Decentralised Futures

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* Book: Decentralised Futures. How digital technologies will change the shape of organisations to come. Edited by Jonathan Bone & Christopher Haley. NESTA, 2020



"Human civilisation is, in large part, a story about human organisation. From hunter-gatherer bands to nation states, our societies have been fundamentally shaped by the organisational forms we have adopted; whether that be democratic government or dictatorship, army battalion or resistance movement, worker cooperative or multinational corporation. Organisational structures have typically developed as a means of tackling specific problems, such as speeding up decision-making or ensuring resources are distributed fairly among group members; however, it is clear that those we have developed to date are inadequate when managing common-pool resources like our environment. Our future will thus be determined, to a great extent, by how effectively we can design organisational forms which deal with the challenges ahead.

This collection of essays discusses new organisational forms which are emerging, enabled by digital technologies like blockchain. These organisations are allowing people to self-organise and collaborate as part of decentralised networks. Such decentralised networks have several novel features, perhaps the most important of which is that, unlike many organisations, they are designed to function without the need to trust other members of the group – that is, with trust in people replaced by a different kind of trust, in the technology itself. This has the potential to change radically what people think an organisation can be and what it means to work for one."


The Last, Best Hope for Open Data

– In our winning essay, Kevin Werbach argues that big tech platforms like Facebook, Google and Amazon will not be replaced by decentralised alternatives, because few people will accept significantly worse functionality or user experience in return for better privacy. Rather, he suggests, blockchain will see mass adoption ‘behind the scenes’ in the infrastructural foundations of digital identity and hardware, and big tech will participate in the new decentralised data economy because it provides benefits for them as well.

DAO: Mismatch of Technology and Objectives

– Our second prize winner, Grace (Rebecca) Rachmany, presents a slightly contrarian perspective, making the case that decentralisation is not a better way to run businesses and that many developers have been blinded by a naïve technooptimism. Instead, she argues, the principles of decentralisation should be