#Blockchain4EU: Blockchain for Industrial Transformations
This case was submitted as part of the Call for Innovations, an annual partnership initiative between OPSI and the UAE Mohammed Bin Rashid Center for Government Innovation (MBRCGI)
The European Commission led #Blockchain4EU as a forward-looking exploration of existing, emerging and potential Blockchain and other DLTs (Distributed Ledger Technologies) applications for industrial sectors. Through an experimental and participatory approach, this project allowed first to come up with an overview of promising applications across industries, and second to co-design five prototypes that physically showcase how Blockchain could be applied in the near future.
The project was led from 2017/03 to 2018/05 by the EU Policy Lab / Foresight, Behavioural Insights and Design for Policy Unit of the JRC (Joint Research Centre) in collaboration with DG GROW (Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship & SMEs). Its main goals were to:
- Map key challenges and opportunities of Blockchain based applications in nine industrial sectors;
- Explore future scenarios of production, distribution and use via collaborative design models;
- Identify regulatory, funding and other policy options considering development and/or uptake.
Grounded on EU Policy Lab's experimental and transdisciplinary approach in support to policy, the project merged concepts and methods from science and technology studies, foresight and horizon scanning, and generative and speculative design. Furthermore, it combined desk research, surveys, interviews and multi-sited ethnographic explorations, with a strong participatory framework focused on multi-stakeholder engagement and translated into three key co-creation workshops.
Workshop A was dedicated to the mapping of collective visions around Blockchain industrial applications, within a comprehensive overview of their policy, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental (PESTLE) dimensions. Workshop B was centred on the material exploration of near future scenarios through the co-creation of speculative prototypes which could illustrate Blockchain applications for five specific sectors. And last, Workshop C moved into broader discussions on policy strategies for digitisation of industry and businesses, with focus on SME innovation.
Throughout the whole project, multi-level stakeholder engagement strategies were successful in bringing together big and small, private and public actors already involved, potentially interested in, or working in sectors that may be impacted by Blockchain and other DLTs. These strategies were marked by sustained efforts to create the conditions for collaborative work between often conflicting views, while also opening up policy to non-traditional players.
Developers and designers, social, economic and legal researchers, entrepreneurs, industry and business representatives, civil society organisations, think-tanks and policy-makers from several levels of governance, were able to offer us a balanced outlook on the issues at play. Such diversity of backgrounds and expertise was central in building the comprehensive view of Blockchain put forward in our evidence-based policy advice frameworks. Additionally, the projects outputs were also modularly designed and tailored from start to end with all these audiences' stakes and goals in mind.
#Blockchain4EU main outputs were aggregated in a final report. It includes key insights for industry and strategic recommendations for policy following DG GROW's priorities, which are now also being appropriated by other EU sectorial services handling trade, taxation, intellectual property, etc.
A core part of these outputs are five speculative design prototypes co-created from our first workshop onwards to trigger and better inform policy makers' views on how Blockchain and other DLTs could be materialised and applied in near futures:
- Bloodchain (transports and logistics): an assets management system designed to deal with multiple points and actors in supply and demand chains for the collection and transport of blood and other sensitive biological materials.
- Vantage Point (advanced manufacturing): a platform tackling data sharing, interoperability and integrity in manufacturing systems by storing products' digital twins and offering distinct information based on specific information needs.
- Care AI (health): a device providing access to basic healthcare in exchange of anonymised personal health data, afterwards connected through smart contracts to a data marketplace for third party public and private entities.
- Gigbliss (energy): an IoT suite offering three models of the same hairdryer, AUTO, BALANCE and PLUS, linked to three distinct socio-economic models of energy consumption, management and trading.
- Gossip Chain (creative industries): a service allowing anyone to submit rumours to a localised Blockchain, and later combining people's reputation and prediction markets to assess and register the information value and reliability.
