A Spanish version of this post is available
Can boundary objects be designed to help researchers and decision makers to interact more effectively? How can the socio-political setting – which will affect decisions made – be reflected in the boundary objects?
Here I describe a new context-specific boundary object to promote decision making based on scientific evidence. But first I provide a brief introduction to boundary objects.
What is a ‘boundary object’?
In transdisciplinary research, employing a ‘boundary object’ is a widely used method to facilitate communication and understanding among stakeholder groups with different epistemologies. Boundary objects are abstract tools adaptable to different perspectives and across knowledge domains to serve as a means of symbolic communication.
Boundary objects help people to think outside the box and communicate in different ways. Such objects can take multiple forms from conceptual models, artwork and graphical tools.
The multifaceted nature of boundary objects
Numerous boundary objects are described in the scientific literature and their usefulness depends on the objective of the research. Let us take four examples:
- Ecosystem services are useful for framing conservation policies in terms of mutual interests between countries and diversity of stakeholders.
- Scenario planning can be an appropriate tool to encompass diverse information in a structured way which also accounts for uncertainties.
- The DPSIR (Drivers, Pressures, State, Impacts, and Responses) model can help map the complex issues linked to biodiversity and ecosystems, making the effects of anthropogenic activities on them more understandable, and defining concrete and potential policy recommendations to tackle problems.
- Visualising geospatial data through maps is an appropriate instrument for transferring understandable information across a wide range of different stakeholder groups.
The multifaceted nature of boundary objects can:
- enhance the dialogue and understanding between scientists and non-scientists;
- guide open discussion;
- enable a broad, shared understanding of a situation; and,
- cultivate a culture of shared responsibility.
However, the role such objects can play in promoting the application of science in decision-making has not yet been well explored.
Context-specific boundary objects to promote decision making based on scientific evidence
Considering the urgency of integrating scientific knowledge into environmental decisions and actions, I have often wondered if boundary objects can be designed to help researchers and decision makers move from theory to practice. As such decisions are deeply ingrained in management settings, it is reasonable to assume that the socio-political setting is a crucial aspect to consider when designing such objects.
In a recent study, colleagues and I designed a context-specific boundary object as part of a transdisciplinary process for strengthening collaboration between scientists and decision-makers (López-Rodríguez et al., 2015).
The boundary object is a graphical tool (triangle) for diagnosing environmental problems using three dimensions, namely the state-of-the-art of:
- the scientific knowledge, ie., the scientific evidence available about the specific problem;
- the regulatory capacity, ie., the current legislative framework relevant to articulating public administration solutions; and,
- public engagement, which reflects the social relevance of the specific problems to the general public.
Each was assessed using a 0–3 scale, where 0 means that scientific knowledge, regulatory capacity or public engagement is not relevant for solving the environmental problem in the short term; whereas 3 means that high scientific evidence, regulatory capacity and public engagement is available for addressing the problem.
All participants involved in our transdisciplinary process were asked to rate specific environmental problems on each dimension. As illustrated in the figure below, different problems were, collectively, rated differently for each dimension.
Through this study we confirmed that this boundary object was useful for aligning scientific knowledge with specific management goals and societal demands, and for promoting the implementation of science-based actions through collaborative work between scientists, decision makers and social actors.
To progress the design of boundary objects to achieve instrumental impacts in decision making, new and innovative approaches are required based on:
- a deeper understanding of the socio-political settings of each case study,
- the integration and alignment of specific management goals and interventions with both scientific advances and societal needs.
Given the wide variation of socio-political contexts across countries, the design of such boundary objects is a complex challenge. Nevertheless it is necessary to catalyze the use of scientific knowledge in decision-making. Researchers and decision makers need to work together to address this challenge in institutional settings around the world.
Do you have similar experience with boundary objects to share?
To find out more:
López-Rodríguez, M. D., Castro, A. J., Castro, H., Jorreto, S. and Cabello, J. (2015). Science-policy interface for addressing environmental problems in arid Spain. Environmental Science and Policy, 50: 1–14.
