A long stretch of research and writing with a great group of colleagues, Bill Tomlinson, Jens Boberg, Jocelyn Cranefield, David Johnstone, Markus Luczak-Roesch, Shreya Kapoor and myself has finally resulted in the publication of a new article article titled “Analyzing the Sustainability of 28 ‘Blockchain for Good’ Projects via Affordances and Constraints.” It has been accepted for publication in Information Technology for Development. We looked at a variety of crypto-currency projects that positioned themselves as “for good” and analyzed to what degree they were poised to make a difference in community development:
Proponents of “Blockchain for Good”—that is, blockchain efforts seeking to enable a range of benefits to humans and the environment—have suggested that the technology can support sustainability. However, while previous research has addressed aspects of the sustainability affordances of Blockchain for Good projects, the constraints that these projects impose have not faced equal consideration. Furthermore, the theoretical concepts of sustainability “problems” and “solutions” implicit in these projects have not been made clear. In this exploratory study, we evaluate the sustainability of 28 Blockchain for Good projects that use cryptocurrencies or tradable tokens with regard to the UN sustainability goals. These projects span a range of goals, such as decentralized renewable energy trading, supply chain tracking, transparent charity, and fairer voting. Nevertheless, despite their admirable goals, we find that current Blockchain for Good projects are unlikely to contribute to a sustainable future due to technical limitations and a conceptual framing that favors the status quo rather than transformative change.
At the end of the day there is so much bluster about blockchain technologies, especially by people who propose that they will transform the ways in which people interact with all kinds of systems. While the urge to harness this new technology for good is admirable, it is not clear that blockchain lends itself to sustainability initiatives any more than any other general purpose technology…. like a database.