Boundary Concepts

The study of languages leads to the study of language communities. This section is a longer treatment of one particular architectural view of enterprise. The viewpoint here is toward communities of practice, and in particular how boundaries are created and bridged by boundary objects. This has a major impact on functioning enterprises, though it is not widely recognized as other views (org chart, process, etc.)
Boundary objects were introduced by a study of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology in the University of California at Berkeley.  Star and Griesemer studied the museum as it had existed in the early 20th century, when it had set itself the daunting task of documenting the ecology of the entire state of California. Professional scientists, amateur naturalists and, backwoods trappers worked together to capture and document species and their habitats. A brief form was provided by the museum, so that the non-scientists could write a few key observations about each specimen. This simple written form served as the primary boundary object. It adequately bridged the gap between the non-scientists and the scientists in the museum, to the extent that they needed to communicate in this structured way. Star and Griesemer identify four types of boundary object:

•    Repositories – Modular, indexed collection of objects that people from different worlds can draw on without direct negotiation with each other.
•    Ideal types – An abstraction based on a template of common characteristics.
•    Coincident boundaries – Concepts that have common and agreed upon scope for all participating communities, but that have different internal contents in each.
•    Standardized forms – Templates and standardized indexes.

A number of writings hint at the richness of insight in the study of organizational boundaries. Phil Barnard  writes about “bridging representations” that bridge gaps between theory and practice. These representations tend to be developed in one community and imposed on downstream communities. Nicholas Chrisman  compares the concepts of trading zones and boundary objects. The concept of trading zone is borrowed from Peter Galison’s Image and Logic where dynamic "trading zones" in the field of modern microphysics require instrument makers, theorists, and experimentalists to meet and share knowledge. Within such trading zones a kind of pidgin language arises which allows diverse communities to conduct a form of trade using shared terms and concepts that are agreed to by all, even though they are subsets of the full language of any of the communities involved. Hildreth and Kimble  address the problem of knowledge in distributed teams and communities of practice, in particular as work becomes increasingly distributed across international boundaries. They compare the concepts of legitimate peripheral participation as a way that newcomers learn the concepts of a community with distributed cognition as a way work gets done in an ongoing manner. They believe that distributed cognition and boundary objects are complementary notions, where “Distributed Cognition concentrates on the ‘absolute meaning’ of artefact and representations, where as boundary objects are concerned with ‘interpretative flexibility’ of representations across boundaries.” Ackerman and Halverson  raise the important point that organizational memory is a process whereby individuals translate among various memory states to achieve a useful understanding of business situations. Memory objects as boundary objects are often decontextualized from their original point of observation and recording and then must be recontextualized within a process that involves some different part of the enterprise.

Adam Nieman  provides the concept of intermediate dependent entity as a way of differentiating and putting boundaries around various communities. An example of boundary creation is the case of mad cow disease, when both scientists and politicians tried to define the problem into each other’s domain, with a boundary definition that attempted to reduce responsibility for the problem.

An interesting concept to contemplate is the pervasive boundary object of currency.  A currency can be a strong definer of the boundary of the social system within which it is valid and valued. It is also a boundary spanning mechanism to transfer value across system boundaries

•    Elements: distinguishable social entity, trading zones, standardized methods, representations that link theory and practice, objects that define boundaries, power positions, boundary objects (repositories, abstractions, shared scope, standardized forms)
•    Types:  community of interest, community of practice, department, profession,
•    Sociality: covered in the elaborated discussion above.