Biography: María Dolores López-Rodríguez PhD works at the Andalusian Center for the Assessment and Monitoring of Global Change at the University of Almería in Spain. Her main area of research is focused on designing, improving and operating the interactive process between scientists, decision makers, and social actors in order to advance the environmental governance of social-ecological systems in different cultural, social and institutional frameworks.
Un nuevo objeto frontera para promover la colaboración de los investigadores con los tomadores de decisiones / A new boundary object to promote researcher engagement with policy makers
An English version of this post is available
¿Pueden diseñarse objetos frontera para ayudar a los investigadores y tomadores de decisiones a interactuar más eficazmente? ¿Cómo puede el contexto sociopolítico –en el que se articula la toma de decisiones- reflejarse en los objetos frontera?
En esta entrada de blog describo un nuevo objeto frontera adaptado a un contexto sociopolítico específico para promover la toma de decisiones basada en evidencia científica. Aunque, primero proveo una breve introducción a los objetos frontera.
¿Qué es un “objeto de frontera”?
En investigación transdisciplinaria, el empleo de un “objeto de frontera” es un método ampliamente utilizado para facilitar la comunicación y entendimiento entre grupos de personas con diferentes epistemologías. Los objetos frontera son herramientas abstractas adaptables a diferentes perspectivas y dominios del conocimiento que sirven como medio de comunicación simbólica.
Los objetos frontera ayudan a la gente a pensar de forma creativa y a comunicarse de diferente manera a la que están acostumbrados. Estos objetos pueden tomar múltiples formas desde modelos conceptuales, a ilustraciones y herramientas gráficas.
La naturaleza multifacética de los objetos frontera
Existen numerosos objetos frontera descritos en la literatura científica y el empleo de uno u otro depende del objetivo que se persiga en de la investigación. Tomemos cuatro ejemplos:
- Los servicios de los ecosistemas son útiles para enmarcar y formular políticas de conservación en términos de intereses mutuos entre países y diversidad de partes interesadas.
- La planificación de escenarios puede ser una herramienta apropiada para organizar información diversa de una manera estructurada teniendo en cuenta las incertidumbres.
- El modelo DPSIR (Impulsores, Presiones, Estado, Impactos y Respuestas) puede ayudar a mapear las complejas cuestiones relacionadas con la biodiversidad y los ecosistemas, hacer más comprensibles los efectos de las actividades antrópicas y definir recomendaciones políticas concretas y potenciales para abordar problemas.
- La visualización de datos geoespaciales a través de mapas es un instrumento apropiado para transferir información fácilmente entendible a diferentes grupos de interesados.
La naturaleza multifacética de los objetos frontera puede:
- mejorar el diálogo y la comprensión entre investigadores y personas fuera del ámbito de la investigación,
- guiar debates abiertos,
- promover una comprensión amplia y colectiva de una situación, y
- cultivar una cultura de responsabilidad compartida.
Sin embargo, el papel que estos objetos pueden desempeñar en promover la aplicación de la ciencia en la toma de decisiones todavía no ha sido muy explorado en la literatura científica.
Objetos frontera adaptados a contextos sociopolíticos específicos para promover decisiones basadas en evidencia científica
Teniendo en cuenta la urgencia de integrar el conocimiento científico en las decisiones ambientales y acciones de gestión, a menudo me he preguntado si los objetos frontera pueden diseñarse para ayudar a los investigadores y tomadores de decisiones a pasar a la acción y trabajar conjuntamente. Dado que estas decisiones están profundamente arraigadas en los entornos institucionales de gestión, es razonable suponer que el contexto sociopolítico es un aspecto crucial a considerar al diseñar tales objetos.
En un estudio reciente, diseñamos un objeto frontera adaptado a un contexto socio-político específico para guiar un proceso transdisciplinario dirigido a fortalecer la colaboración entre investigadores y tomadores de decisiones (López-Rodríguez et al., 2015).
