Weizenbaum Institute for the Networked Society

The project group coordinated the successful Berlin application for the “German Internet Institute”, named Weizenbaum Institute for the Networked Society. Funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research with 50 million euro over the coming five years, the new institute will investigate the interactions between digitalization and society from an interdisciplinary perspective and establish 80 new research positions, distributed between the WZB and seven partner institutions in Berlin und Brandenburg (FU, HU, TU, UdK Berlin, Fraunhofer FOKUS and University of Potsdam).

Two of the Internet Institute’s new research groups, one of them focussing on “Democracy and digitalization” and a second group, analysing “Quantification and regulation”, are part of the project group "The Internet Policy Field".

The new Internet Institutes’ website

Contact person: Dr. Iris Cseke

Research group "Democracy and digitalisation" at the Weizenbaum Institute

The research group "Democracy and digitalisation" aims at developing a better understanding of the reciprocal interplay between digitalisation and democratic self-governance. We ask how democratic societies form and make use of digital technologies, as well as how democracies are shaped by digitalization. The group focuses mainly on three issues: the adaptation of legal and regulatory systems, the shifts in political participation, and the transformation of the public sphere. With regard to the legal and regulatory systems, we assess the transformation processes of fundamental democratic rights, i.e. the necessity to find new ways of dealing with emerging menaces like pervasive surveillance. The theoretical focus of the second research area is the question of how individual and collective capacities to political actions are transformed due to digitalisation. We analyse and evaluate medium to long term changes that affect political institutions as well as societal capacities to act politically. The third research area focuses on the transformation of the public sphere(s). Here, we dissect the role of algorithmic sorting and private platforms, and their impact on democratic will formation. We ask in how far democracies are and should be able to ‘setup’ their own publics.

Website of the research group "Democracy and Digitalisation"

Contact person: Dr. Thorsten Thiel

Research group "Quantification and social regulation" at the Weizenbaum Institute

The research group “Quantification and Social Regulation” investigates whether and, if so, how regulation changes when it makes use of contemporary computer technologies. Digital technologies pervade regulation at all levels: the individual conduct of life is increasingly shaped by technology-assisted self-regulation through devices such as wearables and smartphones; organizations adopt automated decision-making based on big data and artificial intelligence in order to optimize workflows. States, finally, begin to incorporate new digital tools for governing populations, such as automatic recidivism risk assessment software, predictive policing systems or social credit scores. In order to analytically grasp these novel forms of regulation and assess their democratic implications, we investigate the ways in which information is gathered, standards are set and behaviour is modified. The group delves into several research fields: that of governance studies, the sociology of quantification, valuation and classification, science and technology studies and computer science and society. The project will make a contribution to theorizing regulation through modern technology and point out alternatives to dominant discourses and practices of technology based regulation.

Website of the research group "Quantification and social regulation"

Contact person: Dr. Lena Ulbricht

Institutionalisation of internet policy-related competencies

In order to understand if we are currently witnessing the emergence of a new policy field around the subject of the Internet, we assess the institutionalisation of respective responsibilities in federal ministries and agencies. Based on the historical analysis of organisational charts, we trace the evolution of regulatory competences for Internet-related policies within selected ministries. In addition, we conduct biographic interviews with chief officers who help us in understanding the development of Internet-related responsibilities within the different institutions.

Currently we focus on the three federal ministries in charge of the Digital Agenda, namely the Federal Ministry of the Interior, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy and the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure. The analysis of additional ministries and federal agencies is planned.

Contact persons: Ronja Kniep and Dr. Julia Pohle

Assessing Big Data (ABIDA)

Between 2015 and 2019, the project group "Politics of Digitalisation" was involved in the research project "Assesing Big Data" (ABIDA: www.abida.de/en) funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). It was a consortium project with five partners, which examined the social conditions and consequences with regard to the generation, linking and evaluation of large amounts of data from a multidisciplinary perspective. The political science approach was developed at the WZB. Based on the social constructivist accounts of structuration theory and institutional theory, Big Data was understood as both a "resource of regulation" and as an "subject of regulation". Following this conceptual approach, research was conducted in two empirical fields: On the one hand, it was examined how Big Data can be used as a resource for political regulation. The implications of using Big Data as a regulatory resource were reflected with a focus on political responsiveness. Second, under the title "Big Data as a subject of regulation", legal instruments were compared that help to prevent or compensate for infringements of fundamental rights associated with Big Data. To this end, policies of data protection were compared. On the other hand, the institutional contexts and structural conditions under which the use of Big Data may conflict with anti-discrimination standards were determined.

