Government Blockchain Forum Lays Groundwork for AdoptionBy Adam Karides
The government’s interest in blockchain technology is no secret. As it continues to explore and support distributed ledger technology (DLT) as both a mechanism for innovation and to improve its own internal operations, it is actively communicating and engaging with the public to convey its progress. In advance of tomorrow’s sold-out ‘Blockchain@State’ Forum at the State Department, Tandem National Security Innovations hosted a panel at the Arlington-based consulting firm ByteCubed to discuss how the government can harness blockchain. It included subject-matter experts from both within and outside the government and touched on various key topics regarding its approach to this revolutionary technology. Two major themes emerged:
1. Establishing Frameworks to Enable Government Blockchain Innovation
Before the government embarks on a free-for-all into adopting blockchain, it is critical for it produce a roadmap for guiding agencies and departments to explore this technology. Such frameworks are significant for DLT because it is still in its infancy and integration will therefore involve collaboration with solvers from outside the government. As a result, it must establish consistency in how it taps into the private sector and NGOs for innovation. Two possible frameworks can help achieve successful adoption:
- Creating ‘On-ramps’ for Collaboration with the Private Sector and NGOs
The government continues to push for more transparency and collaboration with the private sector, but the complex contracting process often restricts healthy competition. To alleviate this barrier to entry, it is increasingly providing introductory ‘on-ramps’ to better navigate and understand contracting vehicles. They are especially salient for the government to support blockchain because its innovation will primarily stem from outside it. Furthermore, they are critical for articulating to the blockchain community that the government is an advocate, not a regulator looking to crack down on the fledgling technology. By creating these on-ramps, agencies and departments can draft language to facilitate effective implementation and ultimately innovate to better serve its citizens.
Establishing Standards to Facilitate Implementation and Collaboration
In addition to offering on-ramps to encourage greater participation and competition for blockchain innovation, baseline standards must also be instituted in order to ensure proper implementation. The emergence of distributed ledger technology often garners comparisons to the birth of the Internet, and despite their differences, one underlying trait between them is clear: operational standards must be laid out for their success. Debbie Bucci, Program Manager for Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), echoed this sentiment. While the Internet “took years” to establish the TCP/IP protocol for computers to communicate with each other, similar standards must be in place for blockchain to flourish. More specifically, according to Bucci, these standards must be co-created with individuals and organizations from outside the government in order to construct a common actionable framework.
2. Discovering Use Cases with Careful Application
Without referencing particular use cases, the panel clearly conveyed the government’s eagerness to roll out blockchain-based applications. At the same time, it also warned of the potential damaging effects of hastily embracing a technology without fully understanding its attributes and the issues it can help rectify. The strategies below can prevent overzealous application.
Understanding Problems Before Proposing Blockchain Solutions
This summer’s blockchain craze might make it seem like a silver bullet to supplant all existing data transfer and record-keeping methods. However, DLT is not necessarily a panacea for improving these practices, which federal agencies and departments should be wary of before scrambling to implement it. According to Meagan Metzger, Founder & CEO of the blockchain accelerator Dcode, it has the potential to “bring a level of integrity” to government operations. But in order to do so, she adds, the government must grasp the actual problems at hand before turning to blockchain as a solution. Without understanding the full scope of particular issues, agencies and departments might further contribute to wasteful spending and inefficiency by embracing DLT.
Developing ‘Industry Agnostic’ Applications
In order to prevent the government from counterproductively adopting blockchain, it must carefully choose where and how the technology is applied. Therefore, to avoid the aforementioned hazard, blockchain integration might have the most impact if initially introduced on a broad scale. As described by Metzger as “industry agnostic” applications, the government can most effectively integrate DLT by leveraging it to solve issues that are not unique to a particular agency or department, such as recordkeeping.