An insight from the 3rd Policy Observatory workshop

The TOKEN project’s third Policy Observatory held in April 2022 gathered together some thirty digital policy professionals, researchers, experts and technology developers in an online workshop. In this Observatory, we explored how the European public sector should make use of Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLTs) drawing inspiration from future scenarios and cases as well as expert presentations.

An article written by Pinja Lehtonen and‍ Marilene Jokinen Kouris.

The event started with two inspiring presentations. Dr. Joachim Schwerin, Principal Economist at the European Commission (DG GROW), talked about the opportunities and perspectives of making blockchain work for public services. This was followed by Philippe Dardier, EUTECH founder and city councilor, presenting the current cases of blockchain in government. Both talks focused on the current and future applications of DLT in the public sector – and their potential to transform bureaucracy, public engagement, and digital democracy, which in part has made DLT an innovation priority in the European Union.

In the workshops facilitated by Demos Helsinki, four groups formed by participants discussed two cases of future public sector DLT applications: ‘a digital identity with an urban service layer’ and ‘smart procurement through transparent supply chains’. These identity and procurement cases were explored through scenarios of different operational environments of the (near) future. The first scenario was based on locality, i.e. the significance of cities, regions and local communities in DLT development and use. The second contained privatized, industry-led innovation ecosystems with a variety of enterprises producing public DLT services. In the last scenario, powerful states and companies dominated the market of public DLT services, which was characterized by competition between the actors.

The workshop discussions focused on forming shared understandings of the potential and risks involved in the future cases and scenarios. We set out to discover what is needed to steer DLT development towards desirable outcomes for public governance, societal change and ultimately the wellbeing of people.

Key takeaways from the Observatory

Questions of citizens’ access to their data were prominent in many of the discussions. Can citizens be given the opportunity to alter or delete their data in the context of public sector DLT services? How can citizens be sure that public authorities use their data responsibly and only for a specific purpose?

Moreover, the access to these services was discussed in depth. Will the access to the services be based on citizenship, and if so, what does that entail for non-citizens? How are vulnerable communities and marginalized groups taken into account in the design of DLT based digital public services? How do we avoid these services becoming exclusionary or socially segregating? Participants agreed that these questions need to be addressed thoroughly when designing public DLT services.

Another insight from the Observatory is that involving stakeholders, civil servants, NGOs and citizens in developing digital public services would help create knowledge, maintain transparency and ultimately build trust towards public DLT services. Co-design and ‘people first’ principles should be entertained, since in addition to trust, they would help create services that would be truly useful for the end-users and thus a justified public expenditure.

Finally, involving public officials and end-users should also include training. This training should not concentrate on the explanation of technical facts alone – it should rather be tailored to include context-specific knowledge of the social, economic, and environmental impacts that DLTs have on public governance processes and communities. Fostering the development of digital skills and empowerment should be an integral part of public sector DLT practices in Europe and elsewhere.

We would like to thank the active participants and speakers of our third Policy Observatory meeting! We hope you’ll join us also for the two upcoming Policy Observatories before the TOKEN project concludes at the end of 2022. The Demos Helsinki team is currently working on a Briefing Paper based on the work done in the Policy Observatory – stay tuned for the upcoming publication!