Creating designs as effective boundary objects in innovation journeys?

A.P. Bos, S. van Bommel, L.W.A. Klerkx

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference paperAcademic


In innovation processes, prospects are often seen as a strategic tool to connect multiple actors. They are perceived to be flexible enough to have meaning in all social worlds, and stable enough to travel back and forth between them. In other words, effective prospects are seen as boundary objects and it is thought that these boundary objects can be designed . This paper analyses the innovation journey of the Rondeel poultry husbandry system , in which a prospect- a design in the form of a “masterplan” or “prototype” - was purposefully created as a boundary object to support the innovation process. The analysis indeed reveals the role of the design as a boundary object in creating mutual understanding among diverse actors during the innovation journey of the Rondeel and mobilizing support. But while some aspects of the design remained relatively stable, other aspects constantly changed as: 1) the design had to be adapted to the inhouse technology and capabilities of the development consortium; 2) many new challenges emerged during the innovation journey itself which had to be incorporated. Each new development direction meant a renegotiation of the design and the network of actors that came along with that. To what extent can prospects be created as boundary objects to facilitate innovation journeys? The analyses shows that the Rondeel design was not a fixed end-product: it was constantly reinterpreted and strategically renegotiated in interaction, acting both as an inclusion and exclusion device for actors and options during the innovation journey. Although sometimes exclusion was beneficial to the process, it also sometimes caused lock-ins. The need for interpretative flexibility, the difficulty of establishing an optimum interpretative flexibility and the (unintended) consequences of exclusion nuance the view that designs can be purposefully created as effective boundary objects . We end by discussing the term boundary “object¿, which suggests a stable and passive entity. We argue that it might be better to talk about “boundary subject¿ since designs constantly change and exert agency themselves while the innovation travels through time and across different spaces.


ConferenceJoint conference of the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) and European Association for the Study of Science and Technology (EASST), Copenhagen, Denmark.

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