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Anticipatory design and ethical framework for Distributed Ledger Technologies (blockchain or DAG) and applications (smart contracts, IoTs and supply chain)

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - AnticipatoryLedgers (Anticipatory design and ethical framework for Distributed Ledger Technologies (blockchain or DAG) and applications (smart contracts, IoTs and supply chain))

Reporting period: 2018-09-01 to 2020-08-31

AnticipatoryLedgers had an explicit goal of connecting design with ethical deliberation and policy negotiation to respond to the challenges of algorithmic governance and pervasive automation enabled by distributed ledger technologies (DLTs) and their convergences with ML, AI, IoTs. The main challenge was to mitigate the erosion of social agency and public engagement in algorithmic futures by defining and testing an anticipatory framework (later described as an “exploratory sandbox”) for connecting the work on policy and governance with the work on the code and automation. We used a unique combination of participatory design methods with emphasis on public engagement that was inspired by citizen science projects to research the use of prototypes in policy (governance-by-design ideas). The work on the prototypes of smart contracts helped us critically evaluate the possibility of anticipatory governance of emerging and disruptive algorithmic infrastructure.
The project involved participants as stakeholders through role-playing and simulation to co-design and provide feedback on the code but also regulation of future blockchain services and infrastructure. Through prototyping workshops and stakeholder panels we documented the process and later defined the framework as an “exploratory sandbox”. While the 2019 workshops provided feedback from the participants that served to improve the sandbox, the final 2020 workshops provided structured data from the participants on issues of regulating algorithmic services that we visualized. The exploratory sandbox proved to be a useful model for engaging citizens in the early development of algorithmic services that will influence the governance of their communities. It helped us identify and anticipate the potential threats and issues for further policy assessment and design considerations.
The project fully achieved its objectives and milestones for the period. It delivered the Ethics Approval and Data Management Plans in 2018 - 2019 and also achieved the two main research goals of creating a framework and defining scenario of emerging blockchain futures that supports anticipatory governance in 2019 – 2020.
19 papers,3 exhibitions, 8 conference presentations, 7 invited presentations, 1 keynote
The experimental sandbox created by the researcher as part of this project has an impact on current discussions of ethics and algorithmic governance and it offers a unique combination of policy and design methods. This research offers an experimental alternative to the aspirational ethical frameworks and equally popular “governance-by-design” and “value-sensitive design” initiatives. Regulatory sandboxes address the structural challenges of algorithmic governance and automation by connecting deliberation with experiments that work simultaneously with regulations and code without reducing one to another. They open a space for design and policy iterations that engage participants and probe issues of power, stakes, interests, ownership without compromising on innovation. These participatory and experimental engagements with algorithmic governance in exploratory sandbox (as Lithopy that tested near-future blockchain and satellite services scenarios) can be useful for policy makers but also industry. Furthermore, her final two 2020 workshops provided interesting data on the issues of how to regulate (with) algorithms. The researcher visualized the data from the surveys and opened them for discussion on Tableau story. Instead of reducing and transforming various democratic values and regulations to code, the exploratory sandbox insist on the oversight by a public body outside the infrastructure and supports hybrid, tactical and situated engagements with automation and infrastructure described in [Paper 12]. Rather than some universal model for regulating (with) algorithmic governance, it offers experiences with “good enough” solutions that are open for further modifications. The processes of negotiation and design reiterations do not separate nor reduce regulations from code. They support friction and “slowing down” of the technology to increase participation by underrepresented groups, but their main advantage is in the experiments that combine design and policy for particular contexts and concrete communities. This work is at the forefront of present research into RegTech, algorithmic governance and related issues of ethics. Its impact on European policy objectives of democratizing and opening science and technology and supporting engagement are fully supported (especially the RRI agenda).