In healthcare, organizational boundaries are often viewed as barriers to change. The purpose of this paper is to show how middle managers create inter-organizational change by doing boundary work: the dual act of redrawing boundaries and coordinating work in new ways.
Theoretically, the paper draws on the concept of boundary work from Science and Technology Studies. Empirically, the paper is based on an ethnographic investigation of middle managers that participate in a Dutch reform program across health, social care, and housing.
The findings show how middle managers create a sense of urgency for inter-organizational change by emphasizing “fragmented” service provision due to professional, sectoral, financial, and geographical boundaries. Rather than eradicating these boundaries, middle managers change the status quo gradually by redrawing composite boundaries. They use boundary objects and a boundary-transcending vocabulary emphasizing the need for societal gains that go beyond production targets of individual organizations. As a result, work is coordinated in new ways in neighborhood teams and professional expertise is being reconfigured.
Since boundary workers create incremental change, it is necessary to follow their work for a longer period to assess whether boundary work contributes to paradigm change.
Organizations should pay attention to conditions for boundary work, such as legitimacy of boundary workers and the availability of boundary spaces that function as communities of practice.
By shifting the focus from boundaries to boundary work, this paper gives valuable insights into “how” boundaries are redrawn and embodied in objects and language.
The authors would like to thank the colleagues of the Healthcare Governance Department at the Institute of Health Policy and Management (iBMG) for the critical feedback on earlier versions of the paper. The authors’ thanks also goes to the participants of the conferences of European Group for Organizational Studies (EGOS) and The Netherlands Institute of Government (NIG). The research was funded by the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports. The grant was titled “Transition Program Long Term Care: Neighbourhood Ways of Working.” The authors declare no conflict of interest.
Oldenhof, L., Stoopendaal, A. and Putters, K. (2016), "From boundaries to boundary work: middle managers creating inter-organizational change", Journal of Health Organization and Management, Vol. 30 No. 8, pp. 1204-1220. https://doi.org/10.1108/JHOM-03-2016-0041Download as .RIS
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