Three forms of knowlege

How does science contribute to the sustainable development of society? Swiss researchers addressed this question based on a mandate from the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences and concluded the following: Science contributes to sustainable development by advancing by three forms of knowledge [1, p. 15]:
  • Knowledge about what is (systems knowledge);
  • Knowledge about what should or should not be (target knowledge);
  • Knowledge about how to get from where we are to where we should be (transformation knowledge).
Research projects typically focus on one of these three forms of knowledge. However, individual projects can account for the interdependence of the three knowledge forms by making explicit their underlying assumptions regarding the other two forms of knowledge. For example, a project designed to generate knowledge about water use in a particular area (systems knowledge) should explicitly state which ideals of sustainable water use (target knowledge) and which means of societal transformation (e.g. law, technology, voluntary agreements) this knowledge is relevant for [2].

This distinction of knowledge forms was developed in the context of sustainability research and transdisciplinary research aimed at problem solving [1, 2] (learn more). Further analyses are needed to determine how and whether these knowledge forms are relevant to transdisciplinary research with other aims.

  1. ProClim, Research on Sustainability and Global Change - Visions in Science Policy by Swiss Researchers, 1997, CASS/SANW: Berne.
  2. Wuelser, G., C. Pohl, and G. Hirsch Hadorn, "Structuring complexity for tailoring research contributions to sustainable development: a framework". Sustainability Science, 2012. 7(1): p. 81-93.

House of Academies
Laupenstrasse 7
P.O. Box
3001 Bern

Tel +41 (0)31 306 93 60
Twitter: @tdnetCH

Contact directly
our collaborators