Part 5 Conclusion: GENESIS – Design Principles for Blockchange

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Despite the challenges listed above, blockchain technologies can promote positive social change in the identity space. In order to be effective, organizations deploying blockchain applications need to begin with the foundational principles and conditions we have outlined above. If those conditions are adequately addressed, then the task is to design applications and platforms in a way that maximizes effectiveness while limiting risk.

In this concluding section, we present and describe seven design principles. These principles should be taken under consideration together with related efforts to steward experimentation with blockchain in the public interest – including notably the Beeck Center’s Blockchain Ethical Design Framework114 – and need to be applied from the very first block: the so-called genesis block of the blockchain. And that is why, collectively, we call these principles the GENESIS principles:

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Design Principles: Genesis

Design Principles: Genesis

Design Principles: Genesis


Governance Legitimacy

Given the broad positive and negative potential impacts of an immutable ledger that can automatically take pre-defined actions when a condition is met, a transparent, accountable, and participatory process for decision-making should be in place.

Recommendations for Operationalizing

  • When implementing Blockchange projects, consider existing ethical frameworks for blockchain,115 as well as data responsibility policies and principles;
  • Define and make accessible a clear process showing how decisions are to be made.


Ethically Sound

Whether foundational or functional, identity plays a major role in cementing individuals’ access to diverse rights, and issues around identity could lead to rights being jeopardized. Blockchange implementations should take into consideration any potential positive or negative impact on the rights of individuals.

Moreover, many Blockchange initiatives are aimed at addressing problems experienced by the most vulnerable. In seeking to solve the world’s most important and intractable problems, practitioners should ensure that they avoid reckless experimentation and undertaking risky actions that could further jeopardize already vulnerable communities.

Recommendations for Operationalizing

  • Engage potential users, domain experts, and other critical stakeholders early in the design process to ensure that identity authentication efforts in particular enable safe, secure, and dignified user interactions.
  • During the design phase, identify and map individual rights that could be impacted positively or negatively by the Blockchange application.
  • Provide clear guidance on how users can monitor activity related to their identity and intervene when necessary.


Not technologies, but solutions to real problems

Like many new technologies, blockchain is often treated as the proverbial hammer in search of a nail. While the tendency toward broad experimentation is a worthy aim, a clear and actionable understanding of the problem to be solved is essential both for meaningfully addressing the problem at hand, as well as contributing to a greater understanding of if, when, and how blockchain can positively impact social change.

Recommendations for Operationalizing

  • When defining the problem to be solved, engage experts, stakeholders, and affected communities to understand better why the problem currently exists, and why previous efforts to address the problem were or were not successful.
  • Capture the value proposition, relevant assumptions, and potential knock-on effects of the problem to be addressed early in the design phase in order to inform decision-making.
  • Be open to the determination that the optimal solution for the problem at hand does not involve blockchain.


Ecological Footprint

The Bitcoin blockchain has a massive and growing ecological footprint resulting from the high levels of energy powering proof-of-work mining activities.116 If Blockchange is going to have a positive impact on creating social change, and allow for scaleable solutions beyond the initial prototyping, validation mechanisms that do not accelerate climate change will be essential.

Recommendations for Operationalizing

Consider the ideal transaction validation mechanism for the initiative and avoid highly energy-dependent proof-of-work mining approaches where possible.


Synchronized with Existing Initiatives

Many identity challenges are neither new nor unrecognized by existing institutions. While blockchain could offer a promising option for addressing some identity challenges, new efforts should seek to be complementary with existing work.

Recommendations for Operationalizing

  • Conduct due diligence at the design phase to identify existing efforts to address the identity problem at hand and consider if and how the new Blockchange approach can be complementary.
  • Engage experts on both the policy and technology sides to gain a sense of what technologies are currently in use – e.g., change-tracking databases for identity administration or open data for certain auditing processes – and assess their viability relative to a new blockchain-enabled effort.
  • If a Blockchange approach is deemed viable, work with actors already present in the space to ensure that lessons learned and guiding principles developed over time are not lost when transitioning to a new identity solution.


Interoperability and Open Standards

Much of the current activity around blockchain’s use for identity is being driven by the private sector. This is to be expected given where the vast majority of blockchain-related skills and capacity reside. But while vendors are an important part of the blockchain ecosystem, without whom experimentation would be impossible, government and civil society must work to avoid long-term vendor lock-in and the patenting of Blockchange protocols.117 Ensuring the interoperability of different systems, and the development of open technical standards for these systems will be key to ensuring that the public sector’s use of blockchain remains flexible and problem- rather than technology-driven.

Recommendations for Operationalizing

  • Consider the potential for vendor lock-in and the centralized control of identifiers when contracting with blockchain technology providers.
  • Research the field of practice relevant to the particular Blockchange use case and context and seek ways to ensure interoperability with other related efforts.


Securing first block accuracy

While blockchain’s attributes of immutability and (guaranteed) integrity ensure a level of information accuracy and consistency for on-chain information, the first block in the chain remains an important single point of failure. Consistent with the aphorism “garbage in, garbage out,” the quality of information held on the blockchain is only as good as what is entered in the genesis block. In fact, in a blockchain environment, the lesson is “garbage in, garbage immutably stored and broadly accessible.” At the same time we are seeing several initiatives where a trusted identity or reputation is built over time, yet those initiatives tend to work best if linked with verified credentials from a trusted source.

Recommendations for Operationalizing

  • Identify any existing processes or intermediaries in use to validate information and seek out multiple sources of collaboration.
  • Consider optimal upfront information vetting, user disclosure and validation, and redress and correction approaches early in the design process.
  • Establish mechanisms for trusted parties to monitor new information added to the chain and flag any potentially suspect additions.
  1. Cara LaPointe. “The Blockchain Ethical Design Framework for Social Impact.” Georgetown University Beeck Center, March 8, 2018. 

  2. Cara LaPointe. “The Blockchain Ethical Design Framework for Social Impact.” Georgetown University Beeck Center, March 8, 2018. 

  3. Adam Rogers. “The Hard Math Behind Bitcoin’s Global Warming Problem.” Wired, December 15, 2017. 

  4. Matt Asay. “Why big vendors could ruin Blockchain by making it a centralized service.” TechRepublic, April 4, 2017.