Leuphana University Lüneburg and Hertie School of Governance #WirVsVirus hackathon research endorsed by German Chancellery

Johanna Mair, Professor of Organization, Strategy and Leadership at the Hertie School and Fellow at the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society and I study how such digital collaborative events can quickly generate creative, viable solutions to problems like those related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

#WirVsVirus is the open call of a consortium of civil society organisations supported by the German government to create solutions for the social, economic and medical challenges of the coronavirus pandemic. In March, 26,500 participants worked in teams to generate almost 1,500 ideas during the 48-hour hackathon. Twenty of the hackathon’s best ideas were awarded, while a further 130 projects have become part of a post-hackathon program that supports their implementation.

Our aim is to review the hackathon and the post-hackathon phase in real time. Together, we want to gain insights into best practices and identify challenges that occur throughout the ideation and implementation process. This kind of approach will enable us to draw lessons from the initiative more immediately and develop recommendations for policy and practice. In the long term, we want to use our research to make a scientific contribution to socio-technical transitions through technology-supported participatory architectures.

The Head of the German Chancellery, Prof. Helge Braun, supports our project. Anna Hupperth of Tech4Germany, spokeswoman of the hackathon consortium, said, “The accompanying research not only allows us to draw lessons from our initiative, but also supports the momentum for debate on how civil society can be an established part of digital social innovation processes.”

I also published an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review on “Countering Coronavirus with Open Social Innovation”, which can be accessed here.

Jury Member for PRIX Ars Electronica 2020

The PRIX Ars Electronica is the leading award in the domain of digital art and culture. This year I was honored to serve as a member of the jury in the field of digital communities.

We awarded the Hong Kong Protest Movement with a Golden Nica,  the runner-up awards go to Algorithmic Justice League and the Habaq Movement.

Deutschland Funk Kultur also interviewed me regarding our decision. Listen to the Interview here.

As a member of the Jury, I would have received 800 Euros for the work (we need to select the top projects out of over 300 submissions). Since the ARS Electronica takes place at the Johannes Kepler University (JKU) Linz and I am part of the JKU Almar Mater program, I asked the ARS Electronica team to donate the money to a good cause (more on that in a follow-up blog post).

Corona crisis: Shifting to online teaching and changing course topics

Undoubtedly, the coronavirus constitutes a significant crisis affecting society and its actors (government, profit- and non-profit organizations, families, individuals). For instance, governments struggle with how to react to this crisis appropriately, health care organizations reach their limits, and consumer goods industries face the challenge of maintaining their supply chains. This crisis constrains our participation in public life and constitutes a threat to our general health and financial prosperity.

The corona crisis is a complex event with a high degree of uncertainty. It is an exogenous shock questioning practices we took for granted. In this course, we will apply various theoretical perspectives and concepts to this crisis in order to making sense and understanding it. Through this exploration, we seek to answer questions such as: how to manage common-pool resources such as health care in times of crisis? How do organizations communicate in times of crisis? How can organizations effectively respond to a crisis? What can society learn from such an event?  A crisis can be turning point: it is a source of radical change – sometimes even for good.

This section is part of a course outline for an online course I teach this term. Usually, I would teach a research seminar on digital platforms. Given the crisis at hand, I want to give students the opportunity to reflect and make sense of the crisis through various theoretical lenses (within organization theory).

Understanding Socio-Technical Transitions: Contemporary Perspectives on the Politics of the Internet and the Digital Economy

For this course I am teaching in the interdisciplinary “Komplementärstudium” of Leuphana University (where students from all faculties attend this courses), I originally attended to visit the re:publica conference in Berlin with them. The idea was to prepare  research questions based on selected readings (they could choose from a reading pool) and then they could seek answers to this question at the conference. Due to the corona crisis the re:publica was moved to August and I needed to change to online teaching too.

Given the interdisciplinary nature of this seminar, I will now use literature (e.g. the Circle, The Warehouse) portraying various forms of a digital society. We know from entrepreneurship research that stories can be powerful in explaining what can or could be. Hence, literature is a great starting point to think about the consequences and paths of socio-technical transitions. The main project for the students is a blog post where students examine the analogy between literature/movies they choose (e.g. Uwe-Kling’s Quality Land, Theresa Hanning’s Die Optimierer, Black Mirror episodes etc.) and empirical reality as well as corresponding social science concepts (e.g. Zuboff’s Surveillance Capitalism). This exercise has the goal to enable to them to critically reflect on how we as a society want to make use of technology.

