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Making collaboration work – developing boundary work and boundary awareness in emergency exercises

Annika Andersson (Department of Social and Behavioural Studies, University West, Trollhättan, Sweden)
Berner Lindström (Department of Education, Communication and Learning, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden)

Journal of Workplace Learning

ISSN: 1366-5626

Article publication date: 8 May 2017

Abstract

Purpose

This study aims to investigate how boundary work is carried out at the incident site during exercises with police, ambulance and rescue services, and how boundary awareness is developed based on this boundary work. Collaboration in emergency work is challenging on many levels. The unforeseen and temporary nature of incidents presents basic challenges. Another important challenge is boundaries between specialised and autonomous emergency service organisations. Knowledge on how exercises are performed to increase the individuals' and organisations' preparedness for future joint-response work is relatively limited.

Design/methodology/approach

Empirically, full-scale exercises involving police, ambulance and rescue services and with repetition of practical scenarios and joint-reflection seminars are studied. Interview data with 26 exercise participants were analysed using thematic analysis. The analytic focus is on how boundaries are identified, negotiated and managed in the participants’ work.

Findings

Much of the work in the exercises was performed within distinct areas of expertise, in accordance with concrete routines, skills and responsibilities. Boundary work was often organised in the form of distribution of labour or creating chains of actions. The exercises shed light on challenges related to other aspects of emergency response, such as a lack of resources, diverging primary responsibilities, time-criticality and hazardous environments. The design allowed participants to explicate boundaries, to test and discuss alternative solutions and to visualise the effects of different solutions, as the scenarios were repeated.

Originality/value

The study found that the boundaries that were identified were often of institutional character, and were also related to the specific scenarios and to the actions taken in the activities. By integrating real-life experiences of collaborative work in the exercise, the exercise gained a certain meaning that was essential for the participants to develop boundary awareness.

Keywords

Citation

Andersson, A. and Lindström, B. (2017), "Making collaboration work – developing boundary work and boundary awareness in emergency exercises", Journal of Workplace Learning, Vol. 29 No. 4, pp. 286-303. https://doi.org/10.1108/JWL-05-2016-0039

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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