IGF 2018 WS #368 Protocols 4 People: The governance conundrum of blockchain

Organizer 1: Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Blockchain technologies, from cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin to more conservative private blockchain banking consortiums, are claimed to hold revolutionary promise. The revolutionary potential stems from a fundamental restructuring of how a resource system is managed – rather than having a centralized authority that administers, for example, money, the domain name system, or carbon credits, these would be collectively managed by a distributed network. It is claimed that this would help with transparency, security, trust, and fight corruption as well as rebalancing asymmetries of power in the digital economy.

However, as these solutions are implemented there is a dearth of critical consideration of the down-sides, false promises, and dangers presented by our increased reliance on these distributed ledger technologies also means increased on the informal governance structure that underlies them. This means, in certain cases, putting the governance of crucial services in the hands of unaccountable technologists.

In this debate, we will ask the following question: what role do policymakers and policymaking play in ensuring that blockchain governance is accountable and what lessons can be drawn from Internet governance?

Format: 

Debate - 90 Min

Interventions: 

The four speakers each represent specific stakeholder groups (technical community, academia, industry, civil society) and are all experts in the technology that drives blockchain systems and have first-hand experience in using, building, and investing in these systems. The group represents a variety of genders, geographies and perspectives that will lead to a technically informed and lively conversation.

Moderator: Mrs Cath, Oxford Internet Institute (OII) & Alan Turing Institute, Academia, Female, The Netherlands, Mrs Cath is a PhD student at the OII and Alan Turing Insitute and an expert on blockchain and protocol governance.

Speakers:

Mallory Knodel: Current Head of Digital at Human Rights NGO ARTICLE 19, is an expert in the area of distributed databases and their impact on human rights. Having compiled and run such technologies as well as having been a long time advocate in civil society allows her to present a unique perspective on how blockchain governance impacts the public interest, and the role of policy making in guiding that process. (confirmed)

Odysseas Sclavounis: Currently a PhD Candidate at the OII and the Turing Institute, Odysseas studies the governance of public blockchains, focusing specifically on the processes of protocol development and change in the Bitcoin and Ethereum networks. He will speak about the inherent governance issues that arise within all public blockchain networks and provide evidence from his research. (confirmed)

Harry Halpin: Currently a researcher at Inria de Paris where he leads the NEXTLEAP project and Research Scientist at the Sociotechnical Systems Research Center at MIT on blockchain technology. He is interested in data science, cryptography, standards, and the philosophy of the web - and am all-around radical open internet advocate who also works on blockchain governance. He will focus on blockchain governance speaking from his current research and former experience at standards organization the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). (confirmed)

Vlad Zamfir: Vlad Zamfir is currently a researcher at the Ethereum Foundation and has been working on the Ethereum Protocol for a number of years. More recently he has been working on Ethereum’s proposed transition from Proof of Work to Proof of Stake, a change with significant governance implications. He is interested in public blockchain governance specifically as it relates to the Ethereum Blockchain and has published several opinion pieces on the topic. He is regarded as a thought leader in the field. (confirmed)

Diversity: 

This proposed session is diverse in many ways: the speakers are from various stakeholder groups, genders, geographic locations, and represent different approaches to blockchain governance. The speakers represent three different continents (Europe, North-America, Africa), with 2 out of 5 being women, and 3 out of 5 under 30 years of age. We will strive to include such diverse perspectives throughout the discussion including in the interaction with the audience.

This session will start by having the four speakers highlight in 5 minutes each the promises and pitfalls of blockchain governance from their respective positions in the debate (technical community, academia, industry, civil society). Subsequently, the speakers will each spend 5 minutes explaining their thoughts on the role of policy in the governance of blockchain and what lessons can be drawn from Internet governance. After the first 40 minutes, the moderator will facilitate a guided discussion of about ten minutes to further explore the various issues raised.

This will set the stage for a 30-minute discussion with the audience, who at this point have a clear notion of the parameters of the debate and the perspectives of the various stakeholders involved in the debate. This will allow the audience to make informed inquiries and further the discussion from their respective perspectives.

The last ten minutes will be used to give the speakers an opportunity to each reflect on the debate and give some final suggestions on what role public policy should play in the governance of blockchain technologies.

Timeline:
20 minutes introduction to blockchain technologies
20 minutes introduction to the role of public policy in blockchain governance
10 minutes moderated discussion with moderator
30 minutes open floor for audience Q&A (offline and online)
10 minutes wrapping up

Goals of the discussion:
Understand what the pitfalls and promises of blockchain technology are
Understand what the pitfalls and promises of blockchain governance from the perspective of experts in the field of various backgrounds
Explore what blockchain experts could learn about legitimacy and accountability in governance from Internet governance experts (and vice versa)
Explore ways to translate the outcomes of the debate to policy-making and makers

Discussion Facilitation: 

We will facilitate the discussion amongst the speakers, audience and online participants by implementing the following set of good practices:

Clearly demarcate the parameters of the debate.
Ensure that the speakers stick to their allocated time by using timers and cards indicating how much time is remaining.
We will ask the audience members to keep their questions short and to the point.
We will ensure that a diverse set of voices is being heard by limiting elaborate back-and-forths between speakers and single audience members.
We will ensure that the questions from the offline audience are rotated in equal measure with questions from the online audience.

Our proposed timeline (see VIII) reflects these practices.

Online Participation: 

This session will include online participation through the following practices: we will create separate queues and microphones for the online participants, and the online questions will be rotated equally with the offline audience. The workshop moderator will have the online participation session open, and will be in close communication with the workshop’s trained online moderator. As blockchain is a technology fundamentally driven by remote and online participation, we consider good remote participation practices crucial to this decision.

Contact Information

United Nations
Secretariat of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF)

Villa Le Bocage
Palais des Nations,
CH-1211 Geneva 10
Switzerland

igf [at] un [dot] org
+41 (0) 229 173 678