Open Access Research

An activity theory analysis of boundary objects in cross-border information systems development for disaster management

Nitesh Bharosa1, JinKyu Lee2, Marijn Janssen3 and H Raghav Rao45*

Author Affiliations

1 Delft University of Technology, Jaffalaan 5, 2628BX, Delft, The Netherlands

2 Spears School of Business, Oklahoma State University, 317 North Hall, 700 N. Greenwood Ave, Tulsa, OK, 74106, USA

3 Delft University of Technology, Jaffalaan 5, 2628BX, Delft, The Netherlands

4 Management Science and Systems, University at Buffalo, 325C Jacobs Mgmt Center, Amherst, NY, 14260, USA

5 Department of GSM, Sogang University, Seoul, Korea

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Security Informatics 2012, 1:15  doi:10.1186/2190-8532-1-15

Published: 17 October 2012


One of the main challenges in cross-border disaster management is the development and use of information systems that cater the needs of heterogeneous relief agencies, policies, activities and cultures. Drawing upon activity theory, this paper examines cross-border information systems development for disaster management. We infuse the concept of boundary objects into activity theory by the characterization of the artifacts. This allows articulating how the socio-technical objects are meshed with the process of cross-border collaboration for systems development. Our longitudinal ethnographic field study on a cross-border flood management project, VIKING, revealed how the project was empowered and developed by four key boundary objects, i.e. the governance structure of the program, two information systems (a disaster management information system and an online collaboration portal), and recurring cross-border exercises as an evaluation and feedback mechanism. The selective institutionalizations of these key boundary objects helped the participants overcome various contradictions existed in the systems development. The study results also show that both goal-oriented actions and boundary objects can affect the outcomes of long-term large-scale disaster management systems development.

Disaster management; Information systems development; Cross-border collaboration; Activity theory; Boundary objects