Decentralizing power and value using blockchain

In the run up to OPEN 2020, which will now be an online event, we caught up with Samer Hassan from P2P Models, where they are investigating decentralizing power and value to deliver the collaborative economy using blockchain.

OSB: What’s the latest news from P2P Models?

SH: We’ve been mapping the ‘blockchain/DLT for social good’ ecosystem, with a focus on European projects – because the research is in collaboration with the European Commission. We gathered 130 projects with ~30 data points each, so a pretty nice spreadsheet. Then we selected 15 representative projects and are interviewing the co-founders. We hope to wrap it all up in April. Everything will be public and open-licensed, in an EC report, a dataset, and a research article. I believe this will give us a pretty comprehensive picture of how the field looks today based on empirical data, including what works, what doesn’t work, and where the blockchain promises to solve co-op problems.

OSB: That sounds great, will there be a directory of the projects?

SH: We’re not aiming to provide a directory – more of a snapshot of the field. The field is too immature for a directory really. Others that have tried to build directories but half the projects listed don’t work anymore. There’s so much bullshit in the blockchain field. Often those with good intentions don’t have anything implemented. There’s lots of ideas and a lot of ‘vapourware’. We wanted to analyse what’s going on, the state of the tech, any progress, and the expected impact. We discarded everything that was theoretical, so only included things with a pilot.

OSB: What else has been happening at P2P Models?

SH: We have a few different contracts with the EU – P2P Models is a big research line. But hiring blockchain developers is really difficult. We pay well compared to academia – but can’t compete with commercial. We have moved forward in social research and have two good case studies. We have helped, which provides translation of subtitles. They have a mix of volunteers and gig economy workers, a huge global network. We’re helping them with task allocation and governance or value distribution – it’s similar to a platform co-op. They are non profit, but rely on a business model.

We’re also working with Smart, which offers freelancers administrative, legal, fiscal and financial advice. They’ve grown into a federation of co-ops in Europe. It’s a very interesting business – it’s not a platform – but is the largest EU co-op. We’re working to help them deliver transparent processes to Increase trust. They have a central administration so want to leverage the transparency that blockchain could provide.

We’re also really pleased with one project which has spun off from P2P models, Decentralized Science. It followed a different approach, starting as a small project with a PhD student who wanted to help open up access to scientific research with decentralised technology. Instead of starting with a community he wanted to start with prototypes and looked into a system which was already running on blockchain and IPFS. He got funding for a year and created a small team to work on a pilot. It’s working well. They’ve built an extension to the standard journal publishing platform Open Journal Systems. It’s a really practical application of decentralised tech. They’re going to ask for more funding – and we hope it will become an independent project.

At the same time, in the academic context, we are involved in writing papers. Our social research team is working with the University of Sydney Business School on a collaboration entitled “Maintaining an effective commons through events: a practice-based study of three collaborative communities”. We’re looking into how digitally mediated work relations can strike a balance between reciprocal and transactional forms of value creation, which challenges the rampaging precariousness in the emerging gig economy.

We have already written four papers. “Talk is silver, code is gold? Beyond “object-centric” notions of contribution in peer production” and “Loosen Control Without Losing Control. Formalisation and Decentralisation within Commons-Based Peer Production” (awaiting publication). We develop knowledge about value creation in free/libre software communities in the first one and study the decision making process in the same communities in the second. In our third paper  “Exploring self-organisation: using Activity Theory for the study of peer production practices in Free/Libre and Open Source Software” (awaiting publication) we write about methodologies to research in digital communities. In the last one “When Ostrom meets Blockchain: Exploring the potentials of blockchain for commons governance”, we drew on Elinor Ostrom’s principles for managing commons with the aim of identifying the potential of blockchain for commons governance.

From our feminist perspective we are developing an analytical framework to understand if blockchain projects take gender perspective into account. We are creating a tool incorporating different approaches including MAGEEQ (Mainstreaming Gender Equality in Europe), Feminist economics theory principles and the Bechdel test – which will hopefully give us simple answers. The result will be a script with questions to validate if a blockchain projects’ white paper has a feminist perspective or not.

The ‘blockchain/DLT for social good’ research should be ready by the summer so we hope to have some interesting findings to present to The Open Co-op community.

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