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WEF Explores Blockchain Stewardship

July 5, 2017

Blockchain, or distributed ledger technology, could soon give rise to a new internet era even more disruptive and transformative than the current one, according to a white paper, Realizing the Potential of Blockchain, published by the World Economic Forum.

The paper says that blockchain’s ability to generate unprecedented opportunities to create and trade value in society will lead to a generational shift from an internet of information to a new-generation internet of value. This ability is based on the way blockchain leverages a global peer-to-peer network to guarantee integrity of the value exchanged among billions of devices without the need for trusted third parties.

The key to enabling this transition, the paper argues, is the formation of a multistakeholder consensus on how the technology functions, its current and potential applications and how to create the regulatory, cultural and organizational conditions it needs to succeed. The paper further argues that without such a cooperation, its potential could become seriously stalled, side-tracked, captured or otherwise sub-optimized.

Don Tapscott, co-author of the paper and Executive Director of the Blockchain Research Institute, said: “A smooth future for the Internet of Value won’t just happen; it will be achieved. Today, most stakeholders are focused on building their own companies, organizations or platforms and are paying little attention or devoting little effort to the challenges of building a healthy ecosystem. But no organization can succeed in an ecosystem that is failing. Every organization should assign resources, however small, to participate in community self-governance.”

The white paper provides a structured analytical framework and taxonomy for use by industry, technical, governmental, civil society and other stakeholders in considering how they might collaborate to resolve problems and unlock opportunities beyond the reach of any single entity. It argues that the model that evolved in the 1990s and 2000s to govern the internet also serves as a model for how to govern this new resource: through a multistakeholder approach involving business, government, civil society and the technical community.

Richard Samans, Head of the Global Challenges Team and Member of the Managing Board at the World Economic Forum, said: “This report helps us to understand that a distributed blockchain ecosystem need not be a disorganized one, and improved governance need not imply formal governmental legislation or regulation. A cooperative process of multistakeholder dialogue and stewardship could go a long way in improving trust and helping this exciting new technology develop in a socially beneficial manner. This is the broader purpose of the Forum’s new Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution: to provide an international platform for public-private dialogue and cooperation that supports the constructive, inclusive stewardship and agile governance of new technologies.”

“This report will provide enormous value to technology companies, government agencies, NGOs and user organizations everywhere. Finally, we have a language, framework and set of tools to think about how we can steward the next era of the digital age. Anyone who cares about the future of the blockchain ecosystem should read this report and heed its wisdom,” said Perianne Boring, Founder and President of the Chamber of Digital Commerce.

Brian Behlendorf, Executive Director of Hyperledger at the Linux Foundation, said: “Blockchain technology is governance technology. It’s an engine of automated self-regulation for communities, markets and society. No matter the application – currencies, settlement networks, provenance tracking or identity management – these networks still need us humans to come to consensus on how they shall work and what they shall do on our behalf. This report articulates the need for multistakeholder collaboration and a framework for achieving that.”

“This lucid report shows that collaboration and cooperation in the blockchain ecosystem are essential. The Tapscotts clarify how such collaboration can take many forms and, in doing so, give us valuable tools to harness this powerful technology for the benefit of all,” said Jamie Smith, Global Chief Communications Officer of The Bitfury Group, Co-chair of the Blockchain Global Future Council of the World Economic Forum, and Chief Executive Officer of the Global Blockchain Business Council.

“The Enterprise Ethereum Alliance was established to meet the governance needs of large enterprises, who face regulation, significant reputational risk and stringent IT requirements without impinging the pace of innovation and open-source collaboration. Governance is critical to accelerate mainstream adoption of blockchain technology, and the work of World Economic Forum, along with Don and Alex, is a most welcomed – not to mention comprehensive and thoughtful – review of the key issues in the space today,” said Jeremy Millar, Founding Board Member of The Enterprise Ethereum Alliance and Chief of Staff at Consensys.

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