Blockchain in Cities


Report by Brooks Rainwater at the National League of Cities: “Public trust in American lawmakers (particularly at the national level), elections and democratic institutions has plummeted in recent years. While there are many contributing factors, the explosion of digital information, digital misinformation and outright abuse has played a major role in this downward trend.

To restore confidence in the core tenets of our society, leaders need solutions tailored to an increasingly digital world. Additionally, blockchain presents direct opportunities for cities — voting, real estate, transportation, energy, water management and more. The potential exists for local governments to utilize blockchain to lower costs, improve efficiency and create a framework to accelerate innovation, access and accountability in public management.

Blockchain is a shared database or distributed ledger, located permanently online for anything represented digitally, such as rights, goods and property. At its core, it is a secure, inalterable electronic register. Through enhanced trust, consensus and autonomy, blockchain brings widespread decentralization. This is a departure from the traditional role that centralized intermediaries or entities — such as banks — played to manage our valuable transfers. Its inherent transparency promotes relationships and builds confidence.

In the early days of the internet, few people could have predicted the magnitude of the disruption it would cause and the pivotal role it would play in globalization. Some experts say blockchain will potentially change the nature and security of all interactions of value. Because blockchain has large implications for individuals, it will have even larger ramifications for cities.

Here are seven key ways that cities can explore blockchain now:

  • Use blockchain to expand digital inclusion initiatives and help support the un- and under-banked.
  • Explore options for using blockchain in governance, procurement processes and business licensing.
  • Consider blockchain to increase civic engagement and offer additional pathways for voting.
  • Investigate how blockchain can help strengthen local alternative energy initiatives.
  • Prepare for the utilization of blockchain for digital transportation infrastructure needs as autonomous vehicles are more broadly deployed in cities.
  • While the benefits could be manifold, be cognizant of the potential for negative externalities that will need to be addressed and make sure that cities give themselves time to absorb each impact of introducing this technology.
  • Pay attention to what other cities have experienced and learned when it comes to blockchain. And above all, keep an open mind and be open to change. This new technology might just bring some unexpected yet very welcome benefits to your city and its residents….(More)”.

Democracy doomsday prophets are missing this critical shift


Bruno Kaufmann and Joe Mathews in the Washington Post: “The new conventional wisdom seems to be that electoral democracy is in decline. But this ignores another widespread trend: direct democracy at the local and regional level is booming, even as disillusion with representative government at the national level grows.

Today, 113 of the world’s 117 democratic countries offer their citizens legally or constitutionally established rights to bring forward a citizens’ initiative, referendum or both. And since 1980, roughly 80 percent of countries worldwide have had at least one nationwide referendum or popular vote on a legislative or constitutional issue.

Of all the nationwide popular votes in the history of the world, more than half have taken place in the past 30 years. As of May 2018, almost 2,000 nationwide popular votes on substantive issues have taken place, with 1,059 in Europe, 191 in Africa, 189 in Asia, 181 in the Americas and 115 in Oceania, based on our research.

That is just at the national level. Other major democracies — Germany, the United States and India — do not permit popular votes on substantive issues nationally but support robust direct democracy at the local and regional levels. The number of local votes on issues has so far defied all attempts to count them — they run into the tens of thousands.

This robust democratization, at least when it comes to direct legislation, provides a context that’s generally missing when doomsday prophets suggest that democracy is dying by pointing to authoritarian-leaning leaders like Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and U.S. President Donald Trump.

Indeed, the two trends — the rise of populist authoritarianism in some nations and the rise of local and direct democracy in some areas — are related. Frustration is growing with democratic systems at national levels, and yes, some people become more attracted to populism. But some of that frustration is channeled into positive energy — into making local democracy more democratic and direct.

Cities from Seoul to San Francisco are hungry for new and innovative tools that bring citizens into processes of deliberation that allow the people themselves to make decisions and feel invested in government actions. We’ve seen local governments embrace participatory budgeting, participatory planning, citizens’ juries and a host of experimental digital tools in service of that desired mix of greater public deliberation and more direct public action….(More).”

How Citizens Can Hack EU Democracy


Stephen Boucher at Carnegie Europe: “…To connect citizens with the EU’s decisionmaking center, European politicians will need to provide ways to effectively hack this complex system. These democratic hacks need to be visible and accessible, easily and immediately implementable, viable without requiring changes to existing European treaties, and capable of having a traceable impact on policy. Many such devices could be imagined around these principles. Here are three ideas to spur debate.

Hack 1: A Citizens’ Committee for the Future in the European Parliament

The European Parliament has proposed that twenty-seven of the seventy-three seats left vacant by Brexit should be redistributed among the remaining member states. According to one concept, the other forty-six unassigned seats could be used to recruit a contingent of ordinary citizens from around the EU to examine legislation from the long-term perspective of future generations. Such a “Committee for the Future” could be given the power to draft a response to a yearly report on the future produced by the president of the European Parliament, initiate debates on important political themes of their own choosing, make submissions on future-related issues to other committees, and be consulted by members of the European Parliament (MEPs) on longer-term matters.

MEPs could decide to use these forty-six vacant seats to invite this Committee for the Future to sit, at least on a trial basis, with yearly evaluations. This arrangement would have real benefits for EU politics, acting as an antidote to the union’s existential angst and helping the EU think systemically and for the longer term on matters such as artificial intelligence, biodiversity, climate concerns, demography, mobility, and energy.

Hack 2: An EU Participatory Budget

In 1989, the city of Porto Alegre, Brazil, decided to cede control of a share of its annual budget for citizens to decide upon. This practice, known as participatory budgets, has since spread globally. As of 2015, over 1,500 instances of participatory budgets have been implemented across five continents. These processes generally have had a positive impact, with people proving that they take public spending matters seriously.

