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Rethinking Soft OR interventions: Models as boundary objects


  • Alberto Franco, L.


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.

Suggested Citation

  • Alberto Franco, L., 2013. "Rethinking Soft OR interventions: Models as boundary objects," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 231(3), pages 720-733.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ejores:v:231:y:2013:i:3:p:720-733
    DOI: 10.1016/j.ejor.2013.06.033

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Howick, Susan & Ackermann, Fran, 2011. "Mixing OR methods in practice: Past, present and future directions," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 215(3), pages 503-511, December.
    2. Paul R. Carlile & Eric S. Rebentisch, 2003. "Into the Black Box: The Knowledge Transformation Cycle," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 49(9), pages 1180-1195, September.
    3. Eden, Colin, 2004. "Analyzing cognitive maps to help structure issues or problems," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 159(3), pages 673-686, December.
    4. Franco, L. Alberto & Montibeller, Gilberto, 2010. "Facilitated modelling in operational research," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 205(3), pages 489-500, September.
    5. Alberto Franco, L., 2009. "Problem structuring methods as intervention tools: Reflections from their use with multi-organisational teams," Omega, Elsevier, vol. 37(1), pages 193-203, February.
    6. Franco, L. Alberto & Rouwette, Etienne A.J.A., 2011. "Decision development in facilitated modelling workshops," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 212(1), pages 164-178, July.
    7. Franco, L. Alberto & Cushman, Mike & Rosenhead, Jonathan, 2004. "Project review and learning in the construction industry: Embedding a problem structuring method within a partnership context," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 152(3), pages 586-601, February.
    8. Ackermann, Fran, 2012. "Problem structuring methods ‘in the Dock’: Arguing the case for Soft OR," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 219(3), pages 652-658.
    9. Mingers, John, 2011. "Soft OR comes of age--but not everywhere!," Omega, Elsevier, vol. 39(6), pages 729-741, December.
    10. White, Leroy, 2009. "Understanding problem structuring methods interventions," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 199(3), pages 823-833, December.
    11. Franco, L. Alberto & Lord, Ewan, 2011. "Understanding multi-methodology: Evaluating the perceived impact of mixing methods for group budgetary decisions," Omega, Elsevier, vol. 39(3), pages 362-372, June.
    12. Ackermann, Fran & Andersen, David F. & Eden, Colin & Richardson, George P., 2011. "ScriptsMap: A tool for designing multi-method policy-making workshops," Omega, Elsevier, vol. 39(4), pages 427-434, August.
    13. Mingers, John & Rosenhead, Jonathan, 2004. "Problem structuring methods in action," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 152(3), pages 530-554, February.
    14. Jarzabkowski, Paula & Paul Spee, Andreas & Smets, Michael, 2013. "Material artifacts: Practices for doing strategy with ‘stuff’," European Management Journal, Elsevier, vol. 31(1), pages 41-54.
    15. Lawrence Phillips & Carlos Bana e Costa, 2007. "Transparent prioritisation, budgeting and resource allocation with multi-criteria decision analysis and decision conferencing," Annals of Operations Research, Springer, vol. 154(1), pages 51-68, October.
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    Cited by:

    1. repec:eee:ejores:v:268:y:2018:i:3:p:836-851 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Rodney J. Scott & Robert Y. Cavana & Donald Cameron, 2016. "Mechanisms for Understanding Mental Model Change in Group Model Building," Systems Research and Behavioral Science, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 33(1), pages 100-118, January.
    3. David Lowe & Louise Martingale & Mike Yearworth, 2016. "Guiding interventions in a multi-organisational context: combining the Viable System Model and Hierarchical Process Modelling for use as a Problem Structuring Method," Journal of the Operational Research Society, Palgrave Macmillan;The OR Society, vol. 67(12), pages 1481-1495, December.
    4. Rodrigues, Teresa C. & Montibeller, Gilberto & Oliveira, Mónica D. & Bana e Costa, Carlos A., 2017. "Modelling multicriteria value interactions with Reasoning Maps," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 258(3), pages 1054-1071.
    5. repec:spr:grdene:v:27:y:2018:i:5:d:10.1007_s10726-018-9588-4 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. repec:eee:ejores:v:268:y:2018:i:3:p:1006-1020 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. repec:spr:grdene:v:24:y:2015:i:3:d:10.1007_s10726-014-9398-2 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. repec:bla:srbeha:v:34:y:2017:i:6:p:759-772 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. repec:eee:ejores:v:265:y:2018:i:2:p:673-684 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. repec:eee:ejores:v:263:y:2017:i:3:p:1019-1032 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. Tavella, Elena & Papadopoulos, Thanos, 2017. "Applying OR to problem situations within community organisations: A case in a Danish non-profit, member-driven food cooperative," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 258(2), pages 726-742.
    12. Rodney J. Scott & Robert Y. Cavana & Donald Cameron, 2016. "Client Perceptions of Reported Outcomes of Group Model Building in the New Zealand Public Sector," Group Decision and Negotiation, Springer, vol. 25(1), pages 77-101, January.
    13. Simon Bell & Sami Mahroum & Nasser Yassin, 2017. "Towards understanding problem structuring and groups with triple task methodology ‘e’," Journal of the Operational Research Society, Palgrave Macmillan;The OR Society, vol. 68(2), pages 192-206, February.
    14. repec:eee:ejores:v:268:y:2018:i:3:p:1111-1124 is not listed on IDEAS


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