The right tool for the task: 'boundary spanners' in a partnership approach to tackle fuel poverty in rural Northern Ireland

Health Soc Care Community. 2007 May;15(3):221-30. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2524.2006.00674.x.


To date, research on fuel poverty has largely focused on the outcomes of interventions, with little attention being accorded to intervention processes. In reporting on an evaluation of a fuel poverty intervention in rural Northern Ireland, the present authors explore some of the mechanisms that secured the project's perceived success. Specifically, they focus on the role of the 'boundary spanner', a concept that is increasingly applied to the analysis of local health partnerships. Initiated by a health action zone (HAZ), the project was implemented by a partnership of 21 organisations from the statutory, community and voluntary sectors. The role of the HAZ manager was described as ensuring that partners stayed engaged, that the project secured support from organisations and that it impacted on policy-makers. A full-time community energy advisor carried responsibility for the partnership's communication with the recipient communities. She worked closely with community associations and project recipients. The project was consistently described by stakeholders as community-led and as having been very successful. The authors suggest that this was because of the roles of two individuals who, at different levels, communicated and negotiated with partners and recipients, maintained momentum, and facilitated the ongoing involvement of the communities. The literature on boundary spanners usually focuses on how the role enables organisations from a range of sectors to participate in partnerships and tackle issues outside the remit of single organisations. As such, it usually describes spanning boundaries 'across and upwards'. While such insight is important and valuable, this study shows that a fuller understanding of the success or failure of local partnership interventions can be gained by also exploring the process of spanning 'downwards'. The authors conclude that, by extending the concept of the boundary spanner to include spanning 'downwards', the concept's explanatory power is enhanced.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Community Networks / organization & administration*
  • Delivery of Health Care / organization & administration
  • Energy-Generating Resources*
  • Focus Groups
  • Interinstitutional Relations
  • Northern Ireland
  • Poverty*
  • Public Policy
  • Rural Population*