Ecosystems and Babylonia

Collaboration between parties with different assignments is always complicated. This is often attributed to conflicts of interest between partners which, especially when things get exciting, come to the surface. This is undoubtedly the case on a regular basis. However, this is not the only explanation why friction arises within partnerships. My thesis is that another, often underestimated, complicating factor has to do with the use of language. Often there is a lack of clarity about the expressions partners use when they try to forge a partnership. Because of this, the message one sends to each other is often abracadabra; in short, there is Babylonian confusion of speech.

Babylonian speech confusion occurs on a large scale in the world of ecosystems where parties, each with their own background and language, are looking for new partnerships. An illustration of this is the use of terms such as golden triangle, the triple helix or, even worse, the quadruple helix. Particularly popular expressions that are frequently used within all kinds of forums. Chances are that not everyone understands this in the same way. A more detailed description such as ‘government, business and education (possibly supplemented with citizens) at one table’ gives little insight into what is really meant and can therefore lead to different expectations. More objectionable is that the use of triple-helix-like terms can suggest that there is one common view of parties. Of course, every collaboration must be based on a common ambition. However, this should never obscure which (other) goals the individual parties pursue. “What’s in it for them” should never be lost sight of.

Ideally we avoid as many terms as possible that can lead to confusion. Unfortunately, these concealing words are difficult to eliminate. The solution? Dare to question each other on what exactly the other person means when such jargon is used. Furthermore, organizations from various European countries (for example in Denmark and the United Kingdom) offer training in the field of ecosystems and cluster development. An important bycatch of these training courses is that the participants assign the same meaning to words.

It is even more important, in addition to common ambitions, to explicitly state the expectations of the participating parties individually. After all, it is perfectly logical that everyone also pursues their own objectives in a consortium. Naming these at the outset prevents Babylonian speech confusion and frustration at a later stage.

Published on – 20/11/08

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