Oxchain – Blockchain & the Global South symposium round up

The Oxchain and the Global South one -day conference investigated various disciplinary and market approaches to Blockchain technology, and interrogated the opportunities as well as challenges of this new economic model in different market sectors. The main objectives of the conference were to suggest new methods and solutions using digital technologies of distributed data-share, as well as highlighting the areas which need more attention with regards to issues around data within humanities.

60 attendees from different disciplinary backgrounds including academic, governmental and charity sectors joined the conference both as presenters and audience, including representatives from the All Party Parliamentary Group for Africa, Oxfam UK and Australia, Fairtrade UK, Amnesty International, BitGive and other peer to peer network technology institutions as well as a wide range of different UK universities. As well as crucial discussion of applications of Blockchain technologies, the conference facilitated a dynamic environment for collaboration and networking in addition to the talks and presentations.

After the welcome introduction by conference chair Dr. Kate Symons, keynote speaker Lord Holmes of Richmond opened the conference with a powerful speech on Blockchain technology as a tool for solving existing problems, as well as the unavoidable issue of security with regards to data-driven applications. He also evoked the idea of Blockchain as a trusted transparent verification method in institutions such as NHS and underlined the need for proof of concept for Blockchain technology to be discussed with both governmental authorities and the public.

The conference continued with four paper sessions and two keynote speakers: Michel Bauwens from P2P Foundation and Ric Tighe from Oxfam UK.

Each paper session focused on a key argument about Blockchain; in paper session one power, transparency and accountability in Blockchain for international development were discussed. Cash as an efficient modality for people’s needs was compared to Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) by Oxfam Australia. The pros and cons of DLT and user experience, motivations and barriers of adapting Blockchain technology, lack of clarity and transparency of such systems, lack of visibility and the tracking process from the manufacturers to consumers were also discussed.

Paper session two looked at ‘Peer-to-Peer Economies (A): Natural Resource Governance.’ In this session, “banking (on) the unbanked” (suggested by one of the speakers, Ludovico Rella) and Blockchain technology for NGO flow of funds was discussed. The IoT supported by Blockchain was examined to potentially recover REDD “reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation”. Blockchain technology in the water sector, the lack of plentiful useful datasets and the disruption caused by such technologies were also covered.

The third session began with a second keynote given by Michel Bauwens from P2P Foundation on generative economies, distributed capitalism and poly-governance. In session three ideas around Peer to Peer Economies: Supply Chains and Development were interrogated further. In this session, challenges and opportunities of Blockchain for the Fairtrade Foundation (UK) were interrogated. Design Informatics showcased the Bitbarista; this design case was used to represent human interaction with autonomous economic agents, illustrating the challenging balance of values in the design process of such systems. Bitbarista, as an autonomous coffee machine, challenges the conventional human-machine relationship, meaning it is self-regulating and through smart contracting technology and able to take action independent of human factors.

The last paper session started with a keynote by Ric Tighe from Oxfam who talked about the “responsible data life-cycle”, trust and people within the digital economies. This session, chaired by Chris Elsden, examined ‘Crypto-philanthropy and development: The Future of Giving?’ This session suggested fruitful ideas on MVP for crypto-philanthropy, the politics of power and benefit, feasibility and contextual influences in various scales, and precursors to Blockchain technology – from tangible tally sticks and the theory and history of money were other subjects delivered at this session of the conference.

Twitter: for a round-up of the day search for #BlockchainGS

Chairs and Organisers

Conference Chair: Dr Kate Symons, Centre of African Studies, University of Edinburgh

Panel Chairs:

Professor Chris Speed, University of Edinburgh

Dr Chris Elsden, University of Northumbria

Professor John Vines, Northumbria University

Organiser: Courtney Cooke, Institute for Design Informatics, University of Edinburgh