Toward a General Theory of Boundary Work: Insights from the CGIAR's Natural Resource Management Programs

27 Pages Posted: 13 Sep 2010

See all articles by William C. Clark

William C. Clark

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Thomas P. Tomich

University of California, Davis: Ag Sustainabilit Inst; Humanity & Community Development; Environmental Science & Policy; SAREP

Meine van Noordwijk

World Agroforestry Centre

Nancy M. Dickson

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Delia Catacutan

World Agroforestry Centre

David Guston

Arizona State University (ASU) - Department of Political Science

Elizabeth C. McNie

Purdue University

Date Written: September 9, 2010

Abstract

Previous research on the determinants of effectiveness in knowledge systems seeking to support sustainable development has highlighted the importance of “boundary work” through which research communities organize their relations with other fields of science, other sources of knowledge, and the worlds of action and policymaking. A growing body of scholarship postulates specific attributes of boundary work that promote used and useful research. These propositions, however, are largely based on the experience of a few industrialized countries. We report here on an effort to evaluate their relevance for efforts to harness science in support of sustainability in the developing world. We carried out a multi-country comparative analysis of natural resource management programs conducted under the auspices of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). We discovered 6 distinctive kinds of boundary work contributing to successes of the CGIAR programs - a greater variety than has been documented in previous studies. We propose that these different kinds of boundary work can be understood as a dual response to the different uses for which the results of specific research programs are intended, and the different sources of knowledge drawn on by those programs. We show that these distinctive kinds of boundary work require distinctive strategies to organize them effectively. Especially important are arrangements regarding participation of stakeholders, governance, and the use of boundary objects. We conclude that improving the ability of research programs to produce useful knowledge for sustainable development will require both greater and differentiated support for multiple forms of boundary work.

Keywords: boundary work, boundary organizations, boundary objects, agroforestry systems, governance, participation, sustainability science, sustainable development, environmental policy

JEL Classification: Q01, Q15, Q2, Q56

Suggested Citation

Clark, William C. and Tomich, Thomas P. and van Noordwijk, Meine and Dickson, Nancy M. and Catacutan, Delia and Guston, David and McNie, Elizabeth C., Toward a General Theory of Boundary Work: Insights from the CGIAR's Natural Resource Management Programs (September 9, 2010). HKS Working Paper No. RWP10-035, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1676287 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1676287

William C. Clark (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-495-3981 (Phone)
617-495-8963 (Fax)

Thomas P. Tomich

University of California, Davis: Ag Sustainabilit Inst; Humanity & Community Development; Environmental Science & Policy; SAREP ( email )

Davis, CA 95616
United States
530-574-2503 (Phone)

Meine Van Noordwijk

World Agroforestry Centre ( email )

Nairobi
Kenya

Nancy M. Dickson

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-9469 (Phone)
617-495-8963 (Fax)

Delia Catacutan

World Agroforestry Centre

Nairobi
Kenya

David Guston

Arizona State University (ASU) - Department of Political Science ( email )

Tempe, AZ
United States

Elizabeth C. McNie

Purdue University ( email )

610 Purdue Mall
West Lafayette, IN 47907
United States

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