These five objects became compelling entry points in policy to Blockchain and other DLTs, offering a tangible understanding of how these technologies could work, in which scenarios they could exist, how they could solve or pose specific problems, or even how they would impact other societal dimensions. They are now fully available not only to policy makers at EU, national and local levels, but also to stakeholders from businesses, industries, labour organisations and academia, attentive to potential applications of Blockchain and other DLTs.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
#Blockchain4EU stands out in its innovative support to policy-making due to:
- Combination of traditional primary and secondary research with experimental and transdisciplinary methods, which opens up often constrained field of possibilities for outputs in evidence-based policy advice in EU institutions;
- Promotion of participatory and anticipation policy cultures, which counters late engagement with smaller pools of relevant or affected parties, and standard 'wait-and-see' attitudes when faced with early-stage technologies;
- Focus on collaborative activities to engage internal and external stakeholders, which allowed exploration of wider collective visions considering policy, economic, social, legal and environmental dimensions;
- Use of speculative design and prototyping for policy, in particular the co-creation of tangible fictional artefacts or materially grounded outputs, which act as catalysts for triggering discussions aimed at enhanced forward-looking decision making.
What is the current status of your innovation?
#Blockchain4EU outputs (prototypes as main triggers) are now being presented via several channels. The team is conducting strong engagement and follow-ups not only with Commission services and other EU institutions, but also with external stakeholders from industry and SMEs to research and CSOs.
Key recommendations and insights are being taken specifically by DG GROW for upcoming policy initiatives. This includes potential funding in the next EU Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF). DG GROW is also defining possible policy developments in selected sectors grounded on the project's collaborative vision building.
New explorations at the intersection of policy, industry and businesses are previewed with the same experimental frame. As a spin-off, the EU Policy Lab in collaboration with DG CNECT and with the support of the European Parliament, is leading a pilot project on the co-creation of a European ecosystem of organisations working on DLTs for social and public good.
Collaborations & Partnerships
#Blockchain4EU was led by JRC's EU Policy Lab with DG GROW support. A Community of Practice of around 100 participants from Commission services was created and managed via an online platform and multilateral face-to-face meetings, offering constant feedback and channels for exploitation of outputs. The project also benefited from collaborations with supranational institutions as the European Parliament via its Science and Technology Options Assessment Panel, or UNDP via its Innovation Facility.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Through co-creation and research activities, the project engaged a community of more than 250 external stakeholders working or interested in Blockchain including: companies, entrepreneurs, and labour representatives; technical experts, developers and designers; social, economic and legal researchers; CSOs and think-tanks; and public administration at city, regional, national and supranational levels. Secondary outreach also privileged this community and their potential use of outputs.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
#Blockchain4EU presented its outputs at a high-level event in Commission's headquarters (May 2018), followed by internal session at European Political Strategy Centre (EPSC), Commission's in-house think tank (June 2018).
At Commission level, insights were already applied in H2020 Call ‘Blockchain and DLTs for SMEs’ to promote financial support to SMEs for application development. Also, the Communication 'A balanced IP enforcement system responding to today's societal challenges' recognised the project's outputs for policy analysis on how Blockchain can strengthen Supply Chains transparency and IPR protection.
At the European Parliament level, the resolution 'DLTs and Blockchains: Building Trust with Disintermediation' acknowledged the value of #Blockchain4EU as foresight framework to assess potential opportunities and challenges of Blockchain in support of decision makers.
Future policy exploitation of results is now being planned at EU level on Trade and Advanced Manufacturing.
Challenges and Failures
Continuous stakeholder engagement was often challenging over differences in availability and goals. Tailored communication with distinct parties and management of expectations was crucial. In addition community building through platforms as Slack or Linkedin was not entirely successful on similar grounds, being later replaced by multilateral emails, blogposts and social media dissemination.
Co-creating with a diverse set of stakeholders also required added efforts, frequently due to variances in terminology/frameworks, professional/disciplinary expertise and/or organisational backgrounds. A robust participatory framework with sound collaborative techniques was key to minimize friction and achieve shared ownership.
