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Three types of knowledge

In this video Tobias Buser presents the three different types of knowledge which are important to structure goals and formulate research questions.

We distinguish three different types of knowledge in transdisciplinary projects: systems knowledge, target knowledge, and transformation knowledge.

‘Systems knowledge’ refers to the analytical and descriptive knowledge about the actual state of the system. With ‘target knowledge’ we describe knowledge about the desired future development of the system. Finally, ‘transformation knowledge’ refers the knowledge about how we can move from the actual state to the more desirable state.
If you are working in a project addressing societal challenges, or if you are currently setting up such a project, try to answer the following questions and share it with us in the discussion thread.

  • What is the main contribution of your project to societal challenges?
  • What type(s) of knowledge are you mainly aiming to produce with your project?
  • What are (or could be) the main research questions regarding systems, target, and transformation knowledge?

You will find a version of this exercise as well in the td-net toolbox

Authors: Flurina Schneider and Tobias Buser


CASS/ProClim (1997). Research on Sustainability and Global Change – Visions in Science Policy by Swiss Researchers (p.15).

Pohl, C. & Hirsch Hadorn, G. (2008). Methodological challenges of transdisciplinary research. Natures Sciences Sociétés, 16, 111-121.

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Partnering for Change: Link Research to Societal Challenges

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