Boundary Spanning Practices

Boundary Spanning Practices to Improve Innovation Outcomes

Applied research has identified some boundary-spanning practices that can support the management of inter-organizational relationships and the collaboration process for innovation. In PPP settings, boundary spanning practices such as personal relationship building, stakeholder engagement, collaborative problem solving and experimentation can be used systematically to activate social capital mechanisms; to accelerate the development of capabilities, and achievement of innovation outcomes.

By  integrating the concepts of social capital and boundary spanning, it becomes possible to be much more strategic and systematic about the way that relationships are contributing resources and capability to the innovation process – especially across different organizations, which may have different processes and goals and cultures.

    • Personal Relationship Building
    • Stakeholder Engagement
    • Collaborative Problem Solving
    • Experimentation

Personal Relationship Building

The more formal the partnership, the more informal the relationships of people across the partnership need to be, in order to maximize innovation outcomes.

Trust needs to be developed first in personal relationships, in order to foster more knowledge sharing and collaboration. Personal relationship building as a boundary-spanning practice, at first through simple physical interaction, empathy and transparent communication, helps to build trust, affective commitment and a shared identity over time.

The metaphor of “water that connects the streams” has been used to describe this role connecting and aligning different partner organizations around a common purpose.

Stakeholder Engagement

A reciprocal, rather than dominant, relationship with stakeholders allows for ongoing collaboration to improve solution ideas and produce innovation.
Activities such as training, facility tours, and proofs of concept create a shared learning journey for project participants, solidify collaboration for innovation, and develop the adaptive capacity of individual members and organizations in PPP innovation projects.

Collaborative Problem Solving 

When emerging tensions are addressed through mutual understanding and continuous learning, you have collaborative problem solving.
Effective collaborative leaders prefer to build solutions with others when there are resource interdependencies, rather than trying to solve problems by themselves. Someone else in the partnership may have experienced a similar problem in the past, and can offer you a path to resolve the issue.
From the experience of helping one another solve problems comes other resource sharing that can lead to more co-creation and innovative solutions.


Experimentation is characterized by openness to the emergence of crazy ideas, playfulness, fun, and stretching of boundaries. Experimenting with partners creates a shared learning journey on the path to innovation.