Rethinking soft OR interventions: models as boundary objects

2014-05-21T13:20:56Z (GMT) by L. Alberto Franco
In this paper I draw on research on the role of objects in problem solving collaboration to make a case for the conceptualisation of models as potential boundary objects. Such conceptualisation highlights the possibility that the models used in Soft OR interventions perform three roles with specific effects: transfer to develop a shared language, translation to develop shared meanings, and transformation to develop common interests. If these roles are carried out effectively, models enable those involved to traverse the syntactic, semantic and pragmatic boundaries encountered when tackling a problem situation of mutual concern, and help create new knowledge that has consequences for action. I illustrate these roles and associated effects via two empirical case vignettes drawn from an ongoing action research programme studying the impact of Soft OR interventions. Building on the insights generated by the case vignettes, I develop an analytical framework that articulates the dynamics of knowledge creation within Soft OR interventions. The framework can shed new light on a core aspect of Soft OR practice, especially with regards to the impact of models on the possibilities for action they can afford to those involved. I conclude with a discussion of the prescriptive value of the framework for research into the evaluation of Soft OR interventions, and its implications for the conduct of Soft OR practice.