Monday, 15 January 2018

Make yourself relevant

Here is a post, written by Dr María D. López Rodríguez for the Integration and Implementation Insights blog, that explores the concept of boundary objects: objects that can be used to help people from different backgrounds and disciplines share and integrate their knowledge, experiences and other information whilst exploring and seeking to solve complex issues and problems.

Boundary objects can take many forms (Dr Rodríguez's, as you will see from her post, consist of a simple diagram).

The key dimension explored by Dr Rodriguez's boundary object tool is relevance: relevance to the problem that needs to be solved. Specifically, three areas of relevance are explored: 1. the relevance of scientific knowledge to solving the problem, 2. the relevance of current legislative frameworks (laws) to solving the problem, 3. the relevance of the problem to society and the public. Each dimension of relevance is discussed and given a rating. These ratings are then combined in a triangular diagram. (See Dr Rodriguez's post for a detailed description of how this is done.)    

Dr Rodriguez's boundary object was designed for a specific reason and context, as part of a process to help scientists and non-scientist decision-makers enhance their collaboration in the area of environmental protection, and the bespoke nature of the tool is emphasised by her as crucial. Her post suggests that all partners in a collaboration need to co-create boundary objects tailored to their unique requirements and contexts.

Having said this, however, perhaps a first step towards creating unique boundary objects is to become familiar with them by adopting and adapting those that have been used elsewhere.

For example, if Dr Rodriguez's boundary object is simplified it can be used within an increased number of contexts and gradually adapted to the specific needs of each one.

A simplified version of the model would be based upon the following three questions:
  1. Are our collective experiences, types of knowledge and skills relevant to solving the problem?
  2. How relevant are current rules, regulations and procedures to the problem and our options for solving it?
  3. How relevant is the problem to the people with whom we are seeking to engage?       
Collaborators would be asked to discuss each question and then provide a rating for each one. The ratings can be from 0 to 3 or 0 to 5, with 0 signifying no relevance to the problem and 3 or 5 signifying maximum relevance to the problem. These rating would then be transferred to a triangular diagram looking something like this:


This boundary object can then be used to encourage further discussion about what the ratings imply and what might need to be done in response to them. The above triangle suggests the following: solving the problem is very relevant to people; current rules, etc., are fairly relevant to solving the problem; and the collaborative initiative's shared experiences, etc., are not as relevant as they should be to solving the problem. (These ratings strongly indicate that to solve the problem effectively it is a priority to gain additional relevant experiences and develop and/or obtain additional relevant knowledge, etc. They also clearly suggest that significant attention needs to be given to working with and exploiting current rules, etc.)         

The following questions could be used to start the discussion about a boundary object's ratings and the shape they create: 
  • Which of our collective experiences, types of knowledge and skills seem most relevant to the problems we are seeking to solve? Why do we think this? What evidence do we have? How can we make them even more relevant?
  • Which of our experiences, types of knowledge and skills seem least relevant to the problems we are seeking to solve? Why do we think this? What evidence do we have? How could they be made more relevant?
  • Which experiences, types of knowledge and skills (which we consider essential to solving the problem) do we not possess collectively? How can we gain them? How can we develop them? From where can we get them?
  • Which current rules, regulations and procedures will or could help us solve the problem? How could we enhance their ability to help us?
  • Which current rules, regulations and procedures will or could hinder or stop our progress towards solving the problem? How could we reduce or remove their ability to hinder or stop us solving the problem? Is there any way we can turn them to our advantage so that they help us solve the problem?
  • Why is the problem relevant to people? Why do we think this? What evidence do we have that the problem is relevant to people? Do people know that the problem is relevant to them? How can we make it clear that the problem is relevant to people?
  • Why do people think the problem is not relevant to them? Why do they think this? What evidence do they have that the problem is not relevant to them? How does the evidence that the problem is not relevant to people compare with the evidence that the problem is relevant to people? Do we have to rethink or reframe the problem to make it relevant to people? Do we have to identify different and perhaps underlying problems that are relevant to people?

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