Blockchain & Sustainable Communities: Potential & Pitfalls
This one day workshop aims to explore the possible future applications of blockchain technology in the development and coherence of sustainable communities.
What exactly is the likely nature of blockchain disruption? Will it be isolated in the #fintech community or will it reach into the “real” economy? How does the trustless mindset behind cryptocurrencies map on to the essentially trustful aspirations of sustainable communities? Will explicit transparent contract conditions assist community development and coherence or act as a barrier? How can we build bridges and meaningful relationships between the tech and sustainability communities? Will the emergence of new institutional structures have a deep effect on society? This workshop seeks to explore all of these questions, and more.
Technology, we are always told, is neutral - its associated impact depends on the use case, and the results can be good or bad. But we know that values are an inherent part of the development of new tools, and major technology shifts can create the conditions for significant social disruption . The blockchain is being touted as the answer to every question, but setting aside the hyperbole, it clearly offers potential for change. Our society appears almost uniformly conditioned to market capitalism since the fall of the Soviet Union and the apparent absence, since then, of any alternative societal model. Sustainability-minded communities such as the Cloughjordan EcoVillage, the venue for this workshop, feel this absence more keenly than most.
The morning presentations comprise of a series of differing perspectives on these themes - of currency design, community activism, technology limitations, social factors and the design of new institutions. The afternoon discussions are aimed at solidifying a shared understanding from the morning sessions, and mapping out key future research questions. The presentations and workshops will be informed by the implementation experience of the Cloughpenny - a blockchain-based academic pilot project developed during 2016 in the Cloughjordan EcoVillage and supported by the Irish Research Council.
10.00 – 10.10
Dr Rónán Kennedy, School of Law, NUI Galway
Cloughpenny Project Leader
10.10 – 10.40
Institutional Design & Smart Contracts
Prof Joshua Fairfield, Washington & Lee University School of Law
The prospect of Digital Autonomous Organisations (DAOs) holding unambiguous embedded rules and executing smart contracts to transfer value under certain specified conditions is an intellectually attractive one. It seems to offer a neutral solution to the messy human interactions that (other than lawyers) we all abhor. But who do you sue if things go wrong and there is no incorporated body? Can conditions really be unambiguously defined? How do you incorporate flexibility into contracts when the off-chain world changes significantly? And can you ensure absence of exploits and implementation-environment differences in code execution? The non-corporate world is hungry for institutional innovation to create vehicles for scalable co-operative and P2P ventures, but are we being naive in hoping that 'the blockchain will provide'?
10.40 – 11.00
Local EcoSystems of Innovation
Prof Peadar Kirby, University of Limerick
Discourse on the potentials of blockchain technology can be seen as another example of the technological assumptions that have over the past two centuries become central features of humanity's conceptions of progress. The urgent need to transition to a post-carbon society by 2050 now poses fundamental challenges to these assumptions and the institutional structuring of society that has resulted. Arguing that local ecosystems of innovation are central to finding pathways to a post-carbon society, this presentation examines the lessons that Cloughjordan ecovillage offers for the task of recasting social institutions in the light of climate change challenges and how this forces a fundamental reconsideration of the role and meaning of technology.
11.00 – 11.20
Blockchain: Revolutionising Exchange?
Dr Graham Barnes, Currency Innovation Strategist, Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability
While the wider application of blockchains is exciting great interest, their original use-case - as currency - deserves scrutiny. Which aspects of monetary dysfunction might encourage policy reform and/or the development of diverse new mechanisms for exchange? What responses were already visible pre-blockchain and how might blockchain thinking now affect them? What is the read-across for sustainable communities of these anticipated lines of action?
11.20 – 11.30 Q&A
11.30 – 11.50 Break
11.50 – 12.10
The Blockchain in Practice
Dr Rónán Kennedy, School of Law, NUI Galway
With the support of the Irish Research Council, a project is underway to develop a blockchain-based currency for Cloughjordan eco-village. What can we learn from this practical experience? What are the inherent limitations of blockchain applications? How far can the move towards trustless applications and reliance on algorithms go? What do Ethereum's experience with Digital Autonomous Organisations tell us about the limits? Usability concerns appear to be a major limiting factor in Bitcoin's development. How might these barriers be addressed in the context of the non-expert user buy-in needed for a project of any significance?
A Platform Co-operative Perspective
Sam Toland, Co-operative Development Lead, Resonate
The Platform Co-operative Movement hopes to realise the full promise of the 'sharing economy' by moving technology platforms into user-ownership. The global scale of any such co-operative brings a host of unique challenges regarding the management of co-operative governance - from member registers, voting systems to dividend payments. The co-operative nature of such businesses brings issues with the raising of the necessary capital to develop cutting-edge platforms users demand. Through the prism of Resonate, the Music Streaming Platform, we will discuss the above challenges that a Platform Co-operative might face and how these could be overcome through the use of nascent blockchain-based solutions.
Blockchain from the bottom up
Gar Hynes, Analytic Solutions Architect, Hewlett Packard Enterprise
An overview of the oft-ignored realities of developing Blockchain networks, the associated implications for use cases such as sustainable production, and the knock-on impact for Blockchain adoption within sustainable communities
14.00 Ideawriting session
Small group work using a facilitation tool to design and implement systemwide change strategies.
15.30 – 15.45 Break
15.45 – 16.30 Reflections on the days proceedings : Dr Paolo Dini, Associate Professorial Research Fellow in the Department of Media and Communications, LSE followed by closing remarks and next steps.
* The organisers reserve the right to amend the event agenda and content without notice