The power of communities in times of crisis

Yes, we struggle with lot of fake news at the moment. This problem will remain to keep us occupied, we will need to find suitable governance solutions in an age where everyone can become media provider.

But I wan to turn our attention to the force of good of digital platforms and online communities. There are groups to coordinate help for old people (e.g. shopping for them), campaigns to call for the right to tip supermarket employees, initiatives helping to cope with the psychological challenges of isolations, etc. In Germany there is a massive online hackathon (with 40.000 participants in Slack) taking place this weekend working to find novel solutions to the Corona Crisis. These initiatives demonstrate that solidarity and caring for each other are still key values of our society.

Thomas Gegenhuber receives research award from Cambridge Digital Innovation for research on digital innovation

Platform-driven business models take over the world. Nevertheless, looking at the development of platforms more closely, the story becomes more complicated. Despite the forward-looking, technology-embracing rhetoric of platforms convincing consumers, platforms face resistance from other critical stakeholders. Take Uber: it realizes within the last few years that regulators still matter and are critical to the platform’s success. From an institutional perspective, this is not surprising. Legitimacy matters – from all stakeholders.

These and other themes are discussed in an article that deploys an institutional perspective to examine digital innovation and transformation. Bob Hinings, I, and Royston Greenwood received a research award at this year’s Research Impact and Contributions to Knowledge (RICK) workshop at Cambridge Digital Innovation (Judge School of Business) for this article.

More work in this area is coming up soon. Together with Danielle Logue, Bob Hinings, and Michael Barrett (see picture, from the right), I am editing a volume for Research in the Sociology of Organizations on this very topic. For those interesting in submitting to this volume, we recommend attending our EGOS track at Hamburg 2020.

Time for an Update

In the book “Representation of oneself in everyday life,” Erving Goffman explains why marketing departments exist. It is a necessary division of labour: professionals in the product development department can focus on what they are good at (e.g., designing functional products), while the marketing department focuses on how to sell these products (e.g., by crafting a compelling story speaking to consumers desires in a given context). So much happened in the last few months that I wish I had a marketing department too. Here are a few highlights. 

Successfully raised funds for research network on digital strategizing

Together with Maximilian Heimstädt, Georg Reischauer, and Violetta Splitter, I successfully applied for a research network on digital strategizing at the German Research Foundation (DFG). (Full title: Digitalisierung der Strategiearbeit: Ein praxistheoretischer Ansatz (DE); Strategizing in a digital economy: A strategy-as-practice approach (EN)). We had a very successfully kick-off event at this year’s Academy of Management Meeting (AOM) in Boston. For an update of our activities and slides of the AOM session, check out our group on researchgate. 

Serving as Co-Host of the Leuphana Opening Week

Each year the Leuphana University welcomes the new students with an opening week. Together with my colleagues Daniel Lang and Paula Bialski, I am serving as a co-host for the opening week. The program for the opening week is online; my personal highlight is a video keynote of one of my mentors – Don Tapscott

Making progress on platform research

With my colleague Robert M Bauer, I am continuing our theoretical work on crowd-based organizing, for a empirical piece Bob Hinings joined us too. Robert presented the progress of our work at the DigiEra in Switzerland and we both presented the theoretical piece (Robert) and the empirical piece (Thomas) at the EGOS Conference in Edinburgh.

A continuing theme of my research on crowdsourcing and platforms is to understand the relationship between platforms and their crowdworkers. Together with Elke Schüßler and Markus Ellmer, I wrote a piece for the AOM Meeting. The piece made it into best-paper proceedings (approximately best 10 % of submission of the Academy get published there as a abridged version) and the HR division nominated us for the Carolyn Dexter Award (we did not get it, but being considered is a great honor; see p. 44 of the AOM program). In this paper, we paper we blend perspectives stemming from human relations, industrial relations, and organization theory to understand how digital platforms manage their crowdworkers. Mainly, we focus on to what extent the platforms enable workers to speak up. 

In this area of research, I also contribute to practice. I gave talks relating to this work at the “Personal Dialog Münchenin May 2019, at a workshop of the IG Metall together with german digital work platforms in June and at the workshop of the DGB (the umbrella organization of the German labour unions) in September. For the Hans-Böckler-Stiftung we (Markus Ellmer, Benjamin Herr, Dominik Klaus and I) we also wrote a working paper synthesizing key insights from the crowdworking literature.

