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A Case Study of the Failure of Digital Communication To Cross Knowledge Boundaries in Virtual Construction

When can digital artefacts serve to bridge knowledge barriers across epistemic communities? There have been many studies of the roles new information and communication technologies play within organizations. In our study, we compare digital and non-digital methods of inter-organizational collaboration. Based on ethnographic fieldwork on three construction projects and interviews with 65 architects, engineers, and builders across the USA, we find that IT tools designed to increase collaboration in this setting instead solidify and make explicit organizational and cultural differences between project participants. Our study suggests that deeply embedded disciplinary thinking is not easily overcome by digital representations of knowledge and that collaboration may be hindered through the exposure of previously implicit distinctions among the team members’ skills and organizational status. The tool that we study, building information modelling, reflects and amplifies disciplinary representations of the building by architects, engineers, and builders instead of supporting increased collaboration among them. We argue that people sometimes have a difficult time overcoming the lack of interpretive flexibility in digital coordinating tools, even when those tools are built to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration.

 

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