IGF 2018 WS #372 Decentralized Governance in Blockchain-Based Systems

Format: 

Panel - 90 Min

Organizer 1: Primavera De Filippi, Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School
Organizer 2: Constance Choi, Coalition of Automated Legal Applications/Dynamic Coalition on Blockchain Technologies
Organizer 3: Carla Reyes, Michigan State University College of Law; Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University

Speaker 1: Vlad Zamfir, Technical Community, Intergovernmental Organization
Speaker 2: Maria Gomez, Private Sector, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)
Speaker 3: Pindar Wong, Government, Asia-Pacific Group

Relevance: 

The issue of emerging decentralized governance models enabled by blockchain technologies fits squarely within one of the 8 core themes of the 2018 IGF annual meeting: Emerging Technologies. Further, the proposed workshop focuses on a uniquely important element of the sub-theme distributed ledgers-blockchain. Decentralized governance models of blockchains is uniquely important at this time because it is both core to the efficacy of the technology and relatively unexamined in an interdisciplinary, multi-stakeholder forum such as the IGF. Because only some academic literature on this topic exists within individual disciplines, the Dynamic Coalition on Blockchain Technologies capitalized on its unique position in the multi-stakeholder framework of the IGF to work on integrating the diverse viewpoints representing all stakeholders. This effort started at the 2015 DC session, and continued during our in-person meetings throughout 2016, 2017 and 2018. The goal of the panel and discussion with the audience is to capitalize on the work done throughout the year by bringing more voices into the discussion while also educating IGF attendees.

Session Content: 

In this session, the Dynamic Coalition on Blockchain Technologies will fulfill one of the outputs of the 2017 IGF Dynamic Coalition Session discussion by hosting a panel of experts to discuss the emerging forms of decentralized governance mechanisms. After a preliminary presentation by each panel member regarding different approaches to decentralized governance, the moderator will assist the workshop attendees in engaging in a vibrant discussion of the design tradeoffs between the various mechanisms and the legal, regulatory and policy implications of those tradeoffs. This discussion with all of the IGF stakeholders in the room will be designed to examine both the explicit and implicit governance and design elements present in existing blockchain technologies and decentralized systems. Explicit governance and design elements include those that are transparently and openly discussed in the white papers and other foundational documents underlying a particular protocol or organization. But implicit design and governance elements exist as well. Moreover, governance is an inherently social process and decentralized systems require special identification of stakeholders, ecosystem dynamics and emergent norms. Blockchain technologies, like other technological artifacts, are conceptualized by developers, scientists, and engineers who make decisions about the technical design and governance processes of these technologies. These design choices are not neutral; they have implications for how blockchain technologies can be used in society. We will openly discuss the sources of these explicit and implicit governance and design elements, attempt to identify the pain points, and attempt to identify any solutions put forth to address them. At each stage, we will evaluate the governance implications for the community and the impact they have on each stakeholder group. We will conclude by considering how the governance and design elements identified, and the rationales therefore, may inform new practices for Internet governance more generally. Can blockchain governance mechanisms enable new practices that better comply with the original ethos of the Internet? Can blockchain governance and design elements help address emerging issues such as fake news, digital oppression or digital targeting, or issues of socio-economic disparity in access? Conversely, are there Internet governance mechanisms from which blockchain developers can learn? What are the governance difficulties inherent in radical decentralization and are the methods used in blockchain governance to remedy those difficulties actually qualitatively different than those used in Internet governance? If so, what trade-offs were made from a policy perspective and what impact have those trade-offs had on stakeholder reception of the technology?

Interventions: 

The goal of the panelists will be to (a) provide an introduction to one model of decentralized governance used in blockchain technologies, and (b) to be provocative in highlighting the benefits of that particular model. The goal is for each panelist to use their expertise to prompt discussion from varied viewpoints and stakeholder groups regarding each question posed. Although each panelist will be allotted a specific amount of time to provide introductory remarks, a significant remainder of the time will be used to explore questions (a) from workshop attendees and online participants, and (b) pre-curated questions solicited from members of the Dynamic Coalition on Blockchain Technologies in preparation for the IGF annual meeting. The diversity of the panelists, further discussed below, is designed to encourage robust and engaging discussion after the expert panelists deliver their prepared remarks.

Diversity: 

In addition to the speakers listed above, we intend have reached out to, but have not heard from yet, Professor Nii Quaynor of Ghana. With this addition, the panelists proposed for this section are diverse in terms of gender (2 female participants when considering the moderator, and 3 male participants), geography (speakers hail from Romania (Vlad Zamfir), Columbia (Maria Gomez), Hong Kong (Pindar Wong), and Ghana (Nii Quaynor), the moderator and one co-organizer from the United States, and the third co-organizer from France), stake-holder group (speakers represent the technical community, civil society, the private sector, and government, and the moderator hails from academia), and policy perspectives. Three of the panelists are first-time IGF speakers.

Online Participation: 

Online attendees will be fully able to participate in the discussion following the panelists presentations. In order to ensure equal ability to participate for online attendees, online attendees will have a separate queue and microphone, which will rotate equally with the mics in the room. The workshop will invite comments to be submitted via telephone, via comment to the live feed, and via social media. The onsite moderator will work closely with the online moderator, who will have been IGF trained, to keep the online session open, and to make any adaptations necessary as they arise.

Discussion Facilitation: 

The session will begin with a brief overview of the Dynamic Coalition, its intersessional work, and how to get involved if attendees are not already participants in the on-going work of the DC. Panelists will be introduced, along with an overview of how the session will proceed. [no more than 5 minutes total.]

In the months between approval of this workshop proposal and the IGF 2018, the workshop moderator will work with the Dynamic Coalition on Blockchain Technologies list-serve to curate a list of questions designed to facilitate discussion of the content detailed above. Prior to the beginning of the session, panelists will be assigned primary responsibility for a particular question(s). The moderator will ask the pre-determined discussant to first answer the question. Panelists will be asked to prepare responses that will prompt further discussion from the workshop participants. In a 90 minute session, we plan to use 45 total minutes for the intro and in-depth discussion of diverse governance models. The second half of the session will be devoted to preplanned questions, workshop attendee questions, and discussion. During that discussion, the moderator will conduct a mapping exercise, in which the moderator will map out the discussion in an effort to take down data in a visual format of the diverse mechanisms, the underlying policy/rationale, the pain point (if any) associated therewith, and whether any stakeholder groups have particularly divergent interests with regard to any particular mechanism(s). We hope to then continue the discussion through inter-sessional work and eventually issue a report of our findings.

Onsite Moderator: 

Carla Reyes

Online Moderator: 

Constance Choi

Rapporteur: 

Primavera De Filippi

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