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Making collaboration work - developing boundary work and boundary awareness in emergency exercises

Journal article
Authors A. Andersson
Berner Lindström
Published in Journal of Workplace Learning
Volume 29
Issue 4
Pages 286-303
ISSN 1366-5626
Publication year 2017
Published at Department of Education, Communication and Learning
Pages 286-303
Language en
Keywords Training, Boundaries, Collaboration, Emergency services, Emergency exercise, management, framework, Education & Educational Research
Subject categories Educational Sciences


Purpose - This study aims to investigate how boundary work is carried out at the incident site during exercises with police, ambulance and rescue services, and how boundary awareness is developed based on this boundary work. Collaboration in emergency work is challenging on many levels. The unforeseen and temporary nature of incidents presents basic challenges. Another important challenge is boundaries between specialised and autonomous emergency service organisations. Knowledge on how exercises are performed to increase the individuals' and organisations' preparedness for future joint-response work is relatively limited. Design/methodology/approach - Empirically, full-scale exercises involving police, ambulance and rescue services and with repetition of practical scenarios and joint-reflection seminars are studied. Interview data with 26 exercise participants were analysed using thematic analysis. The analytic focus is on how boundaries are identified, negotiated and managed in the participants' work. Findings - Much of the work in the exercises was performed within distinct areas of expertise, in accordance with concrete routines, skills and responsibilities. Boundary work was often organised in the form of distribution of labour or creating chains of actions. The exercises shed light on challenges related to other aspects of emergency response, such as a lack of resources, diverging primary responsibilities, time-criticality and hazardous environments. The design allowed participants to explicate boundaries, to test and discuss alternative solutions and to visualise the effects of different solutions, as the scenarios were repeated. Originality/value - The study found that the boundaries that were identified were often of institutional character, and were also related to the specific scenarios and to the actions taken in the activities. By integrating real-life experiences of collaborative work in the exercise, the exercise gained a certain meaning that was essential for the participants to develop boundary awareness.

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