To replicate these experiences at the European level, the complex realities of EU budgeting would require specific features. First, participative spending probably would need to be both local and related to wider EU priorities in order to ensure that citizens see its relevance and its wider European implications. Second, significant resources would need to be allocated to help citizens come up with and promote projects. For instance, the city of Paris has ensured that each suggested project that meets the eligibility requirements has a desk officer within its administration to liaise with the idea’s promoters. It dedicates significant resources to reach out to citizens, in particular in the poorer neighborhoods of Paris, both online and face-to-face. Similar efforts would need to be deployed across Europe. And third, in order to overcome institutional complexities, the European Parliament would need to work with citizens as part of its role in negotiating the budget with the European Council.

Hack 3: An EU Collective Intelligence Forum

Many ideas have been put forward to address popular dissatisfaction with representative democracy by developing new forums such as policy labs, consensus conferences, and stakeholder facilitation groups. Yet many citizens still feel disenchanted with representative democracy, including at the EU level, where they also strongly distrust lobby groups. They need to be involved more purposefully in policy discussions.

A yearly Deliberative Poll could be run on a matter of significance, ahead of key EU summits and possibly around the president of the commission’s State of the Union address. On the model of the first EU-wide Deliberative Poll, Tomorrow’s Europe, this event would bring together in Brussels a random sample of citizens from all twenty-seven EU member states, and enable them to discuss various social, economic, and foreign policy issues affecting the EU and its member states. This concept would have a number of advantages in terms of promoting democratic participation in EU affairs. By inviting a truly representative sample of citizens to deliberate on complex EU matters over a weekend, within the premises of the European Parliament, the European Parliament would be the focus of a high-profile event that would draw media attention. This would be especially beneficial if—unlike Tomorrow’s Europe—the poll was not held at arm’s length by EU policymakers, but with high-level national officials attending to witness good-quality deliberation remolding citizens’ views….(More)”.

The GovLab Selected Readings on Blockchain Technologies and the Governance of Extractives


Curation by Andrew Young, Anders Pedersen, and Stefaan G. Verhulst

Readings developed together with NRGI, within the context of our joint project on Blockchain technologies and the Governance of Extractives. Thanks to Joyce Zhang and Michelle Winowatan for research support.

We need your help! Please share any additional readings on the use of Blockchain Technologies in the Extractives Sector with blockchange@thegovlab.org.  

Introduction

By providing new ways to securely identify individuals and organizations, and record transactions of various types in a distributed manner, blockchain technologies have been heralded as a new tool to address information asymmetries, establish trust and improve governance – particularly around the extraction of oil, gas and other natural resources. At the same time, blockchain technologies are been experimented with to optimize certain parts of the extractives value chain – potentially decreasing transparency and accountability while making governance harder to implement.

Across the expansive and complex extractives sector, blockchain technologies are believed to have particular potential for improving governance in three key areas:  

  • Beneficial ownership and illicit flows screening: The identity of those who benefit, through ownership, from companies that extract natural resources is often hidden – potentially contributing to tax evasion, challenges to global sanction regimes, corruption and money laundering.
  • Land registration, licensing and contracting transparency: To ensure companies extract resources responsibly and comply with rules and fee requirements, effective governance and a process to determine who has the rights to extract natural resources, under what conditions, and who is entitled to the land is essential.
  • Commodity trading and supply chain transparency: The commodity trading sector is facing substantive challenges in assessing and verifying the authenticity of for example oil trades. Costly time is spent by commodity traders reviewing documentation of often poor quality. The expectation of the sector is firstly to eliminate time spent verifying the authenticity of traded goods and secondly to reduce the risk premium on trades. Transactions from resources and commodities trades are often opaque and secretive, allowing for governments and companies to conceal how much money they receive from trading, and leading to corruption and evasion of taxation.

In the below we provide a selection of the nascent but growing literature on Blockchain Technologies and Extractives across six categories:

Selected Readings 

Blockchain Technologies and Extractives – Promise and Current Potential

Adams, Richard, Beth Kewell, Glenn Parry. “Blockchain for Good? Digital Ledger Technology and Sustainable Development Goals.” Handbook of Sustainability and Social Science Research. October 27, 2017.

  • This chapter in the Handbook of Sustainability and Social Science Research seeks to reflect and explore the different ways Blockchain for Good (B4G) projects can provide social and environmental benefits under the UN’s Sustainable Goals framework
  • The authors describe the main categories in which blockchain can achieve social impact: mining/consensus algorithms that reward good behavior, benefits linked to currency use in the form of “colored coins,” innovations in supply chain, innovations in government, enabling the sharing economy, and fostering financial inclusion.
  • The chapter concludes that with B4G there is also inevitably “Blockchain for Bad.” There is already critique and failures of DLTs such as the DAO, and more research must be done to identify whether DLTs can provide a more decentralized, egalitarian society, or if they will ultimately be another tool for control and surveillance by organizations and government.

Cullinane, Bernadette, and Randy Wilson. “Transforming the Oil and Gas Industry through Blockchain.” Official Journal of the Australian Institute of Energy News, p 9-10, December 2017.

  • In this article, Cullinane and Wilson explore blockchain’s application in the oil and gas industry “presents a particularly compelling opportunity…due to the high transactional values, associated risks and relentless pressure to reduce costs.”
  • The authors elaborate four areas where blockchain can benefit play a role in transforming the oil and gas industry:
    • Supply chain management
    • Smart contracts
    • Record management
    • Cross-border payments

Da Silva, Filipe M., and Ankita Jaitly. “Blockchain in Natural Resources: Hedging Against Volatile Prices.” Tata Consultancy Services Ltd., 2018.