El objeto de frontera es una herramienta gráfica (triángulo) para diagnosticar problemas ambientales usando tres dimensiones, concretamente, el estado del arte de:
- el conocimiento científico, es decir, la evidencia científica disponible sobre el problema específico;
- la capacidad de regulación, es decir, el marco legislativo actual pertinente para articular las soluciones por parte de la administración pública;
- el compromiso social, que refleja la relevancia social de los problemas específicos para la sociedad en general.
Cada una de estas dimensiones fue evaluada utilizando una escala 0-3, donde 0 indica que el conocimiento científico, la capacidad de regulación o el compromiso social no es relevante para resolver el problema ambiental a corto plazo; mientras que 3 representa una alta disponibilidad de evidencia científica, capacidad de regulación y compromiso social para abordar el problema.
A todos los participantes involucrados en nuestro proceso transdisciplinario se les pidió que evaluaran problemas ambientales específicos teniendo en cuenta las tres dimensiones del objeto frontera. Como se ilustra en la siguiente figura, los problemas fueron evaluados colectivamente de manera diferente para cada dimensión.
A través de este estudio confirmamos que este objeto frontera fue útil para alinear el conocimiento científico con objetivos específicos de gestión y demandas sociales, así como para promover la aplicación de medidas basadas en evidencia científica a través del trabajo colaborativo entre los científicos, tomadores de decisiones y actores sociales.
El avance en el diseño de objetos frontera para lograr impactos instrumentales en la toma de decisiones, requiere la puesta en práctica de enfoques nuevos e innovadores basados en:
- una comprensión más profunda de los contextos sociopolíticos de cada caso de estudio,
- la integración y alineación de objetivos e intervenciones de gestión específicos con los avances científicos y las demandas de la sociedad.
Dada la gran variedad de contextos sociopolíticos que existen, el diseño de tales objetos frontera representa un desafío complejo y a su vez necesario para catalizar el uso del conocimiento científico en la toma de decisiones. Los investigadores y los tomadores de decisiones deben trabajar juntos para abordar este desafío en los contextos institucionales de cada país, región o municipio.
¿Tienes experiencia similar con objetos frontera y quieres compartirla con nosotros?
Para obtener más información:
López-Rodríguez, M.D., Castro, A.J., Castro, H., Jorreto, S. and Cabello, J. (2015). Science-policy interface for addressing environmental problems in arid Spain. Environmental Science and Policy, 50: 1–14.
27 thoughts on “A new boundary object to promote researcher engagement with policy makers / Un nuevo objeto frontera para promover la colaboración de los investigadores con los tomadores de decisiones”
Thanks for this interesting article. We at Politics & Ideas have been working for years in bridging researchers and policy makers, and I find the concept of boundary objects an interesting contribution to that end.
My impressions after reading the three dimensions are:
It would be good to have more information on how you define these dimensions. For instance, how you define public engagement? Social relevance can refer to the interest of stakeholders outside the political forces, but without political interest, relevant problems might be ignored even if there is available research and the existing regulatory capacity enables action. That is, the approach to boundary objects might lack of political considerations.
While dimensions one and three can refer more to a macro context of overarching forces acting in a certain country or setting, the regulatory capacity might need to look at the specific institutional setting of different agencies or group of agencies. I see you clarify this in one of the comments to the article, but I wonder whether it would be good to explicit this difference in the levels: one more contextual while the other more “internal”. Moreover, if I understood well, dimension two is referred alternatively as legal capacity and/or management processes, which I would say are related but still different sub dimensions.
Finally, it is not clear to me how the results of the study confirm that boundary objects are useful to align the three dimensions and promote evidence informed decisions. The article seems to miss an explanation about this chain.
Overall, I find the concept and exercise an interesting tool to enable dialogue and create spaces for engagement between different stakeholders, but moving into action might require a focus on institutions, which actually have the capacity to perform, a more political approach to how policy decisions take place, and a breakdown of the dimensions for a better understanding of their content.
