Research program: Digital democratic innovations

The research program, led by Prof. Christoph Bieber, will explore digital democratic innovations over the next five years.
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With his team, Prof. Christoph Bieber will research how democracy changes in a digital society and how it can be promoted through digitization. The empirical focus of the program is on the development and use of online voting and elections. In a second empirical topic, the researchers are looking at the political and social effects of smart city projects.

In two interdisciplinary working groups, the program will be developed in agile, flexible team constellations and implemented with innovative tools. The program is committed to an open understanding of science and will contribute to the development of innovations for the common good in the sense of application-oriented research with the help of a real laboratory.

“We currently see that digital tools can give a voice to people who are otherwise not heard. Nevertheless, the concerns of many people are left out of modern negotiation processes because of a lack of access or competencies. Under what conditions digital innovations can strengthen the common good in democratic processes is our focus.”

Prof. Christoph Bieber
Head of the research program
“Digital Democratic Innovations

How are political decision-making and social participation changing under the conditions of digitalization?

In the Corona pandemic, the influence of technological possibilities on social negotiation processes received a renewed boost. Contact bans have made political gatherings such as party conventions and protest rallies more difficult or shifted them entirely to digital spaces, the preparation of decisions has often taken place via video conferencing, and decision-making has also been implemented with digital tools. These developments are not new: Participation in the political process and the production of binding decisions are changing with the technologies available for this purpose.

Data-oriented state and digital civil society

The concrete starting point for the development of the research program is a dynamic interrelationship: Under the conditions of digitization, an increasingly data-oriented state is forming, which is developing new activities and routines. Opposed to this is a digital civil society, which for its part is driving forward citizen-centered technology development and its use in order to secure self-determination and participation for a sovereign network citizenry. This field of tension is connected by a digital infrastructure – partly public, partly private – in which a multitude of media and market players meet in fragmented, networked public spheres. This reveals the always ambivalent contours of a digital innovation landscape that encompasses a broad spectrum of fields of inquiry: Centralized data repositories in state hands offer the opportunity for a forward-looking provision of public services, but also harbor the danger of misuse and manipulation. Digital platforms express hitherto non-publicly audible positions, but can also promote social polarization. A “smart city” opens up new options for urban life and intelligent mobility, but can always also be understood as a surveillance apparatus. And: Many people are denied participation in such modern negotiation processes because they lack access, media knowledge and competence. Against this background, the research program will investigate democratic innovations that emerge through the use of data, algorithms and digital practices.

Policy change, public good technology and digital ethics

Addressing this question succeeds by focusing on several objectives:

  • First, a more precise knowledge of the effect of digital decisions on political organizations and processes is to be obtained. This is linked to a theoretical contribution to the changes in the form of democratic-representative politics in the digital constellation.
  • Second, it is important to identify spaces and tools that unfold potentials for new forms of digital participation and public good-oriented technology use.
  • Third, the dynamics between the data-rich state and digital civil society can be captured – a normative perspective formulates considerations on the politics of the data-oriented society in the sense of digital ethics.

Research question

How are political decision-making and social participation changing under the conditions of digitalization?


The Team