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Problem Definition in the Digital Democracy

research areas

Computational Science
Digital Technology
Political communication and public opinion
Political participation
Problem Definition


2021 - 2025

Problem Definition in the Digital Democracy

Certain aspects of digital technology are problematic, but opinions differ as to what exactly the problems are, and what exactly the state should do. Fabrizio Gilardi and his team are developing new theories and methods relying on large amounts of data to identify the development and effects of different discourses regarding the digitalization of democracy. The findings will help us to understand how our societies deal with the consequences of digital technology in the political sphere.

How does an issue become a political problem? No issue inherently requires political responses. Instead, political actors construct arguments regarding the nature of a given problem and connect them to particular policy actions. For example, some see digital technology as a threat to democracy and advocate for stricter regulation, while others emphasize its potential to improve participation and argue that tighter rules stifle innovation. This phenomenon, known as “problem definition,” has long been recognized as a fundamental aspect of any policymaking process. Theoretically, PRODIGI argues that the notion of problem definition needs to integrate the dynamics induced by digital technology, such as new forms of political communication that bypass traditional gatekeepers. The state of the art does not adequately describe these new dynamics. On the one hand, the literature on digital technology and politics has not explicitly recognized problem definition as a key aspect. On the other hand, the agenda setting and problem definition literatures have not integrated the role of digital technology in their arguments. Specifically, PRODIGI pursues four objectives: 1) develop a theory of problem definition that accounts for the role of digital technology; 2) develop new methods to measure problem definition based on computational social science; 3) analyze problem definition in the case of policy responses to digital technology’s implications for democracy; and 4) analyze the effects of problem definition on opinions using survey experiments. PRODIGI breaks new ground in two ways. First, it puts forward original theory and methods to study a longstanding question that has acquired new relevance in digital environments. Second, it applies the new theory and methods to an important societal challenge, namely, how politics responds to digital technology’s impact on democracy.

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