Contact person: Dr. Lena Ulbricht

Digital Citizenship (in cooperation with the International Citizenship Law Project)

Since mid 2018, POLI is partnering with the WZB’s International Citizenship Law Project to analyse the digital promotion of civic engagement. An increasing number of cities suffers from low civic participation in public life. In recent years, there have been suggestions to use technology to motivate active citizenship through the creation of a “Catalog of Good Deeds”; examples of good deeds could include voting, assistance to the elderly, or participation in a first-aid course. Each deed will be recorded and provide a score and citizens will be able to claim benefits, according to their score, based on a parallel “Catalogue of Municipal Benefits.” This could include public transformation, tickets to events, or reduced municipal housing. The idea is to develop a community-centered city through incentives that motivate active citizenship.

Recent years have witnessed a growing appeal to citizenship gamification. Against this background, our project asks three questions: 1) What are the current trends and variations in the emerging phenomenon of citizenship gamification?; 2) Are social scoring systems able to increase active citizenship on the local level?; 3) Can the deployment of social scoring systems for encouraging active citizenship be ethically justified? On the whole, the project brings to the fore fundamental questions related to the digital demos and investigates the feasibility and ethical implications of social scoring systems.

Link to the project website

Contact person: Prof. Jeanette Hofmann

Discussion series Network & Politics

Since early 2016, POLI is one of the main organisers of a new Berlin-based initiative called "Networks & Politics". It is a series of discussions aiming to bring together civil society and academia interested in global Internet policy and its impact on the national level. The networking meetings take place three times per year in Berlin and are supported by ICANN and Wikimedia Germany.

Link to the website of Networks & Politics

Contact person: Dr. Julia Pohle

Semantic formation

In order to assess the semantic dimension of a policy field emergence, we use different tools of text mining. This approach allows us to retrace the formation of categories, meanings and discourses, for instance the formation of the German term “Netzpolitik”, which is currently the most commonly used term when referring to internet related subjects and political processes. The first results of this semantic analysis will be published as part of an edited volume “Text Mining in den Sozialwissenschaften”. The book contribution aims to approach the common understanding of the field as a condition for policy fields by applying text mining to a large corpus of newspaper articles. The empirical analysis has been conducted in cooperation with the project “Post Democracy and Neoliberalism”, financed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

Future research will exploit the opportunities of a diachronic comparison between semantic networks for the analysis of semantic formations during the emergence of policy fields. Eventually, this approach will be extended to other text corpora, such as plenary protocols, press releasesand internet policy related blogs.

Contact person: Maximilian Hösl

Workshop on the formation of policy fields (completed)

On 25 November 2015 we held a workshop on the emergence of policy fields from a comparative and theoretical perspective. The aim of the workshop is to continue the systematic analysis of policy fields which was initiated in spring 2014 during the annual symposium of the DVPW section “Policy Analysis and Administrative Sciences”. During the workshop, researchers reported on their study of different policy fields, for example regarding the field of ecology or migration. In addition, we focussed on the conceptual approaches that can be used to study the emergence of new policy fields and invited scholars to discuss selected theoretical perspectives. Based on the comparative and the conceptual presentations, the workshop assessed the differences and communalities of emerging policy fields and discussed their formation from the perspective of policy studies, institutionalism, discourse analysis and others.

The proceedings of the workshop and a summary of the debate have been published in form of a WZB discussion paper.

Survey about the politicisation of internet policy in Germany (completed)

Between October 2013 and Mai 2014 we conducted a small survey to gather information on the politicisation of internet policy related topics. For this purpose, we asked members of German internet policy blogs when and why they came into contact with internet policy and when and why they thought questions concerning the internet became political. Based on the survey results, we could identify particular moments of politicisation, as well as a surprising stability and continuity of the subjects that contributed to this process. We presented the results of the survey at the re:publica conference in Berlin in Mai 2014 (video online).