Plattformgenossenschaften als Alternativen?

Sind Alternativen zu den venture-kapital getriebenen Plattformen möglich? Trebor Scholz bejaht diese Frage und mobilisiert Ressourcen für die Plattform-Genossenschaftsbewegung. Bei der re:publica moderiere ich eine Diskussion zu diesem Thema am Dienstag, den 7. Mai 2019 von 13.45 – 14.45  Uhr auf der Stage 3. Mehr Informationen sind hier zu finden.

In diesem Zusammenhang sei noch erwähnt, dass ich vergangen Freitag (3. Mai 2019) beim Personaldialog an der Bundeswehr Universität München einen Vortrag zum Thema Crowdworking und Partizipation gehalten habe (auf Basis dieser Studie). Aufgrund von Beispielen wie MechanicalTurk bekommt man in der Öffentlichkeit den Eindruck, dass sich Plattformen nicht um ihre Crowd kümmern. Aufgrund meiner Forschung komme ich zu folgendem Schluss– wenn es um arbeitsbezogene Anliegen geht, versuchen gerade im deutschsprachigen Raum einige Plattformen ihre Crowd einzubeziehen. Das hat natürlich auch funktionale Überlegungen. Wenn die Arbeit im digitalen Raum passiert, ist eine Konkurrenzplattform nur einen Click weg (bzw. Multihoming und Switching fällt leicht). Ist deswegen alles gut bei Crowdwork? Mitnichten. Aber ich halte es nicht für sinnvoll alle Plattformen in einem Topf zu werfen. Es braucht eine sachlich differenzierte Analyse.

Gleichstellungspolitik in einer digitalen Gesellschaft

Am 5. April hat die Bundesministerin für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend, Dr. Franziska Giffey, die Sachverständigenkommission für den Dritten Gleichstellungsbericht eingerichtet. Für die 11-köpfige Sachverständigenkommission wurde unter anderem ich berufen. Der Dritte Gleichstellungsbericht der Bundesregierung wird sich mit der Frage befassen, welche Weichenstellungen erforderlich sind, um die Entwicklungen in der digitalen Wirtschaft so zu gestalten, dass Frauen und Männer gleiche Verwirklichungschancen haben.

Continue reading “Gleichstellungspolitik in einer digitalen Gesellschaft”

Update: Co-Working in der Deutschen Bahn

Ich habe auf meinem Blog bereits das Thema “Mobiles Arbeiten” in der deutschen Bahn besprochen. Für viele Menschen ist Zeit im Zug Arbeitszeit. Vorausgesetzt, dass die deutsche Bahn ihre Pünktlichkeitsquote massiv erhöht, stellt sich die Frage, wie die Bahn auf die Bedürfnisse von arbeitenden Menschen besser eingehen kann.

Gemeinsam mit Harriet Werther habe ich mir dazu Gedanken gemacht. Frau Werther hat sich in meinem Kurs “Digitale Transformation” im Masterprogramm Business & Development (Wintersemester 17/18) mit der Thematik Co-Working in ihrer Seminararbeit auseinandergesetzt und arbeitet als Associate Consultant bei Sopra Steria. Den Artikel können Sie hier nachlesen.


Big Tech’s Legitimacy Problem

The New York Times published an insightful piece on how Facebook sought to navigate its recent crisis series (I also recommend to read the supplement analysis of Ben Thompson at Stratechery). Informed by resource dependency theory and theories on power, Facebook’s strategy and tactics are not particularly surprising – lobbying, using personal ties to influence opinions, etc.
What particularly captured my attention, though, is how one political strategist summarized the communication strategy of Facebook (an approach we can also find in other domains, particularly in politics): proactively spreading good news about yourself, while discrediting your direct competitors, challengers (e.g. activists) or other big players in the industry.
Successful implementation of this strategy may lead to short-term gains for an individual player, however, at the long-term, this strategy – if applied by other players as well – has the potential to cause serious legitimacy challenges for the entire industry. If all relevant players in the industry use the same strategy, it means that the overall volume of negative news regarding the tech industry increases. This, in turn, channels out expected gains from positive news about an individual corporation and increases the likelihood that essential stakeholders (e.g., consumers, politicians) increasingly question the appropriateness of all big tech corporations (and not just of individual players). Ironically, big tech’s communication patterns and fights among each other may complement, if not amplify the voices of their critics (e.g., activists calling for regulation).
But why should big tech care? One could argue that these corporations don´t need to care because they have an oligopolistic/monopolistic market position. And due to their lobbying efforts its unlikely that they face serious threats, particularly in the US. Yes, but – and I draw here on Ben Thompson – increasingly questioning their legitimacy and reputation matters for two reasons:
First, the Cambridge Analytica Scandal for Facebook is the equivalent of the First Surgeon Generals Report on the adverse effects of Big Tobacco. The biggest threat for Facebook and Co are not regulations, instead it is the users turning away from the network (after all, the power of their business model is aggregating consumers on the demand side, which makes it desirable for the supply-side (e.g., advertisers, brands) to pay for getting consumer’s attention). Being perceived as the equivalent of big evil tobacco is not particularly helpful for expanding and maintaining a user base (hence it is not surprising that Google and Facebook launch image campaigns – the various ads in Berlin are witness to that). Second, legitimacy and reputation matters for recruiting talent. Big tech is already facing a crisis in this area – consider how it deals with incidents of sexual misconduct and abuse. While money is an important deciding factor for great talent, we must not underestimate that people want to situate themselves in nurturing environments where their intrinsic motivation and self-actualization flourishes. Who wants to work for a corporation perceived as evil, if other meaningful jobs are a click or swipe away?

