Boundary spanning: Its role in trust development between stakeholders in integrated water resource management

Jodi Lynn Delozier, Mark E. Burbach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


This study sheds light on the importance of boundary spanners in developing the conditions that foster trust between stakeholders in integrated water resource management (IWRM). Boundary spanners routinely reach across organizational borders to build interconnections and interdependencies in order to manage complex problems, inform policy, and encourage knowledge sharing. The importance of the boundary spanning role has been shown in organizational business practices, urban planning, and higher education yet little research exists on its impact in IWRM. The mixed methods approach used in this study involved surveying and interviewing individuals with previous experience with IWRM in Nebraska. The results of the survey indicated that boundary spanning behavior predicted a large percentage of the variance in conditions that build trust between stakeholders. Further exploration revealed that boundary spanning, cooperation, power imbalance, and scale mismatch were predictors of trust building conditions. In addition, authentic leadership, autonomy, and trustworthiness were predictors of boundary spanners' ability to establish trust building conditions between stakeholders, with trustworthiness being the strongest predictor. The qualitative phase included interviews with thirteen individuals who participated in the online survey and scored high in boundary spanning behaviors. The interview analysis resulted in seven themes, which strongly support the promising role that boundary spanners play in fostering conditions that build trust between stakeholders within IWRM. This paper reflects on the importance of a boundary spanner within integrated water management, demonstrates the effectiveness of boundary spanning on the development of trust building conditions, and encourages more research on how to better identify and train boundary spanners to assist in the co-production of knowledge.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100027
JournalCurrent Research in Environmental Sustainability
StatePublished - Jan 2021


  • Boundary spanner
  • Integrated water resource management
  • Knowledge exchange
  • Stakeholders
  • Trust development

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)


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