Conference report: Calculation – Design – Cultivation. Ways of Designing Fair Business Models in the Data Economy

Conference report

Philipp Dieterich (University of Kassel)

The conference (titled “Calculation – Design – Cultivation. Ways of Designing Fair Business Models in the Data Economy”), which took place at the University of Kassel (Germany) from February 21st to 22nd 2024, addressed various approaches of fair value mediation in data economic business models, through sociological and (business) informatics lenses, considering the Sociology and Economics of Conventions (EC/SC). It served as the concluding conference of the project ‘Fair Digital Services: Co-Valuation in the Design of Data-Economic Business Models (FAIRDIENSTE)’, conducted by the Departments of Sociological Theory (University of Kassel, Prof. Dr. Jörn Lamla, project coordination), Participatory IT-Design (University of Kassel, Prof. Dr. Claude Draude), Knowledge and Data Engineering (University of Kassel, Prof. Dr. Gerd Stumme), as well as the Institute for Digital Management and New Media (LMU Munich, Prof. Dr. Thomas Hess). Also involved in the project were the two practice partners BurdaForward and the registered association ‘Institut für Technik und Journalismus e.V.’ (ITUJ, Institute for Technology and Journalism). The conference took place at the Research Center for Information System Design (ITeG), which promotes development towards a socially desirable IT design. Approximately 40 participants, including 20 speakers, attended the conference over the two days. It included introductory presentations on the FAIRDIENSTE project, two keynote speeches, and three panel discussions. In each case, the FAIRDIENSTE consortium gave a presentation on a co-evaluation approach, followed by a panel discussion with external guests from academia and practice. The following conference report will provide a chronological summary of each of these contributions and subsequent discussions.

Introduction to the FAIRDIENSTE Project
J. Lamla and Jonathan Kropf (Department of Sociological Theory, University of Kassel) provided an introduction to the FAIRDIENSTE project, which was funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research from February 2021 to April 2024. The project aimed to develop a scientific concept of fairness for the data economy and to produce well-founded results for the design of digital services. The Economics and Sociology of Conventions (EC/SC) was used as its theoretical foundation. A fundamental concept in the FAIRDIENSTE project is the idea of Co-Valuation, which involves considering fairness through the mediation of different values. Approaches chosen included Design (channeling value conflicts through design), Calculation (translating different values into the language of prices), and Cultivation (promoting a culture of fairness for negotiating value conflicts through the cultivation of critical competencies). The field of analysis was digital journalism, due to the numerous value conflicts observed there (e.g., distribution of data-economic revenues, blurred boundaries between journalism and advertising, crises in public debate culture, professional standards of journalistic work, discrimination or manipulation by algorithms). However, insights were intended to be beneficial for fairness in data economy as a whole.

The contents of the conference built upon the “White Paper” (, previously developed by the consortium. This serves as an analytical and practical resource for the implementation and design of fair business models in the data economy, akin to a toolbox. The aim was to make this toolbox as practical as possible in order to reach not only scientists but also practitioners from politics, business, and civil society.

Keynote I: ‘Data Worlds and Fairness – Perspectives from the Economics and Sociology of Conventions’ by Rainer Diaz-Bone (University of Lucerne)
In his keynote speech, Rainer Diaz-Bone provided insights into EC/SC ( He then outlined potential points of connection between EC/SC and the project at hand, along with the associated data-economic issues of fairness. R. Diaz-Bone explained that conventions serve as a justification for cognitive, organizational, and technical data infrastructures. He identified five different data worlds (academic, official statistics, market research, big data, civic data), each following conventions, and emphasized the importance of analyzing the circulation of data production, usage, revaluation, and reciprocal observations across these worlds. From the plurality of data worlds, he inferred that there can be no universal definition of fairness. He also noted that definitions of fairness must be developed empirically. In doing so, attention should be paid to how these definitions conflict with each other, in which constellations they are found, and where compromises can be identified. Fairness, he suggested, is often empirically linked to multiple logics. He concluded by stressing that analyses of fairness must begin with the production of data, as data does not consist of given facts but results instead from statistical chains.
In the subsequent discussion, J. Lamla described various ideas on how fairness could be conceptualized within EC/SC: firstly, fairness could be its own convention; secondly, each convention could have its own concept of fairness; thirdly, the concept of fairness could be approached at a meta-level to empirically trace how challenges of fairness relate to issues of value mediation. J. Lamla noted that the project had opted for the third perspective, which focuses on a procedural understanding of fairness. Consequently, R. Diaz-Bone highlighted the interesting approach of the FAIRDIENSTE project. He pointed out that the meta-analyses and questions that were raised regarding fairness oriented towards EC/SC can be helpful for developing guidance ideas for politics and governance without specific criteria catalogs.

