Boundary objects (BOs):

BOs are a special group of knowledge objects because they cross community, group & organizational boundaries and help to carry meaning, promote commuication and assist with understanding. They serve as both containers and carriers. BOs are highly abstract and generalized form of knowledge organization with considerable reification. Classification systems, ontologies, paper forms serve as BOs (where they are used by diverse groups). An prime example of a BO is an ERP order entry process, a shared information space, a product tracking number, RFID tag....


It is around BOs that Communities of Practice (CoPs) often gather. BOs are 'used' by members of different communities in very different ways, although the representation is shared. BOs are an important class of knowledge artifacts, they are associated with process, meaning, alignment and reification. They are center stage in the dynamics of knowledge exchange. When you are identifying & tracking BOs be aware of issues around translation, closure, context, shared meaning. BOs are also know as CISs (common information spaces). Here is an interesting article on the subject (a little theoretical):


Examples of boundary objects:




Mapping BOs:

  • Gather the name (this may change from community to community)
  • Describe and record the roles and responsibilities around the BO
  • Map the workflow, the path and sequence from node to node
  • Look for authorities, signoffs, trigger events, deviation procedures.
  • Check for learning points.
  • Record your findings in the BO register and on the knowledge map.