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

49 Pages Posted: 4 Jul 2011

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 onorganization's ability to build practices that integrate diverseexpertise across professional, organizational, industry and otherboundaries. In this paper we investigate how an organizationalcompetence in boundary spanning emerges in practice. We draw on theconcepts of boundary spanner and boundary object and on thepractice-based view of KM in organizations to understand the emergenceof boundary spanning in practice, which we define as relating practicesfrom diverse fields. We contrast data from two qualitative, longitudinalfield studies to draw our conclusions. We argue that for boundaryspanning to emerge in practice a new joint field, which unites agent ina common pursuit, needs to be produced. Engagement of agents in thispractice partially transforms their practices in local fields so as toaccommodate the interests of their counterparts. Those agents who engagein negotiating the nature of this new field become boundaryspanners-in-practice. Through their engagements in the new joint fieldand diverse local practices boundary spanners-in-practice produce anduse objects which become locally useful and acquire a joint identitythrough their use â boundary objects-in-use. Through dataanalysis we find, first, that nominated boundary spanners and designatedboundary objects do not always become boundary spanners-in-practice andboundary objects-in-use. Second, we outline the conditions necessary forboundary spanners-in-practice to emerge, including the need for them tobecome legitimate, albeit peripheral, participants in the practices ofthe fields that they span. Thirdly, we show how boundaryspanners-in-practice use their symbolic, cultural, social, and economicresources (capital) to build the new joint field. Finally, we examinethe tensions involved in a) the nomination of agents as boundaryspanners and artifacts as boundary objects; b) the growth of the newjoint field; c) agentsâ choice in investing in the new jointfield; 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: Implicationsfor Information Systems' Implementation Use (2004). NYU Working Paper No. CEDER-04-07, 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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