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The Boundary Object as a Prescriptive Framework: Designing and evaluating science-based tools in cross-sectoral collaboration

Format: Papers, RSD12, Topic: Mapping & Modelling, Topic: Methods & Methodology

Anna Margolis and Fenna Blomsma

This paper proposes how the boundary object concept can be turned into a prescriptive framework that supports tool development for cross-sectoral collaboration (CSC). Cross-sectoral collaboration between actors from government, business, associations, civil society, and academia is necessary to address grand challenges, such as environmental sustainability and social justice. Boundary objects share the capacity to embody, visualise, or articulate aspects or dimensions of a topic across different communities of practice. That is, they are comprehensible to different actors and make accessible what would otherwise remain implicit. Therefore, boundary objects play a key role in cross-sectoral collaboration (CSC) as they support shared framing,  social learning, and coordination of action. 

However, boundary objects are usually researched in hindsight based on ethnographic or historical data. With that, CSC research fails to address the potential of the boundary object concept as a prescriptive framework that can help in implementing science-based interventions. This is problematic as many of today’s grand challenges are wicked problems—they are complex, uncertain, and contested. Science-based tools can help to address the issues of complexity, uncertainty, and contestation if they are properly translated into collaborative toolkits. To that end, it is important for impact scholars to include the design and evaluation of science-based tools for collaboration in their research repertoire.

In this paper, we propose that using the notion of boundary objects as a prescriptive method can support CSC. We develop five design principles from the literature on boundary objects: plasticity, information sharing and learning, work coordination, process-tools fit, and scalability. We illustrate the design principles using the example of a CSC towards circular-oriented innovation. This results in a framework that supports the evaluation of prescriptive boundary objects in cross-sectoral collaboration.  With that, our prescriptive translation method helps to define a prescriptive approach to boundary objects by clarifying how to translate generic criteria into context-specific design and evaluation criteria. 

KEYWORDS: boundary object, prescriptive framework, systemic design, science-based tools, cross-sectoral collaboration, inter-organisational collaboration, design principles

RSD TOPIC(S): Methods & Methodology, Mapping & Modelling

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Citation Data

Author(s): Anna Margolis and Fenna Blomsma
Year: 2023
Title: The Boundary Object as a Prescriptive Framework: Designing and evaluating science-based tools in cross-sectoral collaboration
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Volume: RSD12
Article No.: pre-release
URL: https://rsdsymposium.org/boundary-objects-to-support-social-learning
Host: Georgetown University
Location: Washington DC, USA
Symposium Dates: October 6–20, 2023
First published: 30 September 2023
Last update: no update
Publisher Identification: ISSN 2371-8404
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