DFG-Project AlgoWork
Algorithmic Control: A Legitimacy Perspective on Worker-level Implications

Goal of the research project:

The overarching goal of the research project AlgoWork is to examine the conceptual nature and worker-level implications of algorithmic control (AC), broadly defined as the managerial use of sophisticated algorithms along with advanced information technology (IT) as a means to align worker behaviors with organizational objectives.

As such, AC is distinct from traditional, human-based control because the source of control originates from algorithms and the delivery of control is provided by IT interfaces. While AC is increasingly employed in both platform-based and traditional organizations and across low-skill and high-skill work contexts, it remains underexplored in terms of its defining characteristics and often-ambivalent implications for workers. For example, existing control research in information systems (IS) has almost exclusively focused on studying human-based control relationships in different IT contexts (e.g., IT projects), thereby largely neglecting the role of IT within managerial control processes. Consequently, there is a practically and scientifically relevant need to study how the use of AC affects individual workers and their day-to-day work behaviors.

The specific objectives of AlgoWork are twofold. First, we aim to develop a coherent conceptual framework and a validated measurement instrument for AC based on a sound theoretical grounding and comprehensive empirical testing. More specifically, we plan to combine a top-down (systematic literature review) with a bottom-up approach (qualitative profiling of AC practices) to derive a fine- grained conceptual understanding of AC and its key dimensions. On this conceptual basis, we intend to develop an integrated and validated set of scales for measuring AC. In doing so, AlgoWork will make important contributions to expanding the conceptual toolbox available to control researchers, as well as to setting the stage for future empirical studies on the emerging AC phenomenon.

Second, adopting a (micro-level) legitimacy perspective to empirically examine the worker-level implications of AC, we aim to advance the still nascent research on control effects at the individual controllee level and contribute to a more balanced view on how workers perceive AC practices, judge their legitimacy, and react to them. In particular, drawing on a series of empirical studies, the project is expected to contribute to a nuanced understanding of what AC characteristics trigger positive or negative worker reactions, as well as to what extent and why reactions vary across different work contexts (i.e., low-skill versus high-skill work in traditional versus platform-based organizations). On this basis, the project results will offer actionable insights into the ethically responsible design and use of AC, and may guide corresponding regulatory efforts by policy-makers. The project thus also fits under the broader umbrella of the future of work and is expected to add valuable insights to this body of research.

Key Data:


Funder: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)