Column: Humboldt, funding & Mode-2 Science


CBS has set ambitious goals for external funding in its development contract with the Ministry. The rationale behind the goals is that extra funding allows us to do more of the things that we like: research and research-based education. Ultimately, of course, our goals are to create new knowledge and to have CBS’ graduates use that knowledge to the benefit of business and society.


By Dean of Research, Peter Møllgaard

In the current situation with limited funding from government, extra external funding of research, teaching or infrastructure provides the only way for CBS to grow in terms of the quantity and quality of its core activities.

To achieve our ambitions in terms of impact on business and society, we need to continue to do what we have done well in the past, that is for example applying for grants from the competitive governmental sources, e.g. from FSE (The Danish Council for Independent Research | Social Sciences ) or from the EU system.

But we also need to develop and refine new tools in the funding toolbox. I have two suggestions in this regard:

  1. We should work hard to get significantly more funding from non-governmental sources, and
  2. We should get larger grants – ideally blockbusters (grants of more than DKK 10 million) that will allow us to invest in new themes and to recruit additional researchers to form a team with established CBS researchers around a theme.

Researchers should approach large foundations and private businesses
To implement these suggestions requires that more of us to work differently from what we have done in the past – although some have already paved the way. It involves engaging directly with non-governmental entities – for example private corporations or large private foundations – in ways that might seem to conflict with the long lauded academic freedom of Humboldt!

Since we are tampering with the very spirit of universities, we need to be careful when designing these new funding tools, but if we take care in how we apply these new funding tools, the resulting activities may actually prove as enriching as – possibly, to some researchers, even better than – the traditional Humboldtian tools.

In stylized representation, the traditionally wielded funding tool is applied thus: The researcher thinks up an idea for a research project, writes it down, sends it off to a research council – after the value-adding internal quality-improving processes both at the departmental level and through the research support of the Dean’s Office – and then waits for a revise-and-resubmit decision or a rejection. Having revised the project description based on the peer review, ultimately the funding is secured – and extra research time, extra PhD students, postdocs, and workshops follow until completion of the project at which point in time the research council requests a concluding financial statement and a final report on the academic achievements of the project.

Risk of ordered results
In comparison with this model the new tools are developed and applied in interaction with the private donor who very often will apply less of an arm’s length approach in her assessment of the quality of the suggested research proposal than does a governmental research council. There may or may not be a peer review – but more importantly the donor may attach strings to the funding.

Some would find that this already conflicts so much with the Humboldtian ideals of freedom of research that the entire thing should be called off – and obviously, if the donor were to request that she “would like a study that demonstrates the following… “, then both the researcher and CBS would be correct in abandoning this project.

Interaction with a donor adds practical knowledge
However, it is my experience that private donors are much more sophisticated and that it may actually be rewarding (but require a certain amount of patience) to negotiate and develop the research proposal with the private donor in Mode-2 fashion. In fact, very often the interaction with the donor enriches the project by providing practice-based knowledge that may be included in the project.

The terms Mode-2 science or Mode-2 production of knowledge originate with an influential book, Re-Thinking Science by Nowotny, Scott & Gibbons (Polity, 2001). While (Humboldtian) Mode-1knowledge production is motivated by the independent production of scientific knowledge or fundamental research within a discipline with no regard of its applicability, Mode-2 knowledge production takes as it starting point a specific real-world problem and assembles a multidisciplinary team for a certain period of time to solve the problem.

More often than not, such co-creation of the project with the donor increases the relevance and the impact of the research – and may also lead to better publications, for example because the donor might be aware of new trends in business practices that may be used to establish more precise hypotheses to be tested in the project. In a sense, this co-creation extends to the area of research the idea of “learning partners” that Peter Lorange discusses in his book Thought Leadership Meets Business: How business schools can become more successful (2008, Cambridge). For the researcher this requires that the donor (say, a high-level business executive) is acknowledged as a smart, knowledgeable and resourceful partner in the research project. Such collaboration may be more common in life sciences than in humanities and social sciences but we may have to get used to it to a higher degree at CBS if we want to expand our research agenda in the coming years.

Ideal cooperation with a private donor: Increased relevance, improved methods and better dissemination
Strings that the donor typically attaches to the project often have to do with a) shifting, reducing or expanding the focus of the project; b) changing the methodology; or c) requesting particular channels for dissemination of the results of the project.

In this the private donor’s requests are not in nature unlike those of the peer reviewers of the governmental research councils, so in a sense the main difference is that the private donor is typically not a peer in the academic sense of the word. Instead, she could be thought of as a “research partner” that may interact with the researcher throughout the project – and possibly beyond that point.

Another difference is that unlike the make-it-or-break-it nature of (re-)submissions to a research council, the process may be more of a possibly lengthy negotiation. If the researcher is dissatisfied with the suggestions made by the private donor, he will have to think about the degree to which it infringes on research integrity. It is important to bring these concerns to the negotiation table and not to accept terms that would later be regretted.

However, very often such co-creation of the research proposal may lead to a win-win situation in which there are gains to be made through the negotiation in terms of increased relevance, improved methods, and enhanced dissemination. And there are ample examples that Mode-2 research may lead to excellent publications in addition to direct impact on business and society.

Blockbuster grants require more administration
The challenge of blockbuster grants is perhaps that compared with the typical grant for a research council, they entail extra research management for the principal investigator (PI). Typically, it will be the PI who will have to do extra administration – possibly at the expense of own research time – in order to facilitate the extra research of the team. This is not unlike the case of a large grant from the Danish National Research Foundation such as the prestigious grant given to FRIC and like in this case, the challenge may to some extent be met by including funding for effective administrative support in the proposal.

CBS obviously has lots of experience with both Humboldtian government Mode-1 grants and Mode-2 grants – and also blockbuster grants. FRIC may be an example of the former; Centre for Owner-Managed Businesses, “Financial Denmark” and ”The Blue Denmark” may be examples of the other.

Varied funding of research projects is important to CBS’s academic reputation
CBS’s experience with different kinds of funding is unevenly distributed across departments – and inside each department, unevenly distributed across researchers. It is important to acknowledge that we need both types of research – and both types of funding. Some (but not all) researchers are specializing in one or the other type of research or funding and both types are equally important for the academic reputation of CBS – and deserve (mutual) respect.


  1. We need more external funding to achieve our ambitions in the research area.
  2. We should then consider private funding of our research projects to a larger degree.
  3. Private funding requires us to re-think the way projects are written, negotiated and governed in co-creation with the private company or the foundation who will be our “research partner”.

Happy fundraising!

The page was last edited by: Communications // 12/17/2017