I also think boundary objects can dialogue with a framework that we at Politics & Ideas have developed that considers six different dimensions of relevance when trying to promote evidence-informed decisions in public policies:
[Moderator update – In December 2021, this link no longer available: politicsandideas[dot]org … contextmatters] and also the blog post at https://i2insights.org/2017/04/25/how-context-matters/
Thank you for your comments and your valuable input!
As you mentioned, boundary objects are useful tools as a means of communication and symbolic cooperation (a common road map for all parties) to catalyze the collaborative work under specific circumstances and contexts. Our research was designed as a pilot experience to improve the interaction between scientists and policymakers to promote the implementation collaborative actions for addressing environmental problems. We considered the lack of general public in the interactive process was a limitation because of addressing environmental issues requires collaborative work between science, policy and society. In our specific case, we thought that including general public at the beginning of the interactive process could be more problematic and lead problems of legitimacy in knowledge co-production (Edelenbos et al., 2011). To address this limitation we introduced in the boundary object the “public engagement gradient” to scientists and decision makers can visualize the convenience of taking in account society to address environmental issues. Specifically in this study, “public engagement gradient” was addressed by accounting for the formal requests (concerns or complaints) made by social actors to public administrations. We considered that the context-specific boundary object was useful to promote collaborative work because of 5 collaborative actions were implemented between scientists and decision makers. In 4 of the total actions, social entities were also involved in interface teams to address problems (although this type of entities had not been involved in the interactive experience they were invited by interface teams).
Regarding “regulatory capacity gradient” you are right, the different levels included from general legal framework to management tools. The criteria to define this gradient was conceived as the regulatory capacity to articulate solutions by decision makers (involved in the social experience) based on management levels in which they work and their public competences. From this approach decision makers visualized that the problem could be addressed easily if it was aligned with management tools and priorities. Whereas, if the problem had no legislative framework to articulate its solutions, they perceived that major efforts should be required and thus different strategies to address it.
I absolutely agree with you on that boundary objects can dialogue with a framework of Politics & Ideas considering six different dimensions to promote evidence-informed decisions in public policies. I also think that it would be very interesting and useful to put it into action! Congratulations for the great work at Politics & Ideas!
It seem to me, reading this, that the key thing is the co-creation of the boundary object, visual representation, map, whatever: people from diverse backgrounds working together to create something specific to their shared challenge and context that will provide the first steps towards a more integrated and holistic way of thinking, which in turn will (maybe) enhance the chances of finding practical and relevant solutions.
But, as with most collaborative working, it all depends on the specifics of the context. For some joint ventures (partnerships between law enforcement, health, social and other agencies come to mind) simply visiting ‘the scene of the crime’ might be the only shared and catalysing boundary object/experience that is required. It all depends on the situation. Sharing perceptions and experiences of situations (especially those that are highly charged and emotive) can be enlightening and positively transformative, as this shows: http://cuttingedgepartnerships.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/a-deceptively-straightforward-approach.html
Thank you for your response. It looks very interesting! I’ll look into it
María, excellent article. I liked very much your didactic approach. I also like the term “boundary” since it brings to my mind the concept of bridge, touch, tangent, connection, that are important foundation assumptions for communication success.
Your point seems to be similar to the concept of triangulation, used in scientific analysis. We overlap several sources of evidence and knowledge and see what are the “touchpoints”, that can show us the “truth” or a valid hypothesis.
In Design (my area) we value very much these kind of boundary objects. We call it visual artefacts and there are hundreds of them. If you want I can share some references with you.
Nice job! Greetings from Brazil.
