The Internet is associated with the promise of individual and collective empowerment. Online participation is therefore a core aspect in understanding the interplay between the Internet and society. People engage in various forms of participation on many levels of society ranging from political decision-making and consensus-seeking to customer integration and co-creation in business. As a communication infrastructure, the Internet combines the reach of mass media with the capability of bidirectional communication. Thus, in n:n communication innumerable linkages between previously unlinked knowledge become possible. Because innovations are often new combinations of existing knowledge, the Internet is very attractive for applications in innovation management. Boundaries of organisations are being redefined with a tendency towards more transparency and higher levels of participation on the part of stakeholders. By convening, sharing their views and pooling their opinions, stakeholders are empowered. At the same time it may be also that in the context of the Internet relationships between organisations and stakeholders have not yet changed so profoundly as partially expected.

The Institute for Internet and Society addresses the overarching topic of online participation through various research projects (e.g. Motivation for Online Participation, Open ScienceGlobal Privacy Governance, Orphan Works in Digital Libraries, Legal Aspects of crowd-sourcing) that contribute to a joint understanding of the wider theme. This joint approach gets complement with a transdisciplinary literature review in all four research areas to identify existing arguments and research streams. The Institute seeks to understand prerequisites and antecedents of online participation, processes and conditions during online participation and consequences that online participation entails.

The joint research topic seeks to understand the prerequisites and antecedents of online participation (i.e. which tasks are suitable for online participation or how we need to split tasks to make them suitable). The research project focuses on the process of online participation (by researching and comparing the managerial capabilities required in political organisations and companies, for instance) as well as the consequences of online participation (by investigating and contrasting its transformative scope in terms of the balance of power, hierarchies and social practices in both political and commercial organisations). The institute also realises a number of other projects that contribute to this overarching theme: online participation plays an important role in the research project Open Science, for example, since one aspect of Open Science is the collective generation of knowledge. In the projects relating to Global Privacy Governance and Orphan Works in Digital Libraries, the research projects ask to what extent the general public can influence and shape legal initiatives at the supranational level by means of online participation. Finally, there are plans for a workshop to address specific legal issues arising from crowd-sourcing processes.