Regarding the calculation approach, Simon Engert (Institute for Digital Management and New Media, LMU Munich) elucidated that perspectives were developed on how fairness can be examined and achieved using economic mechanisms. The central aim was to translate different values into the language of prices, addressing questions such as the fair distribution of data-economic revenues. He summarized that fairness is both normatively desirable and economically relevant.

Christopher Buschow, Mena Teebken, Richard Weber and Thomas Hess

The panel featuring Christopher Buschow (TU Hamburg), Mena Teebken (Bavarian Research Institute for Digital Transformation), Richard Weber (BurdaForward), moderated by T. Hess, delved into the transformation of the media landscape and the challenges of fairness in digital journalism. The discussion focused on proposals for creating a fair business model. C. Buschow opened the panel by referring to various understandings of fairness, depending on historical experiences and linked to the fundamental transformation of the media world over the past 30 years. He emphasized that (lack of) fairness is relevant, both in the remuneration of journalists, and in ensuring non-discriminatory access to platforms. Following this direction, M. Teebken noted that a fair business model crucially depends on how fairly it treats users’ data, highlighting the importance of data. At the same time, she pointed out the necessary pragmatic balance between overly lenient and overly restrictive handling of data privacy. R. Weber emphasized the societal mission of a publisher to provide journalistic content, which necessitates direct and indirect payment methods. He stressed that implementing fairness does not solely lie with publishers, due to the multitude of stakeholders, thus requiring a consideration of the entire value chain.
The panel discussed possible processes for developing acceptable solutions for all stakeholders in journalism. Suggestions included negotiations through unions, the relevance of user interests, and creating a counterbalance to large platforms. The importance of negotiating fairness collectively among all stakeholders was repeatedly emphasized. Subsequently, the possibilities and limitations of tools to support journalism were discussed, highlighting the importance of user engagement and a transformative understanding of science. R. Diaz-Bone argued, based on the EC/SC, that an understanding of privacy that is related to information control and individual autonomy, that often guides many discussions, is actually an outdated bourgeois model from the 19th century and no longer relevant to current ways of thinking. However, the empirical relevance of privacy in the data economy presents an interesting case.

Viktoria Horn (Participatory IT-Design, University of Kassel) referred to a comprehensive concept of design as the basis of the approach, encompassing technical, regulatory, and infrastructural aspects. The focus was on questions of democratizing design processes and reflecting values in artifacts. Therefore, much work was done with ‘participatory design’, where participation entails the early and continuous involvement of stakeholders in design processes, incorporating both technical and non-technical solutions. Fostering fair value mediation requires a multi-perspective process considering power asymmetries, which can be achieved, for example, through a participatory workshop with various stakeholders. Such a workshop was developed in collaboration with BurdaForward as part of the FAIRDIENSTE project and was conducted with different stakeholders.
The subsequent panel discussion with Alina Hang (BurdaForward), Tahireh Panahi (Public Law, IT Law and Environmental Law, University of Kassel), Peter Sörries (Institute of Computer Science, FU Berlin), moderated by C. Draude, began with considering the positive experiences of previous participatory workshops, which had lead to increased empathy among stakeholders. The feasibility of such concepts in reality was questioned, for instance by A. Hang, due to the diversity of actors and existing competitive situations. Challenges were also discussed regarding the implementation of values into technical artifacts and the implementation of fairness business models, particularly regarding financial and time resources. P. Sörries emphasized, based on his own experiences in conducting participatory workshops, the difficulty of deriving and maintaining design requirements, especially considering possible updates or changed data protection concepts. T. Panahi pointed out attempts to introduce more regulations at an EU level, which often allow companies a certain degree of leeway. She concluded that cultivation should be the prerequisite for legal regulations and laws. The panel participants agreed that users’ participation and co-creation is central to a fair data economy. R. Diaz-Bone emphasized the importance of testing and verification in the EC/SC, meaning that it must be tested and must work in reality to endure. This implies that a solely pluralistic perspective is not sufficient, but must always be tested and verified under the given conditions.

