Boundary Organizations

When the objective is decision-making that actually contributes to improved conditions, focused attention on relationship-building and careful design and facilitation of decision processes is of fundamental importance. As Bardach points out, development of trust, a problem-solving ethos, and consensus-building processes takes time, effort, skill, and a mix of constructive personalities who are around long enough to build effective relationships [58]. The skills and abilities that are required for excellence in research are different from those that are required for integrating research results into the policy sphere. As demonstrated by the San Francisquito Creek Watershed example discussed above, not everyone involved in a planning/management effort can or should reach across the science-policy interface, or even across disciplinary divides. Both scientists and policy makers use specialized language, or jargon, that hinders communication across the science-policy boundary. An engineer who develops quantitative predictive models and a political scientist studying public policy may understand that they need to collaborate in order to achieve a common goal, but they are likely to be too far apart in worldviews, interests, language, and methodology to have a meaningful exchange of ideas. Knowledge exchange and relationship-building can be greatly enhanced by participation of an intermediary, someone with sufficient knowledge about both disciplines to be able to translate and integrate the disciplinary ideas and concepts. Jargon serves an important function among a community of practice, in that it facilitates concise and precise communication of complex and multi-faceted concepts. New terms which prove useful to the community will enter the common language of that community; such terms become shorthand references to all of the assumptions and negotiated meanings and implications that have accumulated around the term. People who are not members of that particular community of practice will not be familiar with those assumptions and meanings, and thus will not be able to fully understand the intended message.

Work in the area of mediation and dispute resolution has demonstrated the effectiveness of a neutral third-party in facilitating processes aimed at developing shared understanding. Taylor and colleagues suggest that science and policy translators are needed in order for scientists and policy makers to effectively engage with one another [16]. Likewise, Williams considers the role of catalysts or informational intermediaries to be highly influential in shaping and facilitating partnerships, because they help overcome informational asymmetries between social groups, establish a common set of expectations, and facilitate goal adjustment, foster co-operation and exchange, act as neutral arbitrators in conflict resolution, and reduce communication costs and uncertainty [6].

In every successful organization, there are people who are catalysts, who have a 'knack' for making things happen. They are adept at getting the "right" people talking to each other, they see connections between things that other people miss, and they ask the types of questions that spark creative and innovative thinking among colleagues. These key individuals are referred to as 'boundary spanners', since they are effective at building bridges across institutional and disciplinary boundaries. Boundary spanning activities can be carried out by a group of people (for example, one department in a larger organization) or by an organization (in a multi-organizational context). Drawing on the common concept of boundaries in social studies of science, David Guston in 1999 coined the term "boundary organization" to describe institutions that straddle yet join the relatively distinct domains of politics and science [59]. To effectively conduct boundary spanning activities, an organization must be perceived by all participants as expert (and thus credible), apolitical and unbiased (and thus trustworthy), stable and long-lived, and flexible and responsive (and thus able to adapt to changing circumstances). The presence of boundary organizations is thought to facilitate the transfer of usable knowledge between science and policy [60]. The U.S. Department of

Agriculture's Extension Service is an example of a boundary organization [61]. Extension agents act as a bridge between individual farmers and research scientists, providing a two-way link between research and day-to-day management activities.

Participants in a decision process must trust an intermediary organization in order for it to be effective as a boundary organization. Both perception and reputation are important components. Trust includes several components:

■ Agenda: There is no such thing as an individual or organization without an agenda. It is important that the boundary organization's agenda be transparent (i.e., readily identifiable by the participants), and perceived by participants as not being in conflict with stakeholder agendas. Schneider emphasizes that institutions placed between citizens and scientists must be open and transparent to all citizen groups, including special interests, in order to be credible [62].

■ Ethics: The boundary organization must earn a reputation for ethical behavior. Participants must feel as if they can believe what the boundary organization tells them.

■ Competence: The boundary organization must earn a reputation for adding value to a decision process. Its members have to have, and be recognized as having, the necessary skills to do the job. Both the scientists and the policy makers must recognize that they will receive benefits from boundary organization participation before they will be willing to cooperate.

Academic institutions and respected non-profit organizations can serve as boundary organizations. Policy makers, resource managers and other practitioners can assist in identifying potential boundary organizations, and take steps to foster and support that organization's effectiveness as a trusted intermediary.

Example: Digital Comprehensive Planning Process.

One of the most effective examples I have seen of a boundary organization that facilitates collective cognition is the collaborative inquiry process conducted by the Prescott College/Blueline Consulting Group, LLC (BLC) based in Arizona. BLC provides scientific and technical support for development of comprehensive plans by local governments. BLC develops computer-based modeling and visualization tools tailored to the local situation. What distinguishes the BLC approach from standard approaches to technical consultancy is its focus on consensus-building through collaborative inquiry—computer-based decision tools are designed to facilitate rather than replace dialogue. The BLC works closely with decision makers, local experts, and stakeholders to frame a specific question, develop appropriate integrative models that directly relate to the local planning process, and explore the potential long-term impacts of alternative development scenarios. A central element of BLC's agenda is encouraging communities to make better, more sustainable decisions through fostering informed collective dialogue about values, assumptions, and alternative futures. Municipalities are willing to participate because the process is designed to generate a product of tangible value to them, a comprehensive plan that satisfies requirements, at a lower cost than the standard comprehensive planning process. Most of the municipal staff and stakeholders who have participated in BLC Digital Comprehensive Planning projects have indicated that they believe that the consensus-building process produced better decisions, and more effective implementation [63].

A key reason for the effectiveness of this group is its members' understanding of their target audience, municipal planners. One of the program's developers had past work experience as a municipal planner, and thus had first-hand knowledge about the needs of and constraints on planners. Early in the development process, the BLC group members gave careful thought to what would constitute a "successful outcome" both for themselves and for their target audience; this allowed them to design processes and tools that met both sets of needs and agendas. This strategic approach was championed by the project's leader, Wil Orr, who encouraged innovation among the BLC team, and who was able to communicate effectively both to the leadership of their host institution, Prescott College, and to outside funding agencies such as NASA.

Negotiating Essentials

Negotiating Essentials

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