Perception of Fairness in Design Collaboration

I&E Team

We consider the link between fairness and collaboration success

Theme: Systems, Services and Design

Dates: 2011-2013 (continuing beyond ISC)

Research Team: Andy Davies, Ileana Stigliani

Designing successful products and services requires extensive collaboration among project team members. Given the inherent ambiguity of the design process in complex projects, collaborative behaviours (e.g. knowledge sharing, information exchange, collective problem solving, expectations management, idea sharing, help giving and seeking) are crucial for fostering a climate of enriched team work and enhanced creativity, and for the effectiveness of a design project. Collaboration among team members also involves high levels of “at-stakeness”, transparency, synergies and personal interactions that might be jeopardised by situations (e.g. decisions, processes, and behaviours) perceived as unfair by team members.

Fairness, therefore, seems to be an important means through which team members engage in collaborative behaviours. Situations perceived as fair encourage collaborative efforts, while situations perceived as unfair encourage unproductive behaviours that may decrease the effective functioning of a team and reduce members’ efforts toward reaching collective goals to the detriment of the overall success of a project.

This research sought to improve our understanding of how perceptions of fairness influence collaborative processes and behaviours in projects. We began by considering the following questions:

  • What makes a collaborative process fair or unfair for the persons involved in it?
  • What are the main signals of a fair or unfair collaborative process?
  • How do people perceive the fairness of the collaborative process?
  • Where and under what conditions do collaborations produce more fairness complaints?
  • How do perceptions of fairness influence collaborative behaviours?
  • How do these behaviours affect the overall success of the collaboration?

The research was conducted in engineering and design consulting firms, constantly engaged in design projects requiring high levels of collaboration among the different stakeholders and parties involved. We used exploratory and in-depth interviews, key meeting observation and some archival data on the organisation’s culture and dynamic.

This research help us understand why some collaboration processes are more effective than others, and how carefully managing perceptions of fairness can have a positive impact on the effectiveness and success of collaborations.

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