Work Package 3 – Mapping the most important blockchain projects, their governance, and assess their disruptive potential.

Blockchain applications display a wide range of fundamental technological design differences: some rely on open source software, others use proprietary code. Some use so-called unpermissioned blockchains, which are open for anyone to interact with, others limit access to the blockchain to select parties. Bitcoin and Ethereum, for example, operate on open unpermissioned blockchains while bank consortia which hope to set up blockchain-based clearinghouses will most probably prefer private permissioned blockchains to which only consortium members have access. Some applications, like Ethereum, allow all kinds of tokens on the blockchain; others are highly specialized and focus exclusively on one application (finance), or one type of tokenized information (domain names).

The governance, i.e. the formal and informal institutional, political, cultural, social organization of these implementations, are also extremely varied. Some communities only include software developers, while others, such as the Hyperledger consortium[1] include a diverse set of stakeholders such as investors, incumbents, policymakers, domain experts, academics, etc.. Some of the blockchain developer communities are meritocratic democracies, others are hierarchically structured bureaucratic organizations. Some have a charismatic leadership, others don’t. And finally, some blockchain applications become strong and successful, with high potential for disruption, while others fail to get off the ground.

This WP will study and compare the stakeholders, governance, and the incentive structures of 4 blockchain applications, which at the time of writing I identified as having the highest disruptive potential: Bitcoin and Ethereum maintain public blockchains, while the R3 and Hyperledger consortia experiment with private ones. The WP will break new ground by using a Science and Technology Studies (STS) approach to understand how the social, economic, political dimensions of technology governance interact with the unique (decentralized, trustless) characteristics of the blockchain technology.

Stakeholders cooperate and control projects through diverse governance structures (Abbott 2000; Bauwens 2005; Cheema and Rondinelli 2007; Konieczny 2010; Paquet 2001), of which, in the context of blockchain technology, incentives form a core component (Narayanan et al. 2016). Incentives ensure the provision of vital resources for the development and operation of blockchains, including capital, software development expertise, domain expertise, community outreach, management, and the uninterrupted verification of transactions on the network (mining power). This WP will

  1. catalogue and compare the (types of) stakeholders that are involved in the 4 projects;
  2. describe and assess the formal and informal governance structures which emerged to control / influence the development processes;
  3. map the incentives structures that ensure the provision of key resources; and
  4. analyse the results and build a coherent framework of blockchain technology governance.

[1] “The Hyperledger Project is a collaborative effort created to advance blockchain technology by identifying and addressing important features for a cross-industry open standard for distributed ledgers that can transform the way business transactions are conducted globally.”