USING DESIGN FOR ALL PRINCIPLES TO CREATE BOUNDARY OBJECTS IN COLLABORATIVE & INCLUSIVE BUSINESS ENVIRONMENTS
It was chatting with a colleague about the convenience of using user stories in the context of complex product design when the term “boundary objects” raised again. We are both fortunate to work for collaborative teams with very different backgrounds and we hold the common viewpoint that understanding is much more than knowledge (“reasoning in action” o “meaning in use” are two short definitions I particularly like the most).
The concept of boundary objects (BO) was introduced time ago in the 80’s to describe objects used by different actors for individual or collaborative interdisciplinary work, despite the absence of consensus.
Indeed, design teams, despite of having common goals or objectives, spend a lot of effort in order to reach shared understanding of the problem (I would bet that some first-hand episode of a project is coming to your mind right now…).
Photo above is a self-explained illustration of why collaboration is important.
It is especially relevant to see how in the last years the focus of BO is moving from the interface of human-computer interactions to the interface of human-human interactions. Reinforcing this fact, the book of Alan Moore “No Straight Lines” can be a great bedside book for those that are trying to make more sense of a more human-centric world where the rules we have previously organised our lives around no longer apply.
Since Aristotle it has said that for engaging in meaningful discussion, parties must share, besides a language, knowledge, information, values and goal.
I firmly know from my experience supporting multidisciplinary work that hardly any “real” problem can be successfully approached by a unique discipline. Furthermore, complex/non-linear collaborative design activities can not longer be solved by individuals or by a single group or, in other words, reaching common understanding between groups of people is a major challenge due to the communication divide that exist between them because of cultural, functional or cognitive differences.
Of course, the same is precisely occurring in business innovation.
From business design to designing Communities of Business Interest
Today, business practitioners who work in a certain domain and undertaking similar work can not know all the relevant knowledge; yet the knowledge is distributed among a broader range of people who come together and collaborate to solve a particular (business design) problem of shared interest.
Let me name this human-centric business environment a “Community of Business Interest”.
Business design activity is, thus, shifted from individual ‘minds’ to a collective social co-creation process.
The illustration above shows a diverse group of four people from different disciplines and with different abilities participating in a Community of Business Interest through a collaborative problem-solving activity. The union of their expertise does not cover the total problem space and social creativity emerges as the result of collaborative understanding and co-creation.
Diversity is the defining characteristic of Communities of Business Interest
Emerging Communities of Business Interest require new boundary objects that can be effectively used across the boundaries of the individual capabilities and abilities of people engaged in such a business environment. So, more than ever, it is clear that BO must be based on a strong recognition of human diversity and foster inclusion.
It is however at these boundary objects that we find the deep problems…
While available business tools (eg. Business Model Generation CANVAS - Alexander Osterwalder et al.- or Lean CANVAS - Ash Maurya-, among much others) are important to empower individual perspectives in (isolated) business design, the fact is that most times these tools are simply inadequate to deal with a new human-centric way of work, more flexible and participatory.
Yes. Existing business modeling methods and tools are rarely diversity and inclusion driven. In other words, we have to question ourselves if such mainstream business tools are equally accessible to all members within a Community of Business Interest in order to gain a better understanding of the relationship between the individual and the social.
Here’s one example of what I mean.
Support organizations are frequently ignorant as to the needs of disadvantaged entrepreneurs or people who experience entrepreneurship differently due to some form of socio-economic, functional or personal differences (eg., people with disabilities, some groups of women, youth, seniors, the unemployed, ethnic minorities, migrant groups, etc.). In the opposite direction, most times prospective entrepreneurs and their advisors or rehabilitation counselors often lack the business tools needed to co-design self-employment options on the basis of a broader evidence of alternative sources of “social capital”. Consequently, inequalities arise and entrepreneurs with special needs are often caught between not well-aligned boundary objects.
… and the gap is growing.
The answer lies in Design for All
Certainly, executing problem-solving on social creativity is a significant challenge and diversity in communities of business interest can be difficult to “manage”.
The solution resides in boundary objects should be designed in ways that support social creativity or, what it is the same, boundary objects should be designed with accessibility and usability in mind.
Design for All has the (practical) answer.
Design for All focuses on the practical process of learning about and making more explicit the sources of differences of an environment so that it can be accessed and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability and without the need for adaptation.
For example, working with people with cognitive and learning disabilities has created new unique challenges for theories about distributed intelligence and provides a deeper understanding of distributed cognition. Neurodiversity within Communities of Business Interest must be considered to provide augmented methods of co-creation & communication more suitable for all. Working with physical and sensory disabilities may also lead to more ubiquitous, adaptive and multimodal interactions in hybrid (online/physical) workspaces … and so on.
Design for All allows us to manage and synchronize the diversity of a team.
So, let’s use Design for All to design more efficient boundary objects in Communities of Business Interest.
Business4All: a “purposive” business tool inspired by Design for All principles
Business4ALL blends Boundary Objects and Design for All in Communities of Business Interest.
Its main strength is based on the externalization of diversity in Communities of Business Interest to create a common and accessible language to provide a means for a broader range of people to interact with, react to, negotiate around, make informed decisions and build upon a business idea.
Business4ALL puts the focus on the interactional aspects of knowledge creation, seeking, sharing, and use across a given boundary. It has a brokering role involving alignment among the different capabilities, abilities and personal or context-specific preferences of people participating in a Community of Business Interest (for example, around community-driven entrepreneurship projects, social product design, scenario prototyping, private-public-people partnerships, civic design, etc.).
Photo above shows people with and without disabilities using Business4ALL Toolkit during a co-creation activity.
Business4ALL makes business tools more usable for everyone, regardless of their needs.
The tool has a clear “purposive” nature as it makes more voices meet, collide and merge around a common purpose and it also anchors social and human values for solving problems. That is, Business4ALL transforms the current business approach to a collaborative, cross-functional and human-centric problem.
Diversity makes us smarter
With this article, mostly I just wanted to stress that opportunities and benefits of using Design for All principles to create novel boundary objects in collaborative and inclusive business environments are huge. I firmly believe, if you value innovation and new ideas, that they can help to make better projects, better products.
Diversity must be a critical source of competitive advantage and success over time (instead a barrier to innovation).
Diversity advocates using new assistive business tools like Business4ALL shall be responsible for spreading true inclusion into everyday business innovation slowly but surely, building fans over time while unleashing the bottom line of companies and projects.
To choose otherwise will no longer be a viable option in the pursuit of excellence.
What do you think?
If you would like to learn more on Business4ALL or you want to exchange insights on inclusive business innovation, then please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Special thanks to Fundación Rafapuede