The Emergence of Boundary Spanning Competence in Practice: Implications for Information Systems' Implementation Use

49 Pages Posted: 9 Oct 2008

See all articles by Natalia Levina

Natalia Levina

New York University

Emmanuelle Vaaste

McGill University - Desautels Faculty of Management

Date Written: 2004


Knowledge Management (KM) literature has centrally focused on organization’s ability to build practices that integrate diverse expertise across professional, organizational, industry and other boundaries. In this paper we investigate how an organizational competence in boundary spanning emerges in practice. We draw on the concepts of boundary spanner and boundary object and on the practice-based view of KM in organizations to understand the emergence of boundary spanning in practice, which we define as relating practices from diverse fields. We contrast data from two qualitative, longitudinal field studies to draw our conclusions. We argue that for boundary spanning to emerge in practice a new joint field, which unites agent in a common pursuit, needs to be produced. Engagement of agents in this practice partially transforms their practices in local fields so as to accommodate the interests of their counterparts. Those agents who engage in negotiating the nature of this new field become boundary spanners-in-practice. Through their engagements in the new joint field and diverse local practices boundary spanners-in-practice produce and use objects which become locally useful and acquire a joint identity through their use â€" boundary objects-in-use. Through data analysis we find, first, that nominated boundary spanners and designated boundary objects do not always become boundary spanners-in-practice and boundary objects-in-use. Second, we outline the conditions necessary for boundary spanners-in-practice to emerge, including the need for them to become legitimate, albeit peripheral, participants in the practices of the fields that they span. Thirdly, we show how boundary spanners-in-practice use their symbolic, cultural, social, and economic resources (capital) to build the new joint field. Finally, we examine the tensions involved in a) the nomination of agents as boundary spanners and artifacts as boundary objects; b) the growth of the new joint field; c) agents’ choice in investing in the new joint field; and d) spanning one at the expense of another kind of boundary. We conclude by drawing implications for IS implementation and use.

Keywords: Boundary spanning, boundary objects, boundary spanners, boundaries, practice theory, Bourdieu, Knowledge Management, organizational learning, IS implementation, IS use, client-consultant relationship, intranet, roles

Suggested Citation

Levina, Natalia and Vaaste, Emmanuelle, The Emergence of Boundary Spanning Competence in Practice: Implications for Information Systems' Implementation Use (2004). Information Systems Working Papers Series, Vol. , pp. -, 2004. Available at SSRN:

Natalia Levina (Contact Author)

New York University ( email )

44 West Fourth Street
New York, NY 10012
United States


Emmanuelle Vaaste

McGill University - Desautels Faculty of Management

1001 Sherbrooke St. West
Montreal, Quebec H3A1G5 H3A 2M1

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