Using the framework of second‐order cybernetics, explores the institutional practices which lead to inadvertent pathologies of communication. As an example, a certain university regularly carries out large‐scale surveys of student attitudes towards its courses. Three interested parties are the researchers, senior management concerned with quality, and faculty members who produce the courses. All agree the surveys should be carried out, but there are no guarantees that the survey findings are appropriately interpreted and acted on. This kind of scenario is common in large institutions. Second‐order cybernetics offers a theoretical framework that can shed light on these communicative practices and help unpack them in a way that is “politically” neutral. It can also help foster reflective practice in the spirit of action research and “action learning”. Presents case histories of pathologies and gives an example of how pathologies of communication may prevent relevant research being undertaken.
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