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Blockchain for Good?

Kewell, Elizabeth, Adams, Richard and Parry, G (2017) Blockchain for Good? Strategic Change (Specia).

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Explores key areas of Blockchain innovation that appear to represent viable catalysts for achieving global Sustainable Development targets. Projects and initiatives seeking to extend the reach of Distributed Ledger Technology (DLTs), seem mostly intended for the benefit of for-profit businesses, governments, and consumers. DLT projects, devised for the public good, could aim, in theory, to fulfil the United Nation’s current Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Our overview of these initiatives suggests that blockchain technology is being applied in ways that could transform this ambition for good into a practical reality. Current examples of blockchain deployment are being specified within a value-creation remit that is most likely to benefit for-profit businesses, governments, and consumers (Ng, 2013; Bohme et al., 2015; Swan, 2015; Potts et al., 2016; McWaters et al., 2016; Walport, 2016). Received ideas about what blockchain can and should be used for are based on perceptions that the key role of this technology is to unlock cost savings and secure efficiency gains, whilst also enabling widespread business model transformation (Walport, 2016). Within this scenario, blockchain affordances (Gibson, 1978) are principally seen to ‘do good’ by resolving longstanding obstacles to profitability and value-capture (Walport, 2016). The aim of this paper is to consider how blockchain solutions could be used to achieve good outcomes for the sustainable development agenda by, for example, helping to fulfil the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (UN, 2015). Kranzberg’s first law of technology avers that ‘Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral’ (Kranzberg’s, 1986, p.545). In doing so, Kranzberg reminds us that innovations are morally and ethically instantiated. To date, research has tended to focus on the technical characteristics, efficiency gains - and profits - to be yielded from blockchain projects and experimental Distributed Ledger Technology (DLTs) and ‘permissioned ledgers’ being run by private consortia (Ng, 2013; Bohme et al., 2015; Swan, 2015; Potts et al., 2016; McWaters et al., 2016; Walport, 2016). While initially fixed on the commercial and consumer benefits to be drawn from blockchain innovation, attention is beginning to shift toward the appropriation of socially and environmentally beneficial use cases that aim to tackle global challenges such as, for example, financial exclusion (CTPM, 2016). Drawing on affordance theory, this exploratory paper reflects on innovative applications of blockchain projects that could help deliver socially and environmentally beneficial outcomes by challenging existing business models and providing new opportunities for value creation that also serve a philanthropic purpose (Botsman and Rogers, 2010). We call this ‘Blockchain for Good’, where ‘Good’ can be framed in terms of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) (UN, 2015). The SDGs provide a vision for governmental, corporate and civic action leading the way towards ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’ (WCED, 1987, para 27). The paper proceeds as follows: First, we describe our approach to this exploratory research. Second, we offer a brief overview of the technological characteristics of DLT. Third, we examine the notion that DLTs have unique affordances rendering them appropriate solutions to the SDGs. Consequently, in this article we begin to explore the impact of DLTs on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals which is the contribution of the paper.

Item Type: Article
Subjects : Economics
Divisions : Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences > Surrey Business School
Authors :
Date : 2017
Copyright Disclaimer : This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, PO Box 1866, Mountain View, CA 94042, USA.
Depositing User : Symplectic Elements
Date Deposited : 12 May 2017 08:27
Last Modified : 25 Jul 2017 15:10

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