Collaboration requires collaborators. Restating my ‘mutual benefit’ principle

Peter Moreira writes in his Progress magazine piece:

“The star of the recent 4Front Atlantic conference was undoubtedly Dominic Barton, the managing director of global management-consulting firm McKinsey & Company, who endeared himself to the audience by challenging Atlantic Canada’s universities to attract 20,000 foreign students.”

I just talked with someone last week who has been trying to get New Brunswick universities to work together to attract foreign students and there has been zero traction.  Imagine all of Atlantic Canada.

The problem with collaboration is that it requires collaborators.   That requires perceived mutually beneficial outcomes.  If the region’s universities got together and developed a joint strategy to promote the region to foreign students it’s not a big leap to see how that cooperation could be beneficial.  Collectively, each of these universities along with the government funding for leverage, likely spend several million dollars per year on efforts to recruit foreign students.

The problem is that UPEI would worry that Dalhousie would get more benefit than it would and STU would worry about MTA which would fret about Acadia.

You might argue that foreign students is not a good example of potential collaboration but it is a metaphor for broader regional cooperation.

4Front was partially about building a regional brand but that also requires willing collaborators which requires the expectation of mutually beneficial outcomes.

Remember the Gladwellism:

One person is given $200 and told he had to give some of the money to the other person but neither will receive any of the money unless the other person accepts the deal.    The second person is told the first person has $200 (without the first person knowing).  The second person – from a purely rationale utilitarian position would be better off with $1.00 out of the $200 and should accept any deal but the research shows the second person will screw both participants until the distribution is reasonably ‘fair’.  This turns out to be an amount approaching $100/each.

The lesson here is that I am willing to take a hit (i.e. lose some money $10, $50, etc.) if I think you are being unfair.

This is how we will get over the regional collaboration barrier.  We will have to find ways to generate perceived mutually beneficial outcomes.

The idea of Atlantic Gateway mostly failed (as a regional initiative anyway) because it was perceived to be a ‘Halifax’ project.

People have asked me why British Columbia is moving full speed ahead with natural gas pipelines and LNG plants but nixing the gateway pipeline.  That is and obvious example of my mutually beneficial principle at work.  The BC government sees huge economic benefits from harvesting the natural gas in its shale beds and very little from Alberta’s oil pipeline.  Until the mutually beneficial principle is overcome, it may be a long time before that deal gets done.

2 thoughts on “Collaboration requires collaborators. Restating my ‘mutual benefit’ principle

  1. Universities are not interested in collaborating with each other. They are interested in collaboration with the government so as to individually get themselves more money. During your travels did you ever ask yourself why NB has 5 universities? This too me is a more important question. If they all sat together to collaborate people would very quickly realize that their is a tremendous amount of overlap between them and this is a very dangerous realization in an era of government austerity and cut backs…

    If the government gave them incentives ( I am not implying they should merely creating a scenario, the incentive already exists) to attract foreign students then they would. I would also argue that my Alma Mater, UNB Fred, does lots to attract foreign students and likely puts in more effort towards foreign students than they do local or national students…simply put those students generate more revenue…

    Revenue bring us to the nail on the head part of the story…their is tremendous overlap and overcapacity in the wrong areas in Atlantic Canadian Universities so why would UNB work with Dal or STU work with MA and on and on. They are not looking to better the lot of the group (a fictitious one at that) but rather the betterment of themselves…

  2. You’d think by now that the mutual benefit approach might have taken hold, but I do not see much evidence of it wrt to collaboration between cities, provinces, or universities.

    Our universities seem to exist in an alternate reality. Recent commentaries by the administrators at STU in regard to tuition caps illustrated that their ‘solution’ to their fiscal problems is for taxpayers to pony up. Absolutely no way are they going to even consider mergers or course rationalization with other Maritime universities, although enrolments are declining and MPHEC predicts greater declines in the future. One reason that the universities do not want to discuss re-alignments is that closing/merging a faculty or department might threaten tenure (in some cases at least the tenure guarantee goes away if the faculty is closed).

    I think an outside force (i.e. govt) needs to step in here. They are not going to fix themselves, anymore than NB is going to fix itself.

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