Between Innovation and Legitimation – Boundaries and Knowledge Flow in Management Consultancy



Sturdy A, Clark T, Fincham R & Handley K (2009) Between Innovation and Legitimation – Boundaries and Knowledge Flow in Management Consultancy. Organization, 16 (5), pp. 627-653.;

Management consultancy is seen by many as a key agent in the adoption of new management ideas and practices in organisations. Two contrasting views are dominant – consultants as innovators, bringing new knowledge to their clients, or as legitimating client knowledge. Those few studies which examine directly the flow of knowledge through consultancy in projects with clients favour the innovator view and highlight the important analytical and practical value of boundaries – consultants as both knowledge and organisational outsiders. Likewise, in the legitimator view, the consultants’ role is seen in terms of the primacy of the organisational boundary. By drawing on a wider social science literature on boundaries and studies of inter-organisational knowledge flow and management consultancy more generally, this polarity is seen as problematic, especially at the level of the consulting project. An alternative framework of boundary relations is developed and presented which incorporates their multiplicity, dynamism and situational specificity. This points to a greater complexity and variability in knowledge flow and its potential than is currently recognised. This is significant not only in terms of our understanding of management consultancy and inter-organisational knowledge dynamics and boundaries, but of a critical understanding of the role of management consultancy more generally.

management consultancy; knowledge; innovation; legitimation; boundaries; Business consultants; Knowledge management

Organization: Volume 16, Issue 5

Publication date30/09/2009
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Professor Robin Fincham

Professor Robin Fincham

Emeritus Professor, Management, Work and Organisation