  • The authors of this white paper assess the readiness of natural resources industries for blockchain technology application, identify areas where blockchain can add value, and outline a strategic plan for its adoption.
  • In particular, they highlight the potential for blockchain in the oil and gas industry to simplify payments, where for example, gas can be delivered directly to consumer homes using a blockchain smart contracting application.

Halford-Thompson, Guy. “Powered by Blockchain: Reinventing Information Management in the Energy Space.” BTL, May 12, 2017.

  • According to Halford-Thompson, “oil and gas companies are exploring blockchain’s promise to revamp inefficient internal processes and achieve significant reductions in operating costs through the automation of record keeping and messaging, the digitization of the supply chain information flow, and the elimination of reconciliation, among many other data management use cases.”
  • The data reconciliation process, for one, is complex and can require significant time for completion. Blockchain technology could not only remove the need for some steps in the information reconciliation process, but also eliminate the need for reconciliation altogether in some instances.

Blockchain Technologies and the Governance of Extractives

(See also: Selected Readings of Blockchain Technologies and its Potential to Transform Governance)

Koeppen, Mark, David Shrier, and Morgan Bazilian. “Is Blockchain’s Future in Oil and Gas Transformative Or Transient? Deloitte, 2017.

  • In this report, the authors propose four areas that blockchain can improve for the oil and gas industry, which are:
    • Transparency and compliance: Employment of blockchain is predicted to significantly reduce cost related to compliance, since it securely makes information available to all parties involved in the supply chain.
    • Cyber threats and security: The industry faces constant digital security threat and blockchain provides a solution to address this issue.
    • Mid-volume trading/third party impacts: They argue that the “boundaries between asset classes will blur as cash, energy products and other commodities, from industrial components to apples could all become digital assets trading interoperably.”
    • Smart contract: Since the “sheer size and volume of contracts and transactions to execute capital projects in oil and gas have historically caused significant reconciliation and tracking issues among contractors, sub-contractors, and suppliers,” blockchain-enabled smart contracts could improve the process by executing automatically after all requirements are met, and boosting contract efficiency and protecting each party from volatile pricing.

Mawet, Pierre, and Michael Insogna. “Unlocking the Potential of Blockchain in Oil and Gas Supply Chains.” Accenture Energy Blog, November 21, 2016.

  • The authors propose three ways blockchain technology can boost productivity and efficiency in oil and gas industry:
    • “Greater process efficiency. Smart contracts, for example, can be held in a blockchain transaction with party compliance confirmed through follow-on transactions, reducing third-party supervision and paper-based contracting, thus helping reduce cost and overhead.”
    • “Compliance. Visibility is essential to improve supply chain performance. The immutable record of transactions can aid in product traceability and asset tracking.”
    • “Data transfer from IoT sensors. Blockchain could be used to track the unique history of a device, with the distributed ledger recording data transfer from multiple sensors. Data security in devices could be safeguarded by unique blockchain characteristics.”

Som, Indranil. “Blockchain: Radically Changing the Mining Paradigm.” Digitalist, September 27, 2017.

  • In this article, Som proposes three ways that the blockchain technology can “support leaner organizations and increased security” in the mining industry: improving cybersecurity, increasing transparency through smart contracts, and providing visibility into the supply chain.

Identity: Beneficial Ownership and Illicit Flows

(See also: Selected Readings on Blockchain Technologies and Identity).

de Jong, Julia, Alexander Meyer, and Jeffrey Owens. “Using blockchain for transparent beneficial ownership registers. International Tax Review, June 2017.

  • This paper discusses the features of blockchain and distributed ledger technology that can improve collection and distribution of information on beneficial ownership.
  • The FATF and OECD Global Forum regimes have identified a number of common problems related to beneficial ownership information across all jurisdictions, including:
    • “Insufficient accuracy and accessibility of company identification and ownership information;
    • Less rigorous implementation of customer due-diligence (CDD) measures by key gatekeepers such as lawyers, accountants, and trust and company service providers; and
    • Obstacles to information sharing such as data protection and privacy laws, which impede competent authorities from receiving timely access to adequate, accurate and up-to-date information on basic legal and beneficial ownership.”
  • The authors argue that the transparency, immutability, and security offered by blockchain makes it ideally suited for record-keeping, particularly with regards to the ownership of assets. Thus, blockchain can address many of the shortcomings in the current system as identified by the FATF and the OECD.
  • They go on to suggest that a global registry of beneficial ownership using blockchain technology would offer the following benefits:
    • Ensuring real-time accuracy and verification of ownership information
    • Increasing security and control over sensitive personal and commercial information
    • Enhancing audit transparency
    • Creating the potential for globally-linked registries
    • Reducing corruption and fraud, and increasing trust
    • Reducing compliance burden for regulate entities

Herian, Robert. “Trusteeship in a Post-Trust World: Property, Trusts Law and the Blockchain.” The Open University, 2016.

  • This working paper discusses the often overlooked topic of trusteeship and trusts law and the implications of blockchain technology in the space. 
  • “Smart trusts” on the blockchain will distribute trusteeship across a network and, in theory, remove the need for continuous human intervention in trust fund investments thus resolving key issues around accountability and the potential for any breach of trust.
  • Smart trusts can also increase efficiency and security of transactions, which could improve the overall performance of the investment strategy, thereby creating higher returns for beneficiaries.

