Box 2.12

Box 2.12 The point of boundary objects

Author: Kerstin Hemström

1,5 min read

The main purpose of transdisciplinary co-production is knowledge integration; the act of combining and integrating different perspectives and expertise to generate comprehensive and solution-oriented knowledge in relation to a real-world problem. The first step in achieving this comes with recognizing a diversity of perspectives on the problem at hand and accepting their significance and difference.

Ideally, the knowledge of different participants is integrated in a fair and rigorous way that does not privilege one understanding over another, creating a favourable learning situation for all. This however, is difficult to achieve in practice. Often, exploring issues together through in-depth interactions, where each participant is given equal voice, takes considerable time, resources, and skills.

One way of expediating communication and understanding between participants is to meet around a boundary object. The term is used in various contexts to signify a tool or catalyst for a process. In general, boundary objects are phenomena (e.g. physical objects, places, concepts, and maps) that represent something that can be understood by everyone involved but are open and flexible enough to accommodate several understandings and embody different meanings. Thereby, the boundary object can help diverse participants to communicate and learn from one another on flat grounds.

Sometimes, the real-world issue around which a transdisciplinary team gather to co-produce, is itself referred to as a boundary object. In this guide book, the term is used to refer to something more delimited within the transdisciplinary co-production process, that is shaped by those who participate while at the same time representing their common understanding. In this way, the boundary object enables interactions between individuals of different knowledge and backgrounds.

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