Thank you for your positive comments and your valuable input! I’m really interested in reading papers about visual artefacts. It would be very useful if you can share with us the mentioned references. Thanks again. Best wishes from Spain
When I saw the title, I thought “this has no relevance to me”. Then I read a bit and found out I was wrong. I think the label “boundary object” is doing a disservice to the debate. Would it be possible to understanding these so-called objects as “tools for convergence” (of different stakeholders)? If yes, I think we have lots of things to talk about… I work in inclusive market systems development and have been using participatory market mapping for quite a long time. We need to understand much better how they work and what the impacts of this mapping method has on market actors. If maps are a boundary object and there is a group of people who are interested in how to make these objects more effective to connect people towards policy and systemic changes, then, I would be interested to stay in the loop.
Interesting! Thank you for your comments. I agree with boundary objects can be conceived as “tools for convergence” of different stakeholders. I think your experience can provide valuable lessons for connecting people towards policy and systemic changes. Please, can you share some study about participatory market mapping with us?
I think the label boundary objects put me off too. A label that referred to the purpose of this work rather than the position it holds in a scheme of thought or activity might engage the audience more effectively.
Thank you for the great term and concept. I recognized the value of such objects (indices) as I developed multi-stakeholder ag sustainability programs to meet legislative directives. It provided a common platform and bought people out there their silos.
Great example, many thanks for sharing your experience! I think your study can provide valuable lessons for strenghtening relationships between stakeholder groups. Please, can we get more details of the study?
Maria, I defined the stakeholder groups generically as one of four governance actors (public policy-makers, private policy-makers, public practitioners, private practitioners). Each actor sector carries unique risks and information relative to the resource and how to use the water quality index (WQI). For example, the private policy-maker used it as a means to define their sustainability supply chain; public practitioner as the basis to recommend conservation practices; and the private practitioners as the land management endgoal.
The result was a shared governance model, where partnerships, equity, accountability and ownership occur at a “point of service” – in this case it was landscape parcels. The index, or boundary object, enable these stakeholders to meet on this common platform for learning, interaction and transactions. In my career, I have had the opportunity to engage as each type of actor, at one time or another. I realized that even though I had the same goal throughout my career (economics of landscape sustainability) I usually used methods specific to the ‘silo’ I worked in. When I was introduced to indices, it was apparent that I could then communicate with all my previous career position simultaneously – I found a boundary object. Much more came of this as it relates to shared governance and the need for trans-disciplinary approaches to our socio-economic issues.
I am now involved in shared aquifer management and use the community’s groundwater story, I think, as the boundary object. I will have to give that some thought.
Readers may also want to check out Tim’s blog post:
A governance compass by Tim Gieseke https://i2insights.org/2016/09/20/governance-compass/
Thank you for the information. Congratulations on a fine piece of work Tim! I’m sure I’ll learn much from your studies
I am not that comfortable either with the concept of ‘boundary object — agree with some earlier comments on the role of ‘boundary’ — or the underlying claim of a greater role of science – in what processes, specifically? And what do the different red surfaces in the diagrams actually tell us?
But I have worked with something that you might consider as such an object: the typical ‘planning argument’ we use all the time (in various disguises) in planning, design, policy-making. It shows clearly where scientific knowledge has a significant role to play — and where it does not.
The ‘standard planning argument’ (it has not been recognized by the ‘sciences ‘ in charge of argumentation, for some strange reason) is this: A plan is proposed, triggering various ‘pro’ and ‘con arguments. of various degrees of completeness: E.g.
“Plan A ought to be accepted for implementation
1) A will lead to produce consequence B, given conditions C
2) B ought to be aimed for / pursued
3) Conditions C are given”
The weight or merit of the argument (among all the other pros and cons) fro an individual appraiser depends on
a) the ‘scientific’ truth, probability, plausibility, evidence for or against the premises 1 and 3; and
b) the ‘weight of relative importance’ as well as plausibility (here meaning desirability, meaningfulness (among all the other ‘oughts’ in the other arguments) of premise 2.
