Delphi Study Digitalization Research

What do experts think about digitalization research? Results from an online, real-time Delphi

The Center for Advanced Internet Studies (CAIS) interviewed experts in science in North Rhine-Westphalia in a Delphi study, with the results designed to help organize future research in digitalization and artificial intelligence.

Digital transformation permeates all areas of society, including the sciences and their relationship to data, theories and methods. At the same time, the complexity of the digitalized world and its dynamics challenge our understanding of how people, data and technology interact. Digital change has a direct impact on the relationship between individual and society, resulting in far-reaching social changes and sometimes ruptures with traditional structures. Studies indicate that people fluctuate between confidence and skepticism when it comes to technological changes and innovations in their everyday lives (Hampel et al. 2019; Kirchner 2019).

But how does scientific research react to the upheavals of digitalization? How will digitalization research develop? What should be its primary focus? How should interdisciplinary research in digitalization and artificial intelligence be designed, so that it focuses on the opportunities that people have and the challenges that they face?

Predicting future challenges

In order to identify future focal points and challenges, CAIS carried out an online, real-time Delphi, which is an adaptation of the Delphi method. At least two written surveys collected expert knowledge and evaluations of a specific issue, with participants having the opportunity to correct their statements during the process (Döring and Bortz 2016).

Figure 1: Process of online, real-time Delphi

The aim of the surveys is to record consensus and disagreement in judgments, which are intended to provide the basis from which reasonable predictions can be derived.

The results are intended to help focus and organize future research in digitalization and artificial intelligence. The expert evaluations are used to identify central research questions and objects of study for digitalization research.

Online survey of almost 100 scientists

A standardized online questionnaire was used to collect responses regarding the importance of digitalization, relevant issues in the field, and evaluations on the future of digitalization research (theories, data, methods, interdisciplinary cooperation). The results were summarized after each thematic block and then fed back to the participants so that they could adapt their answers where necessary.

A total of 98 experts (professors and postdocs from different research institutions in North Rhine Westphalia; female = 18, male = 53, n/a = 27) participated in the study in September and October 2019. Twenty-one said that they had a technological background; 28, a background in the social and economic sciences; six, a background in the humanities and cultural studies; and eight, a background in medicine or the natural sciences.

Digitalization research is multifaceted

More than three-quarters of the experts consider digitalization to be an essential and lasting driver of social modernization, with algorithms, social media, and Work 4.0 being the main themes. In addition, they also deem significant areas such as IT security and data protection, as well as education and digital sovereignty, these being areas where laypersons in the scientific community also see a need for action (Hampel et al. 2019; Kirchner 2019). Although the experts see research into artificial intelligence (AI) as also being important, more than one in three thinks that what is expected of AI in terms of the social changes that it will bring about is somewhat or very exaggerated.

Digitalization research should be interdisciplinary and transparent

Figure 2: Item: “In ten years’ time, digitalization research will have established itself as a new discipline”.

Digitalization is as diverse as the disciplines that study it. Although the experts deem the involvement of computer scientists to be necessary, they also believe that digitalization research does not need to be an independent discipline, but should instead be interdisciplinary (see Figures 2 and 3). Besides various sub-disciplines in computer science, they believe that the social sciences and other disciplines concerned with society should also be involved. For the experts, interdisciplinarity also requires above all researchers to be open to new methods and to be willing to revise established theories, while the complexity and dynamics of digital data also demand that the research process be transparent and comprehensible.

Figure 3: Item: “In five years’ time, all digitalization research projects will be interdisciplinary”. (n = 98)


Döring, N. & Bortz, J. (2016). Datenerhebung. In N. Döring & J. Bortz (Hrsg.) (2016). Forschungsmethoden und Evaluation in den Sozial- und Humanwissenschaften. Berlin Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag.

Hampel, J., Zwick, M. M. & Störk-Biber, C. (2019) Technik Radar 2019. Was die Deutschen über Technik denken. Eine Studie von der Deutschen Akademie der Technikwissenschaften und der Körber-Stiftung. Abgerufen am 17. Dezember 2019 von

Kirchner, S. (2019). Zeit für ein Update. Was die Menschen in Deutschland über Digitalisierung denken. Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. Abgerufen am 17. Dezember 2019 von