Karsten, Jack and Darrell M. West (2018): “Venezuela’s “petro” undermines other cryptocurrencies – and international sanctions.” Brookings, Friday, March 9 2018,

  • This article discusses the Venezuelan government’s cryptocurrency, “petro,” which was launched as a solution to the country’s economic crisis and near-worthless currency, “bolívar”
  • Unlike the volatility of other cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Litecoin, one petro’s price is pegged to the price of one barrel of Venezuelan oil – roughly $60
  • And rather than decentralizing control like most blockchain applications, the petro is subject to arbitrary discount factor adjustment, fluctuating oil prices, and a corrupt government known for manipulating its currency
  • The authors warn the petro will not stabilize the Venezuelan economy since only foreign investors funded the presale, yet (from the White Paper) only Venezuelan citizens can use the cryptocurrency to pay taxes, fees, and other expenses. Rather, they argue, the petro represents an attempt to create foreign capital out of “thin air,” which is not subject to traditional economic sanctions.  

Land Registration, Licensing and Contracting Transparency

Michael Graglia and Christopher Mellon. “Blockchain and Property in 2018: At the End of the Beginning.” 2018 World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty, March 19-23, 2018.

  • This paper claims “blockchain makes sense for real estate” because real estate transactions depend on a number of relationships, processes, and intermediaries that must reconcile all transactions and documents for an action to occur. Blockchain and smart contracts can reduce the time and cost of transactions while ensuring secure and transparent record-keeping systems.
  • The ease, efficiency, and security of transactions can also create an “international market for small real estate” in which individuals who cannot afford an entire plot of land can invest small amounts and receive their portion of rental payments automatically through smart contracts.
  • The authors describe seven prerequisites that land registries must fulfill before blockchain can be introduced successfully: accurate data, digitized records, an identity solution, multi-sig wallets, a private or hybrid blockchain, connectivity and a tech aware population, and a trained professional community
  • To achieve the goal of an efficient and secure property registry, the authors propose an 8-level progressive framework through which registries slowly integrate blockchain due to legal complexity of land administration, resulting inertia of existing processes, and high implementation costs.  
    • Level 0 – No Integration
    • Level 1 – Blockchain Recording
    • Level 2 – Smart Workflow
    • Level 3 – Smart Escrow
    • Level 4 – Blockchain Registry
    • Level 5 – Disaggregated Rights
    • Level 6 – Fractional Rights
    • Level 7 – Peer-to-Peer Transactions
    • Level 8 – Interoperability

Thomas, Rod. “Blockchain’s Incompatibility for Use as a Land Registry: Issues of Definition, Feasibility and Risk. European Property Law Journal, vol. 6, no. 3, May 2017.

  • Thomas argues that blockchain, as it is currently understood and defined, is unsuited for the transfer of real property rights because it fails to address the need for independent verification and control.
  • Under a blockchain-based system, coin holders would be in complete control of the recordation of the title interests of their land, and thus, it would be unlikely that they would report competing or contested claims.
  • Since land remains in the public domain, the risk of third party possessory title claims are likely to occur; and over time, these risks will only increase exponentially.
  • A blockchain-based land title represents interlinking and sequential transactions over many hundreds, if not thousands, of years, so given the misinformation that would compound over time, it would be difficult to trust the current title holder has a correctly recorded title
  • The author concludes that supporters of blockchain for land registries frequently overlook a registry’s primary function to provide an independent verification of the provenance of stored data.

Vos, Jacob, Christiaan Lemmen, and Bert Beentjes. “Blockchain-Based Land Registry: Panacea, Illusion or Something In Between? 2017 World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty, March 20-24, 2017.

  • The authors propose that blockchain is best suited for the following steps in land administration:
    • The issuance of titles
    • The archiving of transactions – specifically in countries that do not have a reliable electronic system of transfer of ownership
  • The step in between issuing titles and archiving transactions is the most complex – the registration of the transaction. This step includes complex relationships between the “triple” of land administration: rights (right in rem and/or personal rights), object (spatial unit), and subject (title holder). For the most part, this step is done manually by registrars, and it is questionable whether blockchain technology, in the form of smart contracts, will be able to process these complex transactions.
  • The authors conclude that one should not underestimate the complexity of the legal system related to land administration. The standardization of processes may be the threshold to success of blockchain-based land administration. The authors suggest instead of seeking to eliminate one party from the process, technologists should cooperate with legal and geodetic professionals to create a system of checks and balances to successfully implement blockchain for land administration.  
  • This paper also outlines five blockchain-based land administration projects launched in Ghana, Honduras, Sweden, Georgia, and Cook County, Illinois.

Commodity Trading and Supply Chain Transparency

Ahmed, Shabir. “Leveraging Blockchain to Revolutionise the Mining Industry.” SAP News, February 27, 2018.

  • In this article, Ahmed identifies seven key use cases for blockchain in the mining industry:
    • Automation of ore acquisition and transfer;
    • Automatic registration of mineral rights and IP;
    • Visibility of ore inventory at ports;
    • Automatic cargo hire process;
    • Process and secure large amounts of IoT data;
    • Reconciling amount produced and sent for processing;
    • Automatically execute procurement and other contracts.

Brooks, Michael. “Blockchain and the Fight Against Illicit Financial Flows.” The Policy Corner, February 19, 2018.

  • In this article, Brooks argues that, “Because of the inherent decentralization and immutability of data within blockchains, it offers a unique opportunity to bypass traditional tracking and transparency initiatives that require strong central governance and low levels of corruption. It could, to a significant extent, bypass the persistent issues of authority and corruption by democratizing information around data consensus, rather than official channels and occasional studies based off limited and often manipulated information. Within the framework of a coherent policy initiative that integrates all relevant stakeholders (states, transnational organizations, businesses, NGOs, other monitors and oversight bodies), a international supply chains supported by blockchain would decrease the ease with which resources can be hidden, numbers altered, and trade misinvoiced.”