The project attempted to embrace diversity in gender, geographies, and institutional representativeness, which proved difficult in a highly technological context. Attaining balance required additional time and preparation, particularly in selecting stakeholders for events.
Conditions for Success
Multi-stakeholder engagement is key at every step. We need, however, to create places where stakeholders are not only central, but where their inputs are effectively absorbed. Achieving this requires a transparent implementation of tested participatory approaches, which in turn need adequate resource allocation, time and planning. Moreover, choosing the best methods for the task at hand is critical. Mixing and adapting existing tools may work better for engaging than pushing new experimentation at all costs.
Policy Labs as ours stand out as connectors between private, public and hybrid actors, able to aggregate diverse insights and goals for outputs suited to the success of projects as #Blockchain4EU. Bringing stakeholders in and setting up external partnerships stimulates wider impact. Even so, it's crucial to encourage cross fertilisation, adoption of experimental methods, and capacity building in internal services so they can incorporate the broader inputs of such projects.
The EU Policy Lab experimental and transdisciplinary approach in support to policy, and particularly #Blockchain4EU combination of science and technology studies, foresight and horizon scanning, and generative and speculative design, could be replicated in other policy contexts when looking at potential developments of early-stage technologies.
At a practical level, all prototypes and respective design and coding elements were made available by the EU Policy Lab to the general public, under EU Public Licence (EUPL), and where not applicable, under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0).
As a direct follow-up, engaged start-ups Ideas for Change and Materiom are already taking forward developments of prototypes 'Care AI' and 'Vantage Point', within their strategies for better data sharing and decentralization with focus on citizens, SMEs, and public administration.
#Blockchain4EU was able to push the frontiers of what's common practice in policy when looking into early-stage technologies. The project showcased how a multi-stakeholder approach in an evidence-based framework can benefit policy making through processes that are simultaneously robust and experimental in their delivery and impact. Key lessons learned:
- An anticipatory and forward-looking approach is a demanding exercise for many internal and external stakeholders. From developers and entrepreneurs, to business representatives and policy-makers, most of their time is spent dealing with immediate tasks and operations. However, the use of transdisciplinary futures and foresight methods, ranging from future vision building to co-creation of physical prototypes, can foster the right mind-set.
- Collaborative environments in which stakeholders are able to work together with different backgrounds and experiences are crucial. A sound planning and execution of a participatory approach needs to be in place from start to end throughout all stages of a project. A multi-stakeholder process relies on enough time and resources for iterations in order to test preliminary outcomes and produce final outputs.
- The use of speculative design and prototyping is valuable in a policy context to trigger wider discussions with the purpose of improving forward-looking decision making. Moreover, co-creating tangible fictional artefacts with a diverse set of stakeholders provides wide-ranging future visions that cover at the same time policy, economic, social, legal and environmental dimensions.
- Evidence-based framework for policy advice can benefit from a modular approach for outputs, that is, designing and tailoring key processes and results to different parties. An effective communication can include not only standard written outputs such as reports, but also physical prototypes and multimedia materials for exhibition and interaction (see videos and additional materials).
The project was coordinated at the Joint Research Centre (JRC) EU Policy Lab by Susana Nascimento, Alexandre Pólvora and Joana Sousa Lourenço.
JRC is the European Commission’s in-house science and knowledge service, with a mandate to provide EU policies with independent, evidence based scientific and technical support throughout the whole policy cycle. It aims to anticipate emerging issues that need to be addressed at EU level and understand its policy contexts; creates, manages and makes sense of knowledge; and develops innovative tools to make such knowledge available and useful for policy making.
The JRC's EU Policy Lab / Foresight, Behavioural Insights and Design for Policy Unit encompasses both an innovative way of conducting research, and a collaborative and experimental space that makes use of a wide transdisciplinary toolbox to envision, connect and prototype solutions for better policies, with strong focus on citizen-centric frameworks and stakeholder engagement.