Of course, for anybody questioning the judgments attached to any of the three premises, and their weight among the other arguments, the entire argument holds no weight. If (2) is unacceptable (which is NOT a scientific judgment) all the scientific merit of (1) and (3) falls flat, just as (2) falls flat if there’s no scientific support for (1) and (3). Premise (2) can be supported or attacked only by arguments of the same type,(with more deontic (ought) premises…)
I had never heard the term boundary object before so I had to guess at the meaning.
My own involvement in interdisciplinary teams has just happened because it made sense. No one has ever said to me we need an interdisciplinary team. We might have spoken about making sure we had the right mix of skills and experience in the room so I find the whole exercise seems rather academic.
I guess the way I see it is, why would you not want interdisciplinary teams? It seems self evident that it is a good idea. I am pretty sure that the first book I read on brainstorming, in the early 1970s, made the point that you get a better outcome with a good mix of skills and experience and it has always been one of the guiding principles of deciding who to involve in risk workshops.
Thanks to you both for this discussion, as well as your earlier point, Steve. The point of the blog is exactly to foster this kind of interchange – as well as to share useful concepts and methods. Wikipedia has a pretty decent introduction to the concept of boundary object – see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boundary_object.
I presume that someone finds that paying explicit attention to this aspect of the interactions within and between teams delivers value. Echoing the criticism noted in the Wikipedia entry, I think I would need to feel that I was working with a large, stable and persistent system to warrant taking the time and effort to formalise the means by which the interactions are supported.
The default is presumably for such mechanisms to emerge from the interactions between people and teams. Seeking to prescribe how this happens seems to me to go against the principles of working with a complex system. I should think that it runs the risk of setting up a structure that locks exchanges into a limited framework, creates blind spots and is likely to be overtaken by emergent informal channels of communication as the context shifts under the influence of fluid interactions between the people and groups who make up the system.
Thank you for the comments Steve Grey. The ontological and epistemological differences between scientists and non-scientists constitute one of the main obstacles to collaborative work for sustainability. Transdisciplinary research emerges as a science to conceptualize and to understand how to open frontiers between research disciplines and other bodies of knowledge by strengthening collaboration and building trust and common understanding through the creation of communities of practice. These communities are conceived as workspaces embedded within larger systems of power and knowledge that evolve and change over time with the aim of promoting different types of learning processes and integration modes to combine and obtain different forms of context-based knowledge for sustainability.
Establishing common conceptual frameworks, analytical methods and operational tools based on shared terminology, mental images and common goals is crucial for promoting collaborative work across science, policy and society domains. In this wide framework, boundary objects are useful tools as a means of communication and symbolic cooperation to accelerate the collaborative work under specific circumstances and context. At this point, I would like to clarify that in the study which is mentioned in the blog post the aim of the boundary object was to promote mutual understanding and to catalyze the establishment of synergies between scientists and non-scientists to implement collaborative actions based on scientific knowledge. In my view, the experience covers the creation of new relationships across science, policy and society domains that are compatible with other informal channels of communication between the people and groups who make up the system.
I suspect that there could be a role for a two stage emergence process here, using some of the methods of Cognitive Edge. Enabling two groups to explore their own experience of the subject without imposition of an externally designed framework can leave space for them to identify and form insights that derive from the interaction of the groups’ views.
The mental models we use to understand complex phenomena are not readily extracted into objective frameworks and there may be situations in which trying to do this, and construct a framework that two groups can share, will introduce limitations. Creating a space in which ambiguity and freedom from definitions is allowed to persist can enable shared concepts to emerge that would not otherwise have been identified or used.
In response to abbeboulah also known as Thorbjoern Mann: Thank you for the comments and your interesting insights about ‘planning argument’. I’m really interested in going into further details about this concept. Do you have any studies to share with us? In answer to your first question, let me say that we designed and used this context-specific boundary object to promote the collaborative work between researchers and decision makers through transdisciplinary processes. This experience was carried out in the framework of a research project and, unfortunately, these processes were not embedded into institutional settings nor included in official planning processes. Specifically, we conducted this study to identify key factors and lessons that can make communication between scientists and decision makers more operative and, in this way, promote the use of scientific knowledge in conservation actions considering the particular institutional setting of the study area. The study involved actors from different disciplines, profiles and perspectives to promote the learning process and to improve the overall understanding of complex and dynamic social-ecological systems. I think that these collective approaches offer added value to strengthening the role of scientific knowledge in conservation actions by comparison with other individual approaches employed in conventional management policies. In my opinion, these approaches can be compatible with other methods which promote scientific knowledge in management domains as you mentioned.
