Digital topic sprints and citizen science: co-creative opening of the process of identifying topics

An important part of the process if identifying topics for the research programs are the topic sprints, a participatory format at the end of the structured process.

The previous steps in the process and the results of the online survey yielded four focal points that are of great importance across the groups surveyed (experts, practitioners, and the general public):

  1. Ethical issues of machine learning (AI, algorithms, etc.)
  2. Sustainability & environmental protection in conjunction with digital technologies
  3. Security and data protection
  4. Education and digitalization
What exactly affects the various representatives of society?

These four focal points were then discussed and fleshed out with different stakeholders in so-called topic sprints, which involved among other things identifying overlaps, overarching topics that recurred, and detailed research approaches.

The topic sprints are compressed, co-creative workshop formats for interdisciplinary work. In the spirit of development-oriented citizen science, we deliberately involved people in the process from the most diverse backgrounds possible. People had repeatedly mentioned in the previous stages of identifying topics the importance of participation and involvement, and these were thus taken into account as part of the process. Furthermore, this approach is in line with the demand of CAIS to work in a people-centred and development-oriented way.

In seven groups to more than 400 different potentials for research

In February 2021, 41 participants engaged in discussions in seven 90-minute interdisciplinary online workshops (Figure 1). The deliberately heterogeneous groups proved to be extremely productive. Everyday experience with digital applications mixed in an inspiring way with special legal, sociological, artistic, and strategic know-how, thereby yielding a large number of project ideas and developments of the four topics identified in the survey – in collaborations and discussions on digital bulletin boards on the one hand, and in the context of independent brainwriting on the other.

The result is a collection of approximately 400 different potentials for research (Figure 1) ranging from ideas for the interdisciplinary composition of research teams, to detailed research questions, and to the formulation of initial design ideas for real-world labs.

Participatory work across disciplines points to overarching and recurring topics

The central insight of many discussions was that digitalization research must absolutely do more to incorporate technological aspects such as IT and software issues.

Overarching and recurring topics in the discussions were participation, involvement, media literacy, and questions about the design and impact of digital education. With regard to the topic of sustainability and environmental protection, the participants were particularly interested in the sustainable design of digitalization technologies and the promotion of environmental protection through digital technologies. With regard to the use of artificial intelligence in various areas of application (e.g. education, environmental protection), the participants discussed in detail the effectiveness and dangers of such technologies.

Condensing into 13 topic clusters as a basis for selecting research programs and monitoring topics in the long term

Two researchers used an inductive process to group the results of the topic sprints into thematic milieus. In doing so, they ensured that the ideas and approaches formulated by the participants were always related to the four overarching topic areas, while also mapping possible overlaps with several areas.

The suggestions were then systematized and condensed into 13 so-called fact sheets on different areas of digitalization research (e.g. environmental protection & AI, digital literacy, design and digitalization; see Figures 2 and 3), each fact sheet containing a guiding question as well as reflections on central research questions and possible real-world laboratories.

In turn, the fact sheets form the basis for deciding on the first four CAIS research programs and thus the preliminary end of the first CAIS process of identifying topics. At the same time, the systematic collection, sorting and condensing of the topics discussed are the starting-point for the long-term monitoring of topics, which is intended to map how opinions on digitalization topics and their relevance from the viewpoint of the population change over the years.