Author: Karen Copeland
Lately I have been thinking about the differences between consultation and collaboration. We hear these words in education, health care, and other sectors – in fact, they really are buzz words when it comes to patient advocacy in the health system; and the education system in British Columbia even has it’s own guidelines for consultation here: Supporting Meaningful Consultation.
There are many ways that I have been involved in consultation over the years. When our son was in school, we might receive an “advance copy” of his Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to peruse before the meeting. I have reviewed and provided feedback on professional documents and committees, providing a parent lens and insight.
There are a few commonalities with some of these consultations. At times I felt my role in these situations to be quite small. In some cases, I wondered why I was even present at all as it did not seem like anyone was interested in hearing what I had to say. In others, I felt like as long as I said things that fit within the narrative being sought by the person or group, then I was valued; but as soon as I stepped outside that narrative I was tuned out. There was still a very clear power differential in the room. The experts were still the experts and I was but a voice being solicited as a means to ensure there had been consultation. It never seemed like there was enough time allocated to the process, the discussion felt like merely a formality.
And yet, in others, I felt valued through the entire process, like my voice mattered. Why such a difference?
I think this is where the distinction between consultation and collaboration comes into play.
Much of the work I do now is around collaboration – which for me, means working together to achieve a common goal or outcome. There is equality at the table and all voices are considered and respected in the decision making process. There is more than enough time allocated to the process and there is a mutual respect and regard for all individuals sitting at the table. Everyone takes an active role in action planning, capitalizing on each others’ knowledge and expertise. My name is recognized and listed as an integral member of the team. I become co-designer, co-author, co-creator. Yes, even on an IEP.
I started wondering, is there so much frustration because the word consultation means something different to everyone? When I am asked to consult I expect it to be like collaboration, and then when it does not I feel disappointed. It sometimes even seems as if the two words are used interchangeably which can add to the confusion.
I am curious, are we setting ourselves up for challenges because of a misunderstanding of what the process is to be? What are your thoughts?