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Lord of the numbers

Christian Stumpf is a researcher in the think tank at bidt. The social scientist designs surveys that bidt uses to shed light on current challenges of the digital transformation.

© bidt / Kilian Blees

Christian Stumpf is a professional at finding out what makes people tick. The social scientist designs surveys for analyses and studies. At bidt, he works in the Think Tank department, which, among other things, conducts its own surveys on digital transformation.

What do Germans know about artificial intelligence? Do they want more or less home office? And how well can users handle digital technologies in the first place?

Christian Stumpf is close to current social developments. “That was the reason why I studied sociology: I was interested in understanding social phenomena. Surveys are a possible approach for this,” says the bidt speaker.

After his studies in Heidelberg, Christian Stumpf first worked at the Mannheim Centre for European Social Research and then for more than ten years at a renowned market and opinion research institute in Munich. So it was initially professional reasons that drew Christian Stumpf to Munich. But the city quickly became home to the native of Baden-Württemberg. This is also due to its proximity to the Alps, which he loves to visit by bike.

Trendy topic: digitalisation

Since Christian Stumpf began working as a social researcher, he has conducted surveys on areas as diverse as voting intentions, family friendliness and customer satisfaction. He sees the variety of topics he deals with in the course of his work as enriching.

According to his observations, digitalisation has become a trend topic in surveys for about five years. He himself has been interested in it for a long time, for practical reasons alone: The new technologies enable automated analyses of survey data. He enjoys writing the programmes for this. And: “It also gives you the chance to free yourself from routine tasks. The more you automate, the more time you find for what’s important to you.” For the social scientist, that is developing good surveys.

At bidt, he is currently working in the Think Tank team to design a long-term survey that will provide information about how accepted digital technologies are among the population and how competent Germans are with the new applications and possibilities: the digitalisation barometer. At least with regard to artificial intelligence, there is a need to catch up, as one of the first bidt studies showed: AI is a mystery to most people.

For Christian Stumpf, every survey also means the opportunity to learn something new, to get results that you didn’t expect. At the same time, surveys also carry the risk of entrenching prejudices – if only through the different self-assessments of respondents, for example.

There is now an inflation of surveys because it has become very easy to quickly start a survey online. But that doesn't necessarily mean that they are well done.

Christian Stumpf To the profile

This entails the risk of drawing the wrong conclusions. Christian Stumpf names some characteristics by which the quality of studies can be recognised. These include that the time period and the method of the survey are mentioned and the sample is described, i.e. it is explained who was interviewed. “Samples are fundamentally subject to error. There is always a certain margin of error, which is also stated in good surveys.”

But for the social scientist, the challenge is not only to make well-designed surveys that produce a usable result for politics and business. The questions must also be posed in such a way that the participants do not drop out prematurely, because with the flood of surveys, the competition for respondents is also increasing: “Fewer and fewer people are taking part in surveys.” For empirical social researchers, this means: They have to ask the questions in such a way that the respondents not only understand them, but also find them interesting enough to stay with them until the end of a survey. The key, according to Christian Stumpf, is to try to put yourself in the shoes of others.

What Christian Stumpf appreciates about bidt is the opportunity to help build an institute from the very beginning. The bidt’s research profile couldn’t be more rewarding for a social scientist: Digitalisation affects so many areas of life and society that it is a huge field for social science surveys.

Anyone who observes social phenomena professionally, like Christian Stumpf, can never completely let go of it, even beyond the daily work routine. Personally, Christian Stumpf is currently preoccupied with a question that is one of the current challenges of the digital transformation: “How can it be that in a time when so much knowledge and information is easily accessible, fake news exists and conspiracy theories spread? In the interview, he immediately follows up with a possible answer: “Maybe that’s exactly the problem: that everyone draws their own conclusions.” With the surveys he has helped to develop, the bidt speaker is at least making a contribution to creating fact-based foundations.

Think Tank

The bidt think tank provides an independent, fact-based picture of the state of the digital transformation. It offers reliable figures, data and facts for well-founded, informed decisions.