Background In healthcare, bridging the research-to-practice gap is a top priority. Knowledge mobilisation scholars suggest that this gap can be closed through collaboration between knowledge users and producers. The concept of boundary objects – shared things and ideas that enable communication – has gained popularity across various collaborative work practices, but their potential within knowledge mobilisation in health care is understudied. An ongoing challenge for designers of boundary objects is how to create objects that are valued and shared both in principle and in practice.
Aims and objectives This paper reports on a study of boundary objects used during knowledge mobilisation through NHS-university partnerships called Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRCs). The distinction is investigated between boundary objects-in-theory and boundary objects-in-use, considering whether the latter possess specific characteristics which make them more effective during knowledge mobilisation.
Methods A qualitative case study of three CLAHRCs was conducted. Twenty-one people employed as ‘boundary spanners’ were interviewed to explore whether boundary objects played a role in knowledge mobilisation.
Findings The most effective boundary objects-in-use were co-produced through a process of bricolage. These possessed high levels of meaningfulness and resonance, and reconciled multiple user perspectives. Together these properties contributed to the overall authenticity of boundary objects-in-use.
Discussion and conclusion This paper helps to explain why designated boundary objects frequently fail in practice, and why there is a need to focus on understanding boundary objects based on symbolic, rather than structural, dimensions.