Digitale Transformation braucht eine digitale Bahn 

Bei der Deutschen Bahn kriselt es. Wer regelmäßig Bahn fährt, spürt es am eigenen Leib. Zahlreiche Verspätungen, Ausfälle und Verzögerungen aufgrund von kaputten Zügen oder Infrastruktur sind an der Tagesordnung. Wer in den Medien Berichterstattung über die Deutsche Bahn verfolgt, hört ebenfalls nicht viel Gutes. Die Bahn möchte ihr Schienennetz digitalisieren um den Ausnützungsgrad der Schienenkapazitäten zu erhöhen und Koordination effizienter zu gestalten. Soweit so gut. Doch es kostet viel und es gibt kein klares Signal der Bundesregierung Geld dafür zur Verfügung zu stellen – bei diesem Budgetkurs droht eher ein Sparprogramm bei der Bahn. Es wird zwar investiert, aber noch mehr Investitionen sind dringend notwendig da die Bahn noch immer mit den langfristigen Auswirkungen des Sparkurses im Zuge der nicht erfolgten Privatisierung kämpft.

Warum ist die Bahn aus Sicht einer digitalen Ökonomie so wichtig? Deutschland ist ein föderaler Staat und hat eine dementsprechende Wirtschaftsstruktur. Um in einer digitalen Ökonomie zu bestehen, braucht es Flexibilität sowie raschen Austausch von Ressourcen und Information zwischen zahlreichen AkteurInnen. Die Bahn ist eine Infrastruktur, die dies, sogar auf ökologische Weise, ermöglicht. Darüber hinaus ist für viele die Reisezeit im Zug Arbeitszeit – quasi ein mobiler (Co-)Working Space. Wer durch einen ICE geht, sieht zahlreiche Menschen an ihren Laptops arbeiten (es leben die Steckdosen an den Sitzen und auch der WiFi Zugang ist besser geworden). Manchmal sieht man wie Teams ihre informelle Nachbesprechungen nach einem Termin im Speisewagen führen. Die Bahn hat das Thema remote work am Schirm, wie eine Kooperation für Pop-Up Arbeitsplätze mit WeWork am Berliner Hauptbahnhof zeigt. Ebenso den Arbeitsplatz im Zug könnte die Bahn noch innovativer machen – wo sind die Abteile, die sich sowohl architektonisch als auch im Service auf mobile ArbeiterInnen spezialisieren?

Wie man es also dreht und wendet – die Bahn braucht Innovationsmut und das notwendige Geld dazu. Bei der Internet-Infrastruktur hat Deutschland den Zug der Zeit verpasst. Bei der Mobilitätsinfrastruktur wie der Bahn stimmt das Fundament. Noch. Aber wenn die Bundesregierung nicht rasch umdenkt, wird auch dieses endgültig erodieren.

Update (22.11.2018)

Die Berichterstattung in den vergangenen Tagen zeigt (siehe hier und hier), dass die Situation der Deutschen Bahn unverändert dramatisch ist. Ich vertrete die Position, dass die Deutsche Bahn die absolute politische Priorität der Bundesregierung einnehmen sollte – sie ein zentraler Baustein für eine vernünftige und nachhhaltige Wirtschafts- und Umweltpolitik.