Reading the recent discussions around KM and ethnography hosted by Richard Cross at AOK, I was reminded of the very useful role boundary objects often play when you are looking to understand roles, activities, tacit knowledge and working methods.
I often use boundary objects as a framework in knowledge mapping, where they provide a useful way to organise observations, give the participants something tangible to hang their observations, gather their stories and focus the inquiry.
My practice is to identify the key BOs and then to track these across internal organizational boundaries, watching for language changes, differences in meaning, noting changes in importance, reification and seeking informal feedback that happens. Boundary objects are useful when searching for learning points, looking for process improvements, digging deeper into subtle meaning shifts and authority perceptions.
Boundary objects can be a useful starting point for developing an organizational taxonomy, they touch many communities, carry meaning, record status changes or serve as alerts. The passage of a BO initiates activities, enables self-organization, informs on progress, starts or sets time-lines.
My understanding of the role, nature and importance of BOs in knowledge work has been greatly helped by reading Edwin Hutchins "Cognition in the wild" and Susan Leigh Star's many papers.