Conflict Free Natural Resources.” Global Opportunity Report 2017. Global Opportunity Network, 2017.

  • In this entry from the Global Opportunity Report, and specifically toward the end of ensuring conflict-free natural resources, Blockchain is labeled as “well-suited for tracking objects and transactions, making it possible for virtually anything of value to be traced. This opportunity is about creating transparency and product traceability in supply chains.

Blockchain for Traceability in Minerals and Metals Supply Chains: Opportunities and Challenges.” RCS Global and ICMM, 2017.

  • This report is based on insights generated during the Materials Stewardship Round Table on the potential of BCTs for tracking and tracing metals and minerals supply chains, which subsequently informed an RCS Global research initiative on the topic.
  • Insight into two key areas is increasingly desired by downstream manufacturing companies from upstream producers of metals and minerals: provenance and production methods
  • In particular, the report offers five key potential advantages of using Blockchain for mineral and metal supply chain activities:
    • “Builds consensus and trust around responsible production standards between downstream and upstream companies.
    • The immutability of and decentralized control over a blockchain system minimizes the risk of fraud.
    • Defined datasets can be made accessible in real time to any third party, including downstream buyers, auditors, investors, etc. but at the same time encrypted so as to share a proof of fact rather than confidential information.
    • A blockchain system can be easily scaled to include other producers and supply chains beyond those initially involved.
    • Cost reduction due to the paperless nature of a blockchain-enabled CoC [Chain of Custody] system, the potential reduction of audits, and reduction in transaction costs.”

Van Bockstael, Steve. “The emergence of conflict-free, ethical, and Fair Trade mineral supply chain certification systems: A brief introduction.” The Extractives Industries and Society, vol. 5, issue 1, January 2018.

  • This introduction to a special section considers the emerging field of “‘conflict-free’, ‘fair’ and ‘transparently sourced and traded’ minerals” in global industry supply chains.
  • Van Bockstael describes three areas of practice aimed at increasing supply chain transparency:
    • “Initiatives that explicitly try to sever the links between mining or minerals trading and armed conflict of the funding thereof.”
    • “Initiatives, limited in number yet growing, that are explicitly linked to the internationally recognized ‘Fair Trade’ movement and whose aim it is to source artisanally mined minerals for the Western jewellry industry.”
    • “Initiatives that aim to provide consumers or consumer-facing industries with more ethical, transparent and fair supply chains (often using those concepts in fuzzy and interchangeable ways) that are not linked to the established Fair Trade movement” – including, among others, initiatives using Blockchain technology “to create tamper-proof supply chains.”

Global Governance, Standards and Disclosure Practices

Lafarre, Anne and Christoph Van der Elst. “Blockchain Technology for Corporate Governance and Shareholder Activism.” European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI) – Law Working Paper No. 390/2018, March 8, 2018.

  • This working paper focuses on the potential benefits of leveraging Blockchain during functions involving shareholder and company decision making. Lafarre and Van der Elst argue that “Blockchain technology can lower shareholder voting costs and the organization costs for companies substantially. Moreover, blockchain technology can increase the speed of decision-making, facilitate fast and efficient involvement of shareholders.”
  • The authors argue that in the field of corporate governance, Blockchain offers two important elements: “transparency – via the verifiable way of recording transactions – and trust – via the immutability of these transactions.”
  • Smart contracting, in particular, is seen as a potential avenue for facilitating the ‘agency relationship’ between board members and the shareholders they represent in corporate decision-making processes.

Myung, San Jun. “Blockchain government – a next for of infrastructure for the twenty-first century.” Journal of Open Innovation: Technology, Market, and Complexity, December 2018.

  • This paper argues the idea that Blockchain represents a new form of infrastructure that, given its core consensus mechanism, could replace existing social apparatuses including bureaucracy.
  • Indeed, Myung argues that blockchain and bureaucracy share a number of attributes:
    • “First, both of them are defined by the rules and execute predetermined rules.
    • Second, both of them work as information processing machines for society.
    • Third, both of them work as trust machines for society.”  
  • The piece concludes with five principles for replacing bureaucracy with blockchain for social organization: “1) introducing Blockchain Statute law; 2) transparent disclosure of data and source code; 3) implementing autonomous executing administration; 4) building a governance system based on direct democracy; and 5) making Distributed Autonomous Government (DAG).  

Peters, Gareth and Vishnia, Guy (2016): “Blockchain Architectures for Electronic Exchange Reporting Requirements: EMIR, Dodd Frank, MiFID I/II, MiFIR, REMIT, Reg NMS and T2S.” University College London, August 31, 2016.

  • This paper offers a solution based on blockchain architectures to the regulations of financial exchanges around the world for trade processing and reporting for execution and clearing. In particular, the authors give a detailed overview of EMIR, Dodd Frank, MiFID I/II, MiFIR, REMIT, Reg NMS and T2S.
  • The authors suggest the increasing amount of data from transaction reporting start to be incorporated on a blockchain ledger in order to harness the built-in security and immutability features of the blockchain to support key regulatory features.
  • Specifically, the authors suggest 1) a permissioned blockchain controlled by a regulator or a consortium of market participants for the maintenance of identity data from market participants and 2) blockchain frameworks such as Enigma to be used to facilitate required transparency and reporting aspects related to identities when performing pre- and post-trade reporting as well as for auditing.

Blockchain Technology and Competition Policy – Issues paper by the Secretariat,” OECD, June 8, 2018.