During the study, the boundary object was used by scientists and decision makers to diagnose specific environmental problems from a collective approach considering three gradients: the available scientific knowledge, the existing regulatory capacity from administrations, and the engagement of the general public in environmental problem solving at that moment. To do so, they used a standardized punctuation for each gradient (on a 0-3 scale) and, as a result, each environmental problem was shaped. Therefore, the different red surfaces that you mentioned in your second question represent the diagnosis of the environmental problems which provided different scenarios according to three gradients towards reaching potential solutions. These results were helpful to participants’ involved as they were able to identify collaborative strategies for addressing environmental problems. For example, in figure 5 in the image you can see a diagnostic of a problem whose solutions include all three actors therefore any solutions should involve all three parties. Whereas in figure 3 only two of the domains would need to be involved. For any further details on this, please refer to the published paper below:
Muchas gracias por tu contribución. Considero que el concepto de “objetos de frontera” u “objetos de límite” (como lo ha traducido Ulli Vilsmaier de la Universidad de Leuphana) es muy relevante para los investigadores hispano – hablantes. Por ello, quisiera preguntarte si el uso de objetos de frontera muy abstractos como el que has planteado como ejemplo, te ha resultado apropiado en otros contextos también. Es decir, me pregunto si lo esencial del concepto de “objeto de frontera” no sea su significado compartido entre los participantes de un proceso transdisciplinario a partir de la simpleza del objeto – lo que permite trabajar con las epistemologías así como con las ontologías de esos actores.
¿Cuáles fueron los obstáculos o dificultades que encontraron al utilizar un objeto de frontera tan abstracto?
Google translate renders this as:
Thank you very much for your contribution. I think the concept of “border objects” or “boundary objects” (as Ulli Vilsmaier of Leuphana University has translated it) is very relevant to Spanish – speaking researchers. Therefore, I would like to ask you if the use of very abstract border objects like the one you have set as an example, has been appropriate in other contexts as well. That is, I wonder if the essence of the concept of “border object” is not its shared meaning among the participants of a transdisciplinary process from the simplicity of the object – what allows to work with the epistemologies as well as the ontologies of those actors.
What were the obstacles or difficulties they encountered in using such an abstract frontier object?
Hola Bianca, muchísimas gracias por tus inspiradores comentarios. Efectivamente los objetos fronteros son una buena herramienta para catalizar la colaboración entre investigadores y otros actores del ámbito de la gestión y la sociedad. Una de las características fundamentales de este objeto frontera es que estaba adaptado al contexto institucional del área de estudio. Esto facilitó que investigadores pudieran percibir con claridad que el conocimiento científico que estaban generando podría ser tomado como evidencia para resolver problemas ambientales y los gestores identificaran a través de qué instrumento y/o acción de gestión podrían utilizar este conocimiento científico para abordar estos problemas. Una de las principales lecciones que aprendí durante el proceso es que diseñar objetos frontera específicamente adaptados a contextos institucionales es una forma práctica y útil para que los actores involucrados en el proceso pasen de la teoría a la acción. En mi experiencia, si el contexto institucional no está integrado en los objetos frontera, se corre el riesgo de alcanzar resultados con impacto únicamente conceptual y no pasar a la implementación de acciones colaborativas. Al tratarse de un objeto frontera adaptado a un área de estudio específica, se podría extrapolar a otras regiones, pero para ponerlo en práctica antes se necesitaría desarrollar más investigación para revisar y adaptar los criterios de valoración al nuevo contexto en el que se va a utilizar.