Alina Hang, Tahireh Panahi, Peter Sörries and Claude Draude

Markus Uhlmann (Department of Sociological Theory, University of Kassel) introduced the cultivation approach, which aims to explore possibilities for public negotiations of value conflicts and to promote critical valuation competencies. Starting from a problem-oriented presentation of recommendation systems’ popularity metric and personalization, Uhlmann proposed an alternative navigation paradigm. This is based on a cartographic approach, and structures a variety of content through conventions that users can explore independently. This cartography utilizes formal concept analysis linked to the EC/SC, as explained by Johannes Hirth (Knowledge & Data Engineering, University of Kassel).
In the subsequent discussion with Renate Fischer (University of Zurich), Karolin Kappler (Catholic University of Applied Sciences of North Rhine-Westphalia), and Miriam Ruhenstroth (ITuJ e.V.), moderated by J. Lamla, questions regarding the development of critical valuation competencies played a distinct role. In this regard, J. Lamla introduced the concept of ‘critical space’, which must necessarily be created, and asked how such a critical space could emerge. K. Kappler pointed out that its creation, especially in the field of digitization, is not sufficient. As long as exploitative relations of work, environment, and human in relation to data are not considered, a critical space is merely a sham. Instead, she suggested bringing attention to the plurality in a power-sensitive manner. R. Fischer, on the other hand, argued that while plurality exists, there are no skills to recognize it. She concluded that users lack critical evaluation skills and a navigation paradigm could be helpful. M. Ruhenstroth emphasized that ‘critical spaces’ such as the association ITuJ exist, and that cultivation often already takes place among users. She described the desire of users for simplification, such as using grades. However, this logic corresponds to a different logic than the EC/SC uses, as the EC/SC does not solely engage in accounting and tends to authoritatively determine what is good or bad, as J. Lamla explained. This led to a debate about the compatibility of the EC/SC logic with practicality in digital journalism. M. Ruhenstroth noted that people are capable of learning and interested in the topic. There is more demand than the association ITuJ can meet. K. Kappler identified the problem that children and young people are not taught how to act in a self-determined manner in the digital space, but rather they get mainly focused on predetermination and control. M. Ruhenstroth added that digitization in schools currently does not aim to teach the handling of digitization. Conventions could help address ownership and power relations. R. Fischer suggested focusing on imparting skills rather than mere knowledge. K. Kappler emphasized that media literacy means using media sensibly, the EC/SC being helpful in that regard. She further pointed out that competence also means using digital artifacts creatively and subversively against the algorithm.

Miriam Ruhenstroth, Renate Fischer, Karolin Kappler and Jörn Lamla

Keynote II: ‘On the Designability of Power Dynamics in the Platform Society: Insights from Digital Journalism’ by Sarah Ganter (Simon Fraser University, Canada)
Sarah Ganter’s presentation focused on the challenges and opportunities of digital journalism in the context of the platform society ( The aim of the presentation was to illuminate the specific problems of digital journalism within this framework and to highlight the design spaces of news organizations. S. Ganter described the asymmetric distribution of power between platforms and news organizations. On digital platforms, fairness had no value as it did not represent a profitable business model. Earlier attempts, between 2005 and 2015, to shape the power dynamics of platforms, had shown that this asymmetric distribution of power could not be overcome despite various strategies. Aspects that manifested the power of digital platforms, as mentioned by S. Ganter, included the ability to set and break standards, comprehensive expertise and reach, cross-domain actions, and the secrecy of strategies. Platforms could empower digital journalism to be quickly actionable without making high short-term financial investments. Building on this, S. Ganter described possible design spaces for news organizations that exist despite asymmetrical power relations. News organizations were actively involved in the process of platformization and saw it as an opportunity to increase their reach and consolidate or expand their power positions. S. Ganter worked out how news organizations pursued different strategic approaches in dealing with platforms, ranging from confrontation, to coexistence, to collaboration, depending on various endogenous and exogenous factors.

Sarah Ganter

J. Lamla concluded with a positive assessment of the conference in the light of the numerous new insights. For him, it became clear once again that there is an empirical and practical relevance of the concept of fairness, especially in journalism. He observed that, taking the EC/SC into account, there are some theoretical challenges regarding the significance of conventions and norms in the data economy, such as the question of why the justification of central concepts such as privacy is not keeping pace with developments. T. Hess praised the productive work of the interdisciplinary team, which contributed to the project’s great success. He advocated for utilizing the existing design space. As a summary, he added that the interdisciplinary team with different perspectives was a great success of the project, and emphasized that there are design opportunities that must be seized. He hopes to be able to address this, together with others, in another research project in the future.

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