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Boundary objects for institutional work across service ecosystems

Laszlo Sajtos (Department of Marketing, Business School, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand)
Michael Kleinaltenkamp (Department of Marketing, Freie Universitaet Berlin, Berlin, Germany)
Julie Harrison (Department of Accounting and Finance, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand)

Journal of Service Management

ISSN: 1757-5818

Article publication date: 13 July 2018

Issue publication date: 21 August 2018




Institutional arrangements for collaborative purposes have gained increasing attention within research on service ecosystems. For collaborations to be effective, actors need to undertake institutional work that will result in new institutional arrangements. When institutional work takes place across service ecosystems, actors may be confronted with non-harmonious or conflicting institutional arrangements, which need to be reconciled by translating the incompatible views of diverse ecosystems. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to introduce the concept of boundary objects as a means of facilitating institutional work across ecosystems, and present their mechanism in undertaking institutional work.


Longitudinal qualitative interviews were conducted with three key actors (funding agency, service provider and clinicians) in providing home-based support services (HBSS). The data were analyzed by undertaking a thematic analysis of the transcripts, which helped to identify the actors’ views on the nature of HBSS and its impact as a boundary object within the implementation of the case-mix system, and thus to empirically illustrate the theoretical assumptions.


The data assisted in the creation of a conceptualization that maps out the process of boundary objects facilitating (disrupting and creating) institutional work. This study supports that boundary objects disrupt boundaries between actors’ ecosystems, which was a sufficient condition to dismantle institutional support for the practices of individual fields. Furthermore, the object has changed the type and extent of interaction between actors in an ecosystem to allow these actors to redefine their identity and role in the new institutional arrangement.


This work has developed a novel conceptualization for a boundary object-led translation process in facilitating institutional work. To the researchers’ knowledge, this is the first study to explore the processes and mechanisms of boundary objects in facilitating institutional work across ecosystems.



Sajtos, L., Kleinaltenkamp, M. and Harrison, J. (2018), "Boundary objects for institutional work across service ecosystems", Journal of Service Management, Vol. 29 No. 4, pp. 615-640.



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