The potential for blockchain to disrupt public services is huge. But the revolution hasn’t arrived
“The blockchain revolution in government has not lived up to expectations yet.” That’s according to government digital transformation expert Miquel Estapé. Estapé is Vice-President of Government Digital Innovation at The Association of Corporate Governance Practitioners and Deputy CEO of the Open Government of Catalonia Consortium.
The digital transformation expert devotes much of his life to researching how emerging technologies can be harnessed to deliver improved and more innovative public services. Over the last few years, no emerging technology has caught the public sector’s (and wider society’s) imagination quite like blockchain. It has subsequently become a key research focus for Estapé, and will be the subject of his session at Blockchain Technology World in London this March.
Coolest kid on the block
To recap, a blockchain is a distributed ledger shared between many parties which enables trustworthy transactions or exchanges between strangers, without the need for a trusted third-party or mediator. These transactions are secured by cryptography and automated by “smart contracts” (effectively scripted contracts).
As Estapé, and many others have noted, executing transactions without a third-party has never been achievable “before in history” — so it’s no surprise that blockchain gets people so animated. In theory, any industry that relies on third-parties can delegate some level of process to a blockchain ledger, one that automates it in a way that satisfies the trust requirements of every stakeholder.
The potential for blockchain to disrupt public services is huge, says Estapé. Public authorities, at their core, are “intermediaries” that maintain “trusted information about individuals, organisations, assets and activities” and provide official documents. So in principle, like in other sectors, blockchain can save public authorities time and money, by underpinning digital systems that synergise trust out of thin air.
In the public sector, there are four main areas where blockchain shows the most promise, where “there is a lack of transparency and trust between parties”, where “governance is complex”, where “intermediation and interoperability are not efficient” and where “it is tough to apply the ‘once-only principle’” (an ‘e-government’ concept that aims to ensure that citizens, institutions, and companies only have to provide standard information to authorities once).