CAIS identifies topics for upcoming research programs
An overview of the process

At CAIS, we follow a structured process to sound out potentially important topics in digitalization research, with these yielding topics for CAIS research programs starting in 2021.

The central objective of the CAIS Research Incubator for 2019 to 2021 has been to develop and try out processes in order to promote cross-area networking and interdisciplinary collaboration in an innovative framework for science and research, and also to identify in a systematic way relevant research topics for the research programs.

The process of identifying topics entails a continuous alternation between collecting and condensing insights. We can depict this alternation by structuring it in four steps (Figure 1).

First step: three components to open up and develop the field
  1. We first conducted an online real-time Delphi with experts in digitalization research from various disciplines in North Rhine-Westphalia in fall 2019. This provided an initial survey of research topics.
  2. The Delphi study served as the basis for the second component: namely, expert discussions with researchers in digitalization research in fall 2020. Besides clarifying issues to do with organizing interdisciplinary work, we focused here on identifying and discussing topics of future significance in digitalization research.
  3. In addition, we carried out an automated analysis of key text documents (e.g. digitalization strategies at the federal and state level, and calls for research projects issued by the German Research Foundation and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research).
Second step: condensing in an online survey with different stakeholders
When condensed, the results of the various components form a pool of more than 80 research topics. Approximately 600 people from different backgrounds took these topics and voted in an online survey on how important they consider them to be for research. The survey yielded four main focal points (Figure 2):
  1. ethical issues to do with machine learning (AI, algorithms, etc.)
  2. sustainability & environmental protection associated with digital technologies
  3. security and data protection
  4. education and digitalization
Abbildung 3. Digitale Kollaboration im Online-Workshop
Third step: further differentiation of the results into topic sprints

We then held six topic sprints with various stakeholders to discuss and separate out these focal points, and to identify any overlaps between them. These topic sprints are compressed, co-creative workshop formats for interdisciplinary work, where deliberately heterogeneous groups explored the overlaps between the four areas and any overarching topics, and collected and discussed research questions and project ideas (Figure 3).

Fourth step: condensing the results of the topic sprints into 13 fact sheets

Having systematized and condensed the results of the six topic sprints, we developed 13 so-called fact sheets that help the CAIS committees to decide on topics for the CAIS research programs. The fact sheets each contained a key question, possible questions to guide research, initial project ideas, and ideas for real-world laboratories (Figure 4).

The first three components (real-time Delphi study, expert discussions, automated text analysis) enabled experts to give the topic area a wide scope. The survey makes an initial condensing of the results possible; the digital topic sprints opened up the process to allow the results to be differentiated; finally, the results were systematized and summarized in fact sheets.

These fact sheets underlay the final step in the process, which saw the various CAIS committees weighting the results further and fleshing them out. With regard to the process, the format here corresponded to the topic sprints, with the first step involving the addition of detailed approaches to open up the field, these approaches then being summarized and condensed once again (Figure 5). Finally, the four topics for the CAIS research programs were then selected.

Structuring the phases in line with the Double Diamond helped us to ensure that the entire process of identifying topics was participatory, co-creative and development-oriented (Figure 6). The entire process can be seen in this video.

Abbildung 6. Die verschiedenen Phasen des Themenfindungsprozesses und deren aufeinander aufbauenden Ergebnisse