Kathryn Quick and Martha Feldman

Analysing boundary work in public management, Quick and Feldman provide useful suggestions for capturing some of the most recurrent boundary practices.

They firstly identify four boundary zones, i.e. “four boundaries that are commonly experienced in public management, particularly when collaborative governance and public engagement are involved”:

  • Inside/outside organizational boundaries. This boundary concerns who are the insiders (i.e. who is entitled “to be there”, assuming a role) and who are the outsiders. Boundary work, in this case, requires to reorganise relationships among bounded organisations, by creating platforms for sharing information, activities, resources, and power, by reinforcing cross-boundary collaborations within networks involving different kinds of actors, by establishing boundary-spanning organisations (e.g. not strictly governmental or public) or by creating inter-organisational arrangements (from communication to coordination, collaboration or merger of organisations).
  • Expert and “lay” knowledge boundaries. This boundary concerns knowledge, i.e. which knowledge is relevant and which is not and which knowledge is more important and which less. In many contexts, expert knowledge is recognised as more relevant and important, being generalisable, while “lay” or “local” knowledge is contextual, not certified and practical in its orientation. However, increasingly “lay” and “non-governmental” players detain expert knowledge. Key boundary practice, in this context, can be a sound communication process and a smart use of communication technologies, allowing an actual knowledge exchange, a bi-directional learning and an effective management of resistances (e.g. the tendency of experts to misevaluate “lay” knowledge) and fears (e.g. managers’ fear to see their managerial discretion limited by the “intrusion” of non-expert public).
  • Issue boundaries. This boundary concerns the definition of the issues to be dealt with, their priority level and their features. Boundary work implies therefore a “reframing” process (the process of evaluation and exploration of a given situation) allowing to combine the frames developed by the different players involved into a single shared frame.
  • Temporal boundaries. This boundary concerns the sequence of actions to carry out and decisions to take. Managing this aspect is problematic, since rarely a programme or a decision-making process is linear. Adopting a temporal openness allows the boundary work to be more effective and inclusive, since increases the possibility to “work together”. Not finishing an engagement process once and for all seems to reduce participation fatigue and burnout in the long run.

The same authors deepen some modes of managing differences in the context of the boundary work.

  • Aligning differences. This mode implies the acknowledging of differences among, e.g. knowledge domain, issues or temporal orientation, and start to find connections among different positions so as to reduce such differences.
  • Translating across differences. This mode involves creating a new space of understanding by interpreting across zones of difference, for example, redefining concepts, for example “translating the standard definition into what that feels like in the neighborhood, and also translating the kind of neighbourhood people wanted into language that could be used in an official (…) document”.
  • Changing the meaning of differences. This mode involves “legitimating different meanings for acknowledged sites of difference and often involves changing the power dynamic by flipping the site of privilege. Privileging lay over expert knowledge or long-term perspectives over short-term ones, for instance would be examples of this kind of change”.
  • Rendering differences inconsequential. This mode involves “reframing or finding new ways to address issues that simply do not assume the differences are important”. This mode therefore includes “actions that alter their usual consequences in terms of authority, power, or problem definition particularly relevant for the process. Rendering inconsequential is different from ‘either/or’ practices that establish, harden, or reify boundaries, hierarchies, or dichotomies, and from ‘both/and’ practices that blur, move, or bridge boundaries, hierarchies, and dichotomies”.