Work Package 2 – develop a multi-methods approach

Integrate qualitative methods, big-data based quantitative methods, and evidence based socio-legal research. The project will work towards developing an integrated, multi-method research infrastructure, which ensures that the data and insights generated by the different work packages form a coherent whole, where the internal links, correspondences, synergies can be explored, recognised and exploited.

The project relies on a mixed method approach that combines field observations, semi-structured interviews, critical discourse analysis, data mining techniques, and (socio) legal research methods (Figure 3). WP2 is responsible for the harmonization of research methodology across WPs, and for the design of the protocols and the (shared) topics for the interviews and the field observations. WP2 will also specify and develop (1) the tools required for the automatic collection and storage of online discussions, and news items; (2) the technology required for the quantitative analysis (e.g., time series analysis, network analysis) of the blockchain network, and data on the blockchains. WP2 is also responsible for the legal and ethical compliance of the project.

Figure 3: the diagram of the multi-method approach of the project

WP3 relies on field observation, semi-structured interviews, and the qualitative analysis of the online discussions around the software to reconstruct the development and operation of the social layers of governance structures, including, but not limited to the formal and informal roles in the community, power relations, processes of deliberation and decision making.  Field observations will target the public events, and tech gatherings. WP3 will produce ~100 semi-structured interviews with blockchain developers, investors, activists, practitioners selected on the basis of their role in and influence on the selected blockchain applications. Data will be gathered on an ongoing bases on the internal online discussion fora (blogs, mailing lists) of the four target blockchain organizations using automated scraping, and this will be analysed through discourse analysis. The quantitative analysis the blockchain networks will provide information on the technological layers of governance. The technical analysis of the networks provide insights into the amount of transactions, the size of the user base, the provision of transaction validating services (hashing power), the adoption of code-forks and the technical voting processes etc. Data on the technological layer will be merged with information collected on the social governance layer to reconstruct blockchain technology governance via case studies and infrastructure ethnography (Star 1999).

WP4 uses deploys similar qualitative methods as WP3 to collect information on the social response to blockchain diffusion.  Field observations will target the policy fora, conferences and professional gatherings which discuss blockchain in different social domains.  WP4 will produce ~100 semi-structured interviews with policy-makers, public servants, investors, analyst, domain experts, and business professionals, selected on the basis of their role in the public debates around blockchain diffusion. WP4 will gather, on an ongoing basis, the international, English language news on blockchain diffusion. It will also collect professional publications, policy documents, and white papers. Critical discourse analysis and narrative analysis will target these corpora to reconstruct the arguments that shape the diffusion process. WP4 will also use future-oriented methodologies, such as the search for an expert consensus (Delphi method (Dalkey and Helmer 1963)), scenario building, and simulations to model how the selected social domain may be affected by blockchain technology in the future.

WP5 will participate in blockchain oriented policy events to conduct field observations. It will collect policy initiatives from the US  and the EU; relevant background materials, and will use more traditional legal research methods, such as legal history research, doctrinal research and socio-legal research (Geiger 2014; Ibbetson 2005; Watkins and Burton 2013) to compare and analyse them. WP5 will also engage in research through practice (Barab and Squire 2004; Candy 2006; Wang and Hannafin 2005) to address particular legal issues around smart contracts. WP5 will rely on the results of WP3 on the technology governance, and the results of WP4 on the multi-stakeholder governance to conduct the domain-specific impact assessment of existing policy proposals, and formulate new ones.

This integrated methodology will allow the project to trace how practices (what people do on/with blockchains), and ideas (what individuals think) develop; how these ideas and practices are discussed and interpreted in different publics (in different communities from narrow, to society-wide); and finally, how these discussions are distilled into formal, institutionalized and informal regulatory and governance structures.

Data collected by means of qualitative and computational methods will converge in multi-facet datasets, and will be released as open-data at the end of the project in legally permissible forms. The computational tools, developed by the project team, or by subcontracted developers will be released as open source software.