Blockchain through the lens of a researcher & Civil Society

May 28 2019

Hi All,

we've been investigating blockchain from several perspectives, such as identity and privacy, as well as civil society. Here, we look at the future trajectory of blockchain with insights from research and standards. Then we zoom in on work by civil society stakeholders.

Inspiration on the research side comes from Cathy Mulligan, Imperial College London, on the promise, and potential pittfalls of blockchain. 

Blockchain is among the latest waves of digitisation enabled by the worldwide distribution of computing capacity. There are essentially two types of blockchains: permissioned (private) and permissionless (public, e.g. bitcoin). Permissioned distributed ledgers are a better match for business-oriented use cases that are of interest to industry and governmental institutions.

  • A key public aspect of Blockchain is its value as a timestamped and chronologically recorded digital ledger type transaction that allows anyone to download the code and start mining bitcoin or take part in new network ideas built on the Ethereum platform.
  • Blockchain promises to redefine trust, transparency and inclusion across the world. Transparency comes from the participation of huge parts of the public while trust is built from the almost impossibility to record malicious entries or change transactions already processed.
  • It is arguable how well blockchain captures that notion of trust, or whether any technology can ever actually replicate what a human being thinks, feels and acts like when they trust and are trusted. These concepts are deeply human, as are the power structures within which digital solutions are built.
  • It may or may not overcome its technical and environmental challenges, but the concept of citizen-led and citizen-owned solutions to global problems has been unleashed.
  • Blockchain speaks to a deep human need to be able to trust other people, organisations and companies in an increasingly digital world though more work is needed on exactly how we prove this trust-building process.
  • Blockchain can help us organise society differently by enabling new levels of cooperation and new types of partnerships across geographical and sectoral borders. This shows us how important it is to support transparency and inclusion and what they should look like in the digital world.
  • Blockchain’s focus on inclusion, trust and multilateralism is expected to continue for many decades but needs the support of governments, civil society, academia and industry.
  • Blockchain is cross-border. As such it requires a unified, multilateral approach to regulation. Civil services need to understand how their regulations may be interpreted in code, from multi-stakeholder perspectives and thinking about laws in one country may impact people in another country.
  • It is likely that the key legacy of blockchain will be that when computing power is handed to a large part of the population—rather than solely housed in corporations—completely new solutions to old problems will emerge. In the case of blockchain, it began with a desire to see a new form of banking system, one that was truly native to the digital world we are all starting to inhabit.
  • Blockchain is a relatively immature technology, which does not exist in a vacuum. On the negative side, it may potentially create as many problems as it solves. Yet it can yield insights into emerging technologies and how we can face them head on in a rapidly changing world.
  • Blockchain is still new and will evolve many times before it can be fully integrated into society. We should not see it as a fully functional solution but as a lens on the possible. Its possibilities merit the attention of everyone. For example, users on the consultation platform have raised the issue of the Blockchain-GDPR Paradox, whereas storing personal data on a blockchain is not an option according to GDPR, since the data “should be erasable” at any point in time, which wouldn’t be possible if it was in a blockchain transaction.

Civil Society Lens: Leadership on priority issues – Champions perspectives

The NGI Champions Panel includes experts from civil society, notably the International civil society centre. Here's what they're doing on blockchain. 

It is key to act now on collaborative blockchain and big data projects in organisations like the International Civil Society Centre to make our voices heard right across the globe.

These projects are vital for leading the way and zooming in on priority topics like data privacy and security.

New projects include:

Data-driven advocacy partnerships for sustainable development goals (SDGs), developing a data collaboration method focused on the evidence-based advocacy for the leave no one behind agenda. The idea is to use the Centre’s Leave No One Behind project as a case study on how to use big data effectively at different project stages.

  • Big data for impact measurement, using various big data sets to discover new insights, creating an impact measurement tool to improve decision-making.
  • Plan Omega, exploring how to establish a CSO Blockchain to improve efforts to protect and expand the civic space, mapping relevant CSO actors and technology experts to gauge the viability of building the CSO blockchain.
  • Cryptocurrency and CSO transaction costs, exploring the possibilities of using an existing or setting up a new cryptocurrency for the CSO sector exclusively and verifying whether it can reduce transaction costs.

Thanks for reading and please engage on our consultation platform. Your views and comments are very much appreciated. 

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1 comment on "Blockchain through the lens of a researcher & Civil Society"

  • Stephanie Parker's picture
    Stephanie Helen Parker

    We previously mentioned this work on blockchain.

    ETSI Industry Specification Group on Permissioned Distributed Ledgers (ETSI ISG PDL; set up in December 2018) lays the foundations for operating permissioned distributed ledgers and deployment across industry and governmental institutions. The group is working towards globally applicable standards by tackling the challenges related to operation, business use cases, functional architecture, operational solutions like interfaces, APIs, protocols and information/data models.

    answered 28 May 2019 12:33