Nurturing project organizations: A mode 2 mission for the university?

Peter L. Freeman, Isobel Marr, Andrew John Millar, Fumi Kitagawa

Research output: Working paper


Recent changes in UK research funding priorities have led to the emergence of large challenge-led, societally embedded research opportunities. We used semi-structured interviews with 27 academic, management and professional staff at the University of Edinburgh to explore the life cycles of selected projects and centres from planning and preparation through to decommissioning. We observed the degree to which pursuit of challenge-led opportunities induced the emergence of new project-level organizational forms or changed academics’ modus operandi from “Mode 1” research to “Mode2” knowledge production. We further explored the levels of management input and administrative support expected and received by the project organization from its host academic schools, colleges the university. We found that the size, complexity and disciplinary, interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary scope of the initiatives influenced their emergence as autonomous project organisations. “Role strain” affected many respondents as they sought to balance Mode 1 academic and Mode 2 leadership and management roles in their project organizations. Further exploration of the distribution of leadership management and professional support functions among project organizations and the support structures of academic schools, colleges and the university is warranted. We suggest that the university might usefully act as a boundary organization and adopt a Mode 2 knowledge exchange mission in support of multi-stakeholder projects. This paper was submitted to the 35th European Group for Organizational Studies colloquium (EGOS2019). A shorter version of this paper, which focuses on the institutional logics observed among the university staff, is also available at SocArXiv ("Nurturing cross-disciplinary research: Institutional logics, hybrid Spaces and meta-organization at a research university").
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 9 Dec 2019


  • research management
  • research policy
  • organisational development
  • university research
  • transdisciplinarity
  • interdisciplinary Research


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