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Three types of knowledge

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. ‘Target knowledge’ describes knowledge about the desired future development of the system. Finally, ‘transformation knowledge’ refers to the knowledge about how we can move from the actual state to the more desirable state.

If you are working on a project addressing societal challenges, or if you are currently setting up such a project, try to answer the following questions and reflect on your answers. How does the perception of the addressed problem change according to the type of knowledge?

  • 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 in the td-net toolbox as well.

Authors: Prof. Dr. Flurina Schneider and Tobias Buser


Buser, T. & Schneider, F. (2021): Three types of knowledge. Integration and Implementation Insights.

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.