The number of arrangements where academia collaborates with governmental and nongovernmental organisations, as well as industries, have increased over the last decades. While research has focused on whether knowledge produced in such collaborations is genuinely influenced by others than the ‘experts’, or those with the highest status and power, this report explores the influence of framings and re-framings of what the participants and society should perceive as the nature of knowledge: epistemology. We analyse the framings of epistemology through the concept ‘epistemic signalling’. Epistemic signalling refers to communication or rule-making that indicates what type(s) of knowledge is considered relevant, valuable or useful in knowledge collaboration. Empirically we draw on two examples of transdisciplinary collaborations in the field of water management (one from the UK and one from the US). In-depth interviews were combined with document analysis.

We have analysed three themes of epistemic signalling that we suggest influence knowledge collaborations. The first one concerns how the form and theme of the collaboration were decided upon and is based on Arnstein’s (1969) ladder of participation. The second refers to what type(s) of participants were considered suitable – as for example experts or lay people. Here we use the framework of aggregate (bargaining-oriented) versus integrative (deliberative) processes of knowledge collaboration in our analysis. The third and last theme concerns what is perceived as valuable and successful in the collaborations, something that we discuss in terms of procedural and epistemic virtues of knowledge collaborations.

The epistemology of organisations and participants in knowledge collaborations ought to be a distinct subject of open discussions from the earliest planning stage and onwards. It is easy to assume that epistemic signalling would be esoteric parts of practical, collaborative knowledge production. To the contrary, open epistemological reflections may help highlight situations where hierarchies turn out to be remains of routines inconsistent with new goals of more profound exchange of practical and scientific knowledge. In such cases, the epistemologies need to be revised to better fit the new goals.

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