An informative guide that aims to demystify blockchain technologies has been developed by researchers with support from an EFI Research Award.
Blockchain technologies are distributed databases, which can securely store complex information and facilitate peer-to-peer exchange. They are increasingly heralded as a solution to achieve sustainable development targets.
Working in close consultation with NGO research partners, a team of University academics found that little is known about the ethical and practical considerations involved in using such technologies.
The team – which includes researchers from the University’s Centre for African Studies, Design Informatics, Geosciences, and Social Anthropology – held workshops with academics, practitioners and other stakeholders to address the challenges surrounding blockchain.
They found that as well as attracting the attention of large donors and development NGOs, a growing range of start-up charities and platforms are promising blockchain technologies as solutions to complex challenges in international development, humanitarianism and environmental issues.
The Roadmap produced by the researchers outlines the practical applications and the associated technical, ethical and political challenges of blockchains.
It also provides a decision-based guide towards potentially using the technologies to address humanitarian, development and environmental challenges.
Case studies on how blockchains might facilitate aid payments, supply chain or environment issues highlight the complexity of using the technologies, and the advantages and disadvantages it might bring.
Addressing global challenges
Dr Kate Symons, of the University’s School of Social and Political Science, said: “Blockchain platforms promise many things in international development, but we wanted to take some time to evaluate these claims and see if they can be met.
“This grant from the EFI enabled us to bring together researchers and practitioners from the UK and internationally to ask critical questions and develop a concrete way forward for development actors to use blockchains in ethical and effective ways.
“We hope this is the beginning of a conversation between the development sector, academia and blockchain developers to address challenges of effectiveness, governance and overall purpose in blockchains-for-development.”
The Edinburgh Future Institute Research Awards launched in early 2018 to support research which identified new interdisciplinary questions that could be taken forward as part of the Institute’s vision.
Four projects from academics across the University were awarded funding of up to £5,000.