En la actualidad, estamos testando otro objeto frontera en el marco del proceso de planificación de la red nacional de áreas protegidas de Perú. En este caso, este objeto trata de promover la colaboración tanto intra- como inter-institucional entre entidades del ámbito de la ciencia, gestión y sociedad. Aunque el estudio aún está en fase de desarrollo, los resultados que se han obtenido hasta el momento son muy positivos. Si estás interesada en ampliar información en el futuro, por favor no dudes en contactarme.
Otras de las limitaciones que encontré al trabajar con el objeto frontera fueron: (1) la necesidad de invertir tiempo y esfuerzo para capacitar a los participantes en los diferentes criterios del objeto frontera para diagnosticar problemas, (2) la dificultad de mantener el nivel de participación y compromiso en este tipo de procesos en los que investigadores, gestores y actores sociales deciden involucrase voluntariamente, y (3) la escasez de financiación para mantener este tipo de procesos a largo plazo.
Espero haber resultado las dudas que planteabas. Cualquier cuestión adicional, por favor no dudes en contactarme. Gracias de nuevo
Google translate renders this as follows (NB I think “border object” and “frontier object” are “boundary object”):
Hi Bianca, many thanks for your inspiring comments. Effectively, the frontier objects are a good tool to catalyze collaboration between researchers and other actors in the field of management and society. One of the fundamental characteristics of this border object is that it was adapted to the institutional context of the study area. This made it easier for researchers to perceive clearly that the scientific knowledge they were generating could be taken as evidence to solve environmental problems and the managers identified through which instrument and / or management action they could use this scientific knowledge to address these problems. One of the main lessons I learned during the process is that designing boundary objects specifically adapted to institutional contexts is a practical and useful way for actors involved in the process to move from theory to action. In my experience, if the institutional context is not integrated into frontier objects, one runs the risk of achieving results with only conceptual impact and not going to the implementation of collaborative actions. As a frontier object adapted to a specific area of study, it could be extrapolated to other regions, but to implement it earlier, more research would be needed to revise and adapt the assessment criteria to the new context in which it is to be used .
At present, we are testing another border object within the framework of the planning process of Peru’s national network of protected areas. In this case, this object seeks to promote both intra- and inter-institutional collaboration between entities in the field of science, management and society. Although the study is still under development, the results that have been obtained so far are very positive. If you are interested in expanding information in the future, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Other limitations I encountered when working with the border object were: (1) the need to invest time and effort to train participants in the different border object criteria to diagnose problems, (2) the difficulty of maintaining the level of participation and commitment in this type of processes in which researchers, managers and social actors decide to engage voluntarily, and (3) the shortage of funding to maintain this type of processes in the long term.
I hope to have resulted the doubts that you posed. Any additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thanks again
I’m not clear why mechanisms of this sort are described in terms of boundaries. I find it difficult to distinguish between the example and descriptions provided here and visualisation or sense making techniques that might be used by an individual or homogeneous team to explore their understanding of a subject.
Am I missing something?
Another way to approach this might be to address our enquiries from a broad standpoint from the outset, deliberately setting aside the constraints of a specific discipline, it’s structures and language. The principle of pre hypothesis enquiry seeks to do this by encouraging emergent insights rather than seeking analytical conclusions.
Thank you for your comments again. This context-specific boundary object was designed in terms of boundaries with the aim of clarifying the different roles which could be implied in problem-solving. To do so, we considered a conceptual framework which includes three dimensions of information related to science, policy and society spheres. During the interactive processes, the participants involved formulated and diagnosed specific environmental problems from integrative approaches and proposed consensual solutions to address them. Here, the boundary object help the participants to visualize how they could contribute from their respective spheres to address specific environmental problems, and promoted a culture of shared responsibility among them for the implementation of management actions based on collaborative work. If this boundary object had only been used by homogeneous teams, collaborative work across science, policy and society could not be put into practice.