Digital boundary objects as negotiation facilitators

spanning boundaries in virtual engineering project networks

Advances in electronic communication tools have enabled collaborative engineering work to be conducted in virtual project networks that utilize "digital boundary objects" to exchange complex design knowledge. However, little is known about whether and how digital boundary objects facilitate negotiations in virtual settings that feature real-time communication. This paper addresses this gap by exploring the role of digital boundary objects in negotiating complex design knowledge in a three-dimensional (3-D) virtual workspace. It examines the interactions of eight student teams with two members from each participating university forming eight project networks. A theoretical sampling approach was used. The authors found that digital boundary objects facilitate negotiations through a three-stage process of structuring negotiation space, structuring knowledge in the structured negotiation space, and framing combinations of structured knowledge. The paper concludes with suggestions for future research.
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