  • This OECD issues paper poses two key questions about how blockchain technology might increase the relevance of new disclosures practices:
    • “Should competition agencies be given permission to access blockchains? This might enable them to monitor trading prices in real-time, spot suspicious trends, and, when investigating a merger, conduct or market have immediate access to the necessary data without needing to impose burdensome information requests on parties.”
    • “Similarly, easy access to the information on a blockchain for a firm’s owners and head offices would potentially improve the effectiveness of its oversight on its own subsidiaries and foreign holdings. Competition agencies may assume such oversight already exists, but by making it easier and cheaper, a blockchain might make it more effective, which might allow for more effective centralised compliance programmes.”

Michael Pisa and Matt Juden. “Blockchain and Economic Development: Hype vs. Reality.” Center for Global Development Policy Paper, 2017.

  • In this Center for Global Development Policy Paper, the authors examine blockchain’s potential to address four major development challenges: (1) facilitating faster and cheaper international payments, (2) providing a secure digital infrastructure for verifying identity, (3) securing property rights, and (4) making aid disbursement more secure and transparent.
  • The authors conclude that while blockchain may be well suited for certain use cases, the majority of constraints in blockchain-based projects fall outside the scope of technology. Common constraints such as data collection and privacy, governance, and operational resiliency must be addressed before blockchain can be successfully implemented as a solution.

Industry-Specific Case Studies

Chohan, Usman. “Blockchain and the Extractive Industries: Cobalt Case Study,” University of New South Wales, Canberra Discussion Paper Series: Notes on the 21st Century, 2018.

  • In this discussion paper, the author studies the pilot use of blockchain in cobalt mining industry in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The project tracked the movement of cobalt from artisanal mines through its installation in devices such as smartphones and electric cars.
  • The project records cobalt attributes – weights, dates, times, images, etc. – into the digital ledger to help ensure that cobalt purchases are not contributing to forced child labor or conflict minerals. 

Chohan, Usman. “Blockchain and the Extractive Industries #2: Diamonds Case Study,” University of New South Wales, Canberra Discussion Paper Series: Notes on the 21st Century, 2018.

  • The second case study from Chohan investigates the application of blockchain technology in the extractive industry by studying Anglo-American (AAL) diamond DeBeer’s unit and Everledger’s blockchain projects. 
  • In this study, the author finds that AAL uses blockchain to track gems (carat, color, certificate numbers), starting from extraction and onwards, including when the gems change hands in trade transaction.
  • Like the cobalt pilot, the AAL initiative aims to help avoid supporting conflicts and forced labor, and to improve trading accountability and transparency more generally.

Blockchain as a force for good: How this technology could transform the sharing economy


Aaron Fernando at Shareable: “The volatility in the price of cryptocurrencies doesn’t matter to restaurateur Helena Fabiankovic, who started Baba’s Pierogies in Brooklyn with her partner Robert in 2015. Yet she and her business are already positioned to reap the real-world benefits of the technology that underpins these digital currencies — the blockchain — and they will be at the forefront  of a sustainable, community-based peer-to-peer energy revolution because of it.

So what does a restaurateur have to do with the blockchain and local energy? Fabiankovic is one of the early participants in the Brooklyn Microgrid, a project of the startup LO3 Energy that uses a combination of innovative technologies — blockchain and smart meters — to operate a virtual microgrid in the borough of Brooklyn in New York City, New York. This microgrid enables residents to buy and sell green energy directly to their neighbors at much better rates than if they only interacted with centralized utility providers.

Just as we don’t pay much attention to the critical infrastructure that powers our digital world and exists just out of sight — from the Automated Clearing House (ACH), which undergirds our financial system, to the undersea cables that enable the Internet to be globally useful, blockchain is likely to change our lives in ways that will eventually be invisible. In the sharing economy, we have traditionally just used existing infrastructure and built platforms and services on top of it. Considering that those undersea cables are owned by private companies with their own motives and that the locations of ACH data centers are heavily classified, there is a lot to be desired in terms of transparency, resilience, and independence from self-interested third parties. That’s where open-source, decentralized infrastructure of the blockchain for the sharing economy offers much promise and potential.

In the case of Brooklyn Microgrid, which is part of an emerging model for shared energy use via the blockchain, this decentralized infrastructure would allow residents like Fabiankovic to save money and make sustainable choices. Shared ownership and community financing for green infrastructure like solar panels is part of the model. “Everyone can pay a different amount and you can get a proportional amount of energy that’s put off by the panel, based on how much that you own,” says Scott Kessler, director of business development at LO3. “It’s really just a way of crowdfunding an asset.”

The type of blockchain used by the Brooklyn Microgrid makes it possible to collect and communicate data from smart meters every second, so that the price of electricity can be updated in real time and users will still transact with each other using U.S. dollars. The core idea of the Brooklyn Microgrid is to utilize a tailored blockchain to align energy consumption with energy production, and to do this with rapidly-updated price information that then changes behavior around energy….(More)

Data Stewards: Data Leadership to Address the Challenges of the 21st Century


Data Stewards_screenshot

The GovLab at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering is pleased to announce the launch of its Data Stewards website — a new portal for connecting organizations across sectors that seek to promote responsible data leadership that can address the challenges of the 21st century — developed with generous support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Increasingly, the private sector is collaborating with the public sector and researchers on ways to use private-sector data and analytical expertise for public good. With these new practices of data collaborations come the need to reimagine roles and responsibilities to steer the process of using this data, and the insights it can generate, to address society’s biggest questions and challenges: Data Stewards.

