Boundary-spanning actors in complex adaptive governance systems: The case of multisectoral nutrition

Int J Health Plann Manage. 2018 Jan;33(1):e293-e319. doi: 10.1002/hpm.2468. Epub 2017 Oct 10.


A growing literature highlights complexity of policy implementation and governance in global health and argues that the processes and outcomes of policies could be improved by explicitly taking this complexity into account. Yet there is a paucity of studies exploring how this can be achieved in everyday practice. This study documents the strategies, tactics, and challenges of boundary-spanning actors working in 4 Sub-Saharan Africa countries who supported the implementation of multisectoral nutrition as part of the African Nutrition Security Partnership in Burkina Faso, Mali, Ethiopia, and Uganda. Three action researchers were posted to these countries during the final 2 years of the project to help the government and its partners implement multisectoral nutrition and document the lessons. Prospective data were collected through participant observation, end-line semistructured interviews, and document analysis. All 4 countries made significant progress despite a wide range of challenges at the individual, organizational, and system levels. The boundary-spanning actors and their collaborators deployed a wide range of strategies but faced significant challenges in playing these unconventional roles. The study concludes that, under the right conditions, intentional boundary spanning can be a feasible and acceptable practice within a multisectoral, complex adaptive system in low- and middle-income countries.

Keywords: boundary-spanning actors; complex adaptive systems; multisectoral nutrition; nutrition governance; policy implementation.

MeSH terms

  • Burkina Faso
  • Developing Countries
  • Ethiopia
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Mali
  • Nutrition Policy / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Nutritional Status
  • Program Development
  • Uganda