About our research

Internet-mediated cooperative norm setting

Norms are an essential mean of any social group, organization or society to solve the problems of social life and to accomplish common goals. Decisions on the setting of norms have far-reaching relevance as these can have long-term consequences for a large number of individuals. In the past the development of norms usually was the result of formal processes, in which representatives, authorities or experts develop and impose norms on their respective recipients, for example in parliamentary legislation, in public organizations such as universities and in companies.
However, current developments illustrate an increasing demand for the involvement of all affected individuals in collective decision processes about norms. This direct participation is typically justified with assumptions of greater democratic legitimacy, an increased acceptance of the norms by the affected individuals and a higher quality of the resulting norms. The demand for participation in collective decision processes about norms can be summarized as a demand for cooperative norm setting. Cooperative norm setting defines a process of drafting, discussing and deciding on norms that are binding for a group in which all members of this group can participate in. However, the participation of all group members does not preclude a differentiation of duties, expertise and rights among them.
So far, for technological and organizational reasons, it has only rarely been possible to directly involve a large number of individuals in the process of norm setting. The Internet may change this fundamentally with its ability to overcome limits of space and time for the communication between groups of any size.
We define Internet-mediated cooperative norm setting as the realization of cooperative norm setting by using the potential of the Internet for the distribution of information, the interaction among individuals and the organization of norm setting processes. Internet-mediated cooperative norm setting provides both opportunities, for example access to the knowledge and skills of all participants, as well as significant risks, such as a stronger selection and further marginalization of under-represented groups.

Goals of the research group

The main goal of the research group is to acquire a fundamental understanding of Internet-mediated cooperative norm setting, both on a social and technological level. We are particularly interested in learning whether there exist elements of a common paradigm for Internet-mediated cooperative norm setting that can be used across multiple social domains such as politics or economy. At the same time we are very much aware of the fact that social domains are likely to have distinct and possibly unique requirements regarding norm setting. For example, the setting of rules in the political arena may differ vastly from setting rules within a company. Thus we also seek to understand the specifics of norm setting in individual social domains and the potential impact that those specificities may have on Internet-mediated cooperative norm setting. Summarizing, the guiding theme of the research group is the question: What are the requirements, options and consequences of realising Internet-mediated cooperative norm setting in distinct social domains?

Methodology of the research group

We aim to reach our goals and answer this question through a combination of theory development and application of Internet-mediated cooperative norm setting in real world environments. The application will be analyzed empirically. To guide our efforts, we will focus on a sequence of two social domains: science and politics. In each social domain we will select one specific type of organization: universities and political parties. For each organization we will first analyze its norm setting processes. We will then develop the institutional and technical infrastructure for Internet-mediated cooperative norm setting in this type of organization, deploy it in a real world setting and evaluate its impact. The development of the social and technical infrastructure will be guided by elements of a common theory on Internet-mediated cooperative norm setting compiled by the research group while the experiences gathered through the deployment and the analysis of the impact will serve as a basis for refining, supporting or falsifying those elements.
Our goals and the chosen research methodology require a set of skills that is drawn from a broad range of research disciplines. To meet this challenge we have assembled a team that includes researchers in the following areas: business administration, computer science, political sciences, communication science and sociology.

Research projects

The work done by the research group is organized in eight research projects that will work together closely. We distinguish between domain-specific research projects focusing on Internet-mediated cooperative norm setting in particular types of organizations (universities and parties) and problem-specific research projects focusing on general problems of Internet-mediated cooperative norm setting. For each type of organization the respective domain-specific research project will guide the development of the social and technical infrastructure as well as the analysis, the application and the evaluation of the norm setting processes in collaboration with the other research projects. The domain specific research-projects will investigate Internet-mediated cooperative norm setting in that organization for an extended period of time as their main interest lies in understanding its impact on the specific type of organization. The problem-specific research projects will join and support each domain-specific research project for a limited time. They will adapt their problem-specific solutions to the domain in question and gain information that allows them to refine the theoretical foundation of their solutions.