This task required reading Gibbons et al’s work on modes of knowledge production, then reflecting on the implications of the two modes in my proposed research. This got rather prickly, but I felt I couldn’t shy away from the tensions and ironies inherent in Mode 2 research in a Mode 1 context.

Much like other binary models where an old or traditional paradigm is contrasted with a new paradigm, Mode 1 and Mode 2 knowledge production draws a line between traditional, discipline-based, siloed and primarily cognitive or theoretical knowledge production and a new (insofar as something conceptualised 25 years ago could be called new) approach that is dynamic, transdisciplinary, contextualised and complex.

One can find synergistic parallels in other binary models – Kahneman & Egan’s (2011) System 1 and System 2 thinking, for instance, linear and systems thinking, bureaucratic and auftragstaktik or mission command models of leadership (Schmidtchen, 2001) or even behaviourism and constructivism (Vygotsky, 1962). A simplistic existing paradigm is contrasted against another more complex or dynamic paradigm, often with a tacit value implication that the second paradigm is better. 

The problem here is that the institution of the university is more or less the archetypal Mode 1 knowledge production system. And embedded in both Gibbons et al’s work (1994) and the structure of this PhDI program is an assumption that universities will largely remain undisturbed as Mode 1 production centres, and the shift to Mode 2 knowledge production will happen in the world around them, out in industry and the commercial sector. 

Let me illustrate some of the implications of this with some examples of my experience so far with the PhDI program.

Firstly, the fact that I am even enrolled in this program and thus writing this assignment at all is a story of Mode 1 vs Mode 2 tension – the Mode 2 nature of my proposed research made a Mode 1 institution uncomfortable, and my proposal bounced around between disciplines trying to fit the administrative requirement of being situated in a single discipline, each reluctant to take ownership of something hinting at transdisciplinarity in an acutely contextual situation. 

The ways that the university values and administers knowledge production are strictly Mode 1, and so I am in a situation where my work is likely to be judged by inappropriate paradigms (Cooksey, 2001). Already, I have been warned to be careful with my research, that it will be a difficult project, that I will not be able to find anyone to examine my portfolio, that my choice of supervisors is unusual, that my portfolio must be submitted in traditional written format . The message is clear – Mode 2 does not fit here. Even where Mode 2 is a desired end point, we find ourselves in the situation Gibbons et al described: “everyone believes it can be brought about just by aspiring to it.” (1994, p. 27).  We have yet to change the structures of the system that allow Mode 2 to be realised.

Even this task – a written essay, with a word limit and referencing guidelines – is a Mode 1 method of knowledge communication. Mode 2 is again seen to be aspirational rather than structurally applied. The assumption seems to be that we will learn about Mode 1 and Mode 2 knowledge production via the medium of Mode 1, and then implement it in Mode 2 away from the university context.

The implications of this for my research come in the form of a meta layer of abstraction – my work carries an additional burden of facilitating organisational learning, such that the university is able to shift into a double and triple loop learning context (Argyris & Schon, 1978; Cooksey, 2001) in order to make the necessary structural changes that enable Mode 2 knowledge production. This layer is functionally separate from the paradigm shift already implied in my research design – it is required in order to undertake my research, distinct from allowing my intended innovation project to succeed.

To this end, I will need to pay more careful attention to building concepts around organisational learning into the ways I approach and conduct research, as well as the research design itself. Rather than only considering concepts like organisational learning mechanisms (Lipshitz, Friedman & Popper, 2006) and psychological safety (Edmondson, 1999) in a single loop context, applied in my innovation project to solve a problem, I need to develop a double and triple loop learning approach to the ways I engage in the PhDI program. Once again I am reminded of Ramos-Torrescano’s (2017) notion of being a stealth change agent, and now the need to be aware of how my actions within this program can and should effect change, distinct from any particular research project.

I will also need to be mindful that my engagement in transdisciplinarity is truly transdiscipline, and not, as GIbbons et al note “a mere accumulation of knowledge supplied from more than once discipline” (1994, p. 28). This has already produced some difficulties, from administrative requirements for managing research through a single discipline, to applying discipline-specific FOR codes, to anecdotal stories of institutional politics where some disciplines and organisational areas refuse to work with others. How do I meaningfully transcend the concept of disciplines in this environment? This is another wicked problem my research carries an additional burden of addressing.

Full engagement with the concept of co-creation is also necessary, and implications for both the curation of ‘cultural islands’ (Lipshitz, Friedman & Popper, 2006) and the communication of my research is found in this particular description of Mode 2 knowledge production:

“The research…has to incorporate…the values and preferences of different individuals and groups that have been seen as traditionally outside of the scientific and technological system. They can now become active agents in the definition and solution of problems as well as in the evaluation of performance.” (Gibbons et al, 1994, p. 7)

The context for my research, the university itself, consists of many such groups who have been seen as outside the academic system, and the constructs of Mode 1 knowledge production and communication largely exclude these people. As a complex system, attempting to solve problems grounded in the university context requires Mode 2 knowledge production. At the same time, the university exists as a Mode 1 institution, and the PhDI as a Mode 1 program, despite its Mode 2 aspirations. There seems to be a need for me to carve a space between the two modes (a third space, if you will, or perhaps Mode 1.5) that balances this tension, allowing me to navigate the requirements of a Mode 1 program with the intellectual need for Mode 2 knowledge production and a moral need for Mode 2 engagement and communication.


Argyris, C. & Schön, D. (1978). Organizational learning. Reading, Mass Addison-Wesley Pub. Co

Cooksey, R.W. (2001). What is complexity science: A contextually-grounded tapestry of systemic dynamism, paradigm diversity, theoretical eclecticism, and organizational learning. Emergence, 3(1), 77-103.

Edmondson, A. (1999). Psychological safety and learning behavior in work teams. Administrative science quarterly, 44(2), 350-383.

Gibbons et al (1994). The New Production of Knowledge: The Dynamics of Science and Research in Contemporary Societies . London: Sage.

Kahneman, D., & Egan, P. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow (Vol. 1). New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Lipshitz, R., Friedman, V., & Popper, M. (2006). Demystifying organizational learning. Sage.

Ramos-Torrescano, E. (2017). Instructional Designers as (Secret) Change Agents. Iddblog. Retrieved from

Schmidtchen, D. (2001). Developing creativity and innovation through the practice of Mission Command. Australian Defence Force Journal, (146), 11.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1962). Thought and Word. In L. Vygotsky & E. Hanfmann, G. Vakar (Eds.), Studies in communication. Thought and language (pp. 119-153). Cambridge, MA, US: MIT Press.


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