Today, establishing and sustaining these new collaborative and accountable approaches requires significant and time-consuming effort and investment of resources for both data holders on the supply side, and institutions that represent the demand. By establishing Data Stewardship as a function — recognized within the private sector as a valued responsibility — the practice of Data Collaboratives can become more predictable, scaleable, sustainable and de-risked.

Together with BrightFront Group and Adapt, we are:

  • Exploring the needs and priorities of current private sector Data Stewards who act as change agents within their firms. Responsible for determining what, when, how and with whom to share private data for public good, these individuals are critical catalysts for ensuring insights are turned into action.
  • Identifying and connecting existing Data Stewards across sectors and regions to create an online and in-person community for exchanging knowledge and best practices.
  • Developing methodologies, tools and frameworks to use data more responsibly, systematically and efficiently to decrease the transaction cost, time and energy currently needed to establish Data Collaboratives.

To learn more about the Data Stewards Initiative, including new insights, ideas, tools and information about the Data Steward of the Year Award program, visit datastewards.net.

If you are a Data Steward, or would like to join a community of practice to learn from your peers, please contact datastewards@thegovlab.org to join the Network of Data Stewards.”

Data Stewards: Data Leadership to Address the Challenges of the 21st Century


Data Stewards_screenshot

The GovLab at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering is pleased to announce the launch of its Data Stewards website — a new portal for connecting organizations across sectors that seek to promote responsible data leadership that can address the challenges of the 21st century — developed with generous support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Increasingly, the private sector is collaborating with the public sector and researchers on ways to use private-sector data and analytical expertise for public good. With these new practices of data collaborations come the need to reimagine roles and responsibilities to steer the process of using this data, and the insights it can generate, to address society’s biggest questions and challenges: Data Stewards.

Today, establishing and sustaining these new collaborative and accountable approaches requires significant and time-consuming effort and investment of resources for both data holders on the supply side, and institutions that represent the demand. By establishing Data Stewardship as a function — recognized within the private sector as a valued responsibility — the practice of Data Collaboratives can become more predictable, scaleable, sustainable and de-risked.

Together with BrightFront Group and Adapt, we are:

  • Exploring the needs and priorities of current private sector Data Stewards who act as change agents within their firms. Responsible for determining what, when, how and with whom to share private data for public good, these individuals are critical catalysts for ensuring insights are turned into action.
  • Identifying and connecting existing Data Stewards across sectors and regions to create an online and in-person community for exchanging knowledge and best practices.
  • Developing methodologies, tools and frameworks to use data more responsibly, systematically and efficiently to decrease the transaction cost, time and energy currently needed to establish Data Collaboratives.

To learn more about the Data Stewards Initiative, including new insights, ideas, tools and information about the Data Steward of the Year Award program, visit datastewards.net.

If you are a Data Steward, or would like to join a community of practice to learn from your peers, please contact datastewards@thegovlab.org to join the Network of Data Stewards.

For more information about The GovLab, visit thegovlab.org.

Using Blockchain Technology to Create Positive Social Impact


Randall Minas in Healthcare Informatics: “…Healthcare is yet another area where blockchain can make a substantial impact. Blockchain technology could be used to enable the WHO and CDC to better monitor disease outbreaks over time by creating distributed “ledgers” that are both secure and updated hundreds of times per day. Issued in near real-time, these updates would alert healthcare professionals to spikes in local cases almost immediately. Additionally, using blockchain would allow accurate diagnosis and streamline the isolation of clusters of cases as quickly as possible. Providing blocks of real-time disease information—especially in urban areas—would be invaluable.

In the United States, disease updates are provided in a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) from the CDC. This weekly report provides tables of current disease trends for hospitals and public health officials. Another disease reporting mechanism is the National Outbreak Reporting System (NORS), launched in 2009. NORS’ web-based tool provides outbreak data through 2016 and is accessible to the general public. There are two current weaknesses in the NORS reporting system and both can be addressed by blockchain technology.

The first issue lies in the number of steps required to accurately report each outbreak. A health department reports an outbreak to the NORS system, the CDC checks it for accuracy, analyzes the data, then provides a summary via the MMRW. Instantiating blockchain as the technology through which the NORS data is reported, every health department in the country could have preliminary data on disease trends at their fingertips without having to wait for the next MMRW publication.

The second issue is the inherent cybersecurity vulnerabilities using a web-based platform to monitor disease reporting. As we have seen with cyberattacks both domestic and abroad, cybersecurity vulnerabilities underlie most of our modern-day computing infrastructure. Blockchain was designed to be secure because it is decentralized across many computer networks and, since it was designed as a digital ledger, the previous data (or “blocks”) in the blockchain are difficult to alter.

While the NORS platform could be hacked with malware to gain access to our electricity and water infrastructure, instituting blockchain technology would limit the potential damage of the malware based on the inherent security of the technology. If this does not sound important, imagine the damage and ensuing panic that could be caused by a compromised NORS reporting a widespread Ebola outbreak.

The use of blockchain in monitoring epidemic outbreaks might not only apply to fast-spreading outbreaks like the flu, but also to epidemics that have lasted for decades. Since blockchain allows an unchangeable snapshot of data over time and can be anonymous, partner organizations could provide HIV test results to an individual’s “digital ledger” with a date of the test and the results.

Individuals could then exchange their HIV status securely, in an application, before engaging in high-risk behaviors. Since many municipalities provide free or low-cost, anonymous HIV testing, the use of blockchain would allow disease monitoring and exchange of status in a secure and trusted manner. The LGBTQ community and other high-risk communities could use an application to securely exchange HIV status with potential partners. With widespread adoption of this status-exchange system, an individual’s high-risk exposure could be limited, further reducing the spread of the epidemic.

