Collaborate and cooperate are two words with very similar meanings, and which tend to be used in different ways in English and in French. It is often very jarring for anglophones in Montreal to hear the phrase, “Thank you for your collaboration.” at the end of a public-service announcement. In Montreal, this usually means that you are trapped in a stalled metro (subway) system for an indeterminate length of time… but I digress.
In French, according to Larousse, collaboration (which is a feminine noun) is defined as action de collaborer, de participer à une œuvre avec d’autres; while coopérationis defined as action de coopérer, de participer à une œuvre commune.
In English, the Oxford dictionary tells us that collaboration is the action of working with someone to produce something; while cooperation is the action or process of working together to the same end.
I believe that a lot of the problems with translating these words, or rather using them correctly in English and in French, are based on the broad definition of the French word œuvre. In French, or at least in Québec, œuvre can be used for a task, as well as a thing. In English, we translate œuvre to be a work but not work.
In English, the difference between collaboration and cooperation is very distinct. When you work with someone on a thing, whether you are writing a book together, managing a project, or running a business – if both of you will have some ownership of this thing that you are doing, then you are collaborating, and it is a collaboration.
If you are helping someone to achieve some kind of goal, but you are not involved in the planning or managing of the task, or if it does not result in a finished thing, then you are cooperating.
So, in English, if you are asked to evacuate a building due to a fire alarm, you are cooperating. And they should thank you for your cooperation… not your collaboration.