Research program: Digital democratic innovations

The first research program at CAIS in Bochum will commence in October 2021. Prof. Dr. Christoph Bieber will lead the “Digital democratic innovations ” program for the next five years, and will be on leave from the University of Duisburg-Essen during this time.

Christoph Bieber and his team will research how democracy changes in a digital society, and how it can be fostered through digitalization, the program’s empirical focus being on the development and use of online voting and elections. As a second empirical focus, the program will also examine the political and social effects of smart city projects.

Two interdisciplinary groups will develop the program in agile and flexible teams, using innovative tools to put the program into practice. The program is committed to an open understanding of science, and, in line with application-oriented research, will use a real-world laboratory to help develop innovations for the public good.

Prof. Dr. Christoph Bieber

head of research program “Digital democratic innovations”

How do political decision-making and social participation change in the context of digitalization?

Prof. Dr. Christoph Bieber

Prof. Dr. Christoph Bieber will lead the first research program at CAIS. (Photo: Michael Schwettmann, CAIS)

The Corona pandemic has re-intensified the influence that technological possibilities have on social processes of negotiation. Bans on contact have made political gatherings such as party conferences and protest rallies more difficult, or shifted them entirely to digital spaces; decisions have often been prepared using video conferencing; and decision-making has also been conducted using digital tools. These developments are not new: participation in the political process and the making of binding decisions change with the technologies available for these purposes.

Data-oriented state vs. digital civil society

The research program has as its concrete starting-point a dynamic interrelationship. On the one hand is an increasingly data-oriented state that is emerging under the conditions of digitalization, a state that is developing new activities and routines. On the other and opposed to this is a digital civil society, which for its part is driving forward citizen-centered technological development and its use in order to secure self-determination and participation for a sovereign network citizenship. This field of tension is connected by a digital infrastructure (partly public, partly private) in which a multitude of media and market actors meet in fragmented, networked public spheres. This reveals the permanently ambivalent contours of a landscape of digital innovation that encompasses a broad spectrum of fields of inquiry: centralized databases in state hands offer the opportunity for a forward-looking provision of public services, but also harbor the danger of misuse and manipulation, while digital platforms express positions hitherto imperceptible in the public domain, but can also foster social polarization. A “smart city” opens up new options for urban life and intelligent mobility, but can always also be understood as an apparatus of surveillance. And, what is more, many people are denied participation in such modern processes of negotiation because they lack access, as well as media knowledge and competence. Against this background, the research program will examine democratic innovations that emerge from the use of data, algorithms, and digital practices. The central research question can be stated as: How do political decision-making and social participation change in the context of digitalization?

Changes in the political domain, technology for the public good, and digital ethics

This question will be addressed by focusing on several objectives. First, to obtain a more precise knowledge of the effect of digital decisions on political organizations and processes, an objective that is linked to a theoretical contribution to changes in the form of democratic-representative politics in the digital constellation. Second, it is important to identify spaces and tools that develop potential for new forms of digital participation and the use of technology for the public good. Third, to be able thereby to capture the dynamics between data-rich state and digital civil society, a normative perspective formulating thoughts on the politics of the data-oriented society in line with a digital ethics.


Several research positions will be advertised in the research program. Details to follow shortly.