While much of the creative application around blockchain has focused on supply chain-like models, including distribution of renewable energy and local sourcing of goods, it is important also to think innovatively about how blockchain can be used outside of supply chain and accounting.

In healthcare, blockchain has been discussed frequently in relation to electronic health records (EHRs), yet even that could be underappreciating the technology’s potential. Leaders in the blockchain arena should invest in application development for epidemic monitoring and disease control using blockchain technology. …(More)”.

Bringing The Public Back In: Can the Comment Process be Fixed?


Remarks of Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, US Federal Communications Commission: “…But what we are facing now does not reflect what has come before.  Because it is apparent the civic infrastructure we have for accepting public comment in the rulemaking process is not built for the digital age.  As the Administrative Conference of the United States acknowledges, while the basic framework for rulemaking from 1946 has stayed the same, “the technological landscape has evolved dramatically.”

Let’s call that an understatement.  Though this problem may seem small in the scheme of things, the impact is big.  Administrative decisions made in Washington affect so much of our day-to-day life.  They involve everything from internet openness to retirement planning to the availability of loans and the energy sources that power our homes and businesses.  So much of the decision making that affects our future takes place in the administrative state.

The American public deserves a fair shot at participating in these decisions.  Expert agencies are duty bound to hear from everyone, not just those who can afford to pay for expert lawyers and lobbyists.  The framework from the Administrative Procedure Act is designed to serve the public—by seeking their input—but increasingly they are getting shut out.  Our agency internet systems are ill-equipped to handle the mass automation and fraud that already is corrupting channels for public comment.  It’s only going to get worse.  The mechanization and weaponization of the comment-filing process has only just begun.

We need to something about it.  Because ensuring the public has a say in what happens in Washington matters.  Because trust in public institutions matters.  A few months ago Edelman released its annual Trust Barometer and reported than only a third of Americans trust the government—a 14 percentage point decline from last year.

Fixing that decline is worth the effort.  We can start with finding ways that give all Americans—no matter who they are or where they live—a fighting chance at making Washington listen to what they think.

We can’t give in to the easy cynicism that results when our public channels are flooded with comments from dead people, stolen identities, batches of bogus filings, and commentary that originated from Russian e-mail addresses.  We can’t let this deluge of fake filings further delegitimize Washington decisions and erode public trust.

No one said digital age democracy was going to be easy.  But we’ve got to brace ourselves and strengthen our civic infrastructure to withstand what is underway.  This is true at regulatory agencies—and across our political landscape.  Because if you look for them you will find uneasy parallels between the flood of fake comments in regulatory proceedings and the barrage of posts on social media that was part of a conspicuous campaign to influence our last election.  There is a concerted effort to exploit our openness.  It deserves a concerted response….(More)”

The world’s first neighbourhood built “from the internet up”


The Economist: “Quayside, an area of flood-prone land stretching for 12 acres (4.8 hectares) on Toronto’s eastern waterfront, is home to a vast, pothole-filled parking lot, low-slung buildings and huge soyabean silos—a crumbling vestige of the area’s bygone days as an industrial port. Many consider it an eyesore but for Sidewalk Labs, an “urban innovation” subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, it is an ideal location for the world’s “first neighbourhood built from the internet up”.

Sidewalk Labs is working in partnership with Waterfront Toronto, an agency representing the federal, provincial and municipal governments that is responsible for developing the area, on a $50m project to overhaul Quayside. It aims to make it a “platform” for testing how emerging technologies might ameliorate urban problems such as pollution, traffic jams and a lack of affordable housing. Its innovations could be rolled out across an 800-acre expanse of the waterfront—an area as large as Venice.

Sidewalk Labs is planning pilot projects across Toronto this summer to test some of the technologies it hopes to employ at Quayside; this is partly to reassure residents. If its detailed plan is approved later this year (by Waterfront Toronto and also by various city authorities), it could start work at Quayside in 2020.

That proposal contains ideas ranging from the familiar to the revolutionary. There will be robots delivering packages and hauling away rubbish via underground tunnels; a thermal energy grid that does not rely on fossil fuels; modular buildings that can shift from residential to retail use; adaptive traffic lights; and snow-melting sidewalks. Private cars are banned; a fleet of self-driving shuttles and robotaxis would roam freely. Google’s Canadian headquarters would relocate there.

Undergirding Quayside would be a “digital layer” with sensors tracking, monitoring and capturing everything from how park benches are used to levels of noise to water use by lavatories. Sidewalk Labs says that collecting, aggregating and analysing such volumes of data will make Quayside efficient, liveable and sustainable. Data would also be fed into a public platform through which residents could, for example, allow maintenance staff into their homes while they are at work.

Similar “smart city” projects, such as Masdar in the United Arab Emirates or South Korea’s Songdo, have spawned lots of hype but are not seen as big successes. Many experience delays because of shifting political and financial winds, or because those overseeing their construction fail to engage locals in the design of communities, says Deland Chan, an expert on smart cities at Stanford University. Dan Doctoroff, the head of Sidewalk Labs, who was deputy to Michael Bloomberg when the latter was mayor of New York City, says that most projects flop because they fail to cross what he terms “the urbanist-technologist divide”.

That divide, between tech types and city-planning specialists, will also need to be bridged before Sidewalk Labs can stick a shovel in the soggy ground at Quayside. Critics of the project worry that in a quest to become a global tech hub, Toronto’s politicians may give it too much freedom. Sidewalk Labs’s proposal notes that the project needs “substantial forbearances from existing [city] laws and regulations”….(More)”.