits may be, which is vulnerable but essentially productive.

Collaboration is not a place that you arrive at and end in. It is iterative and fulfilling and rooted in: social justice, equity and access, practical theory, and action. A theoretical framework helps no one if all members aren’t dedicated to working ideals into practice and maintaining accountability, so collaboration can be the action of working collectively toward progress, product, or goal.

Thank you

Thank you for journeying through this beginning rumination of our collaborative praxis and practice. I acknowledge that what we strive for is lofty and requires a great deal of day-to-day work and energy that can be risky or needs to be learned. Go forth and collaborate!

*Critical openness is a term we have more recently taken up, and is often (hopefully) attributed to Albornoz, D. [Right to Research Coalition] (2018, November 3). Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion . Retrieved from

1 Comment

  1. I am inspired and challenged by your frameworks. Looking forward to attempting a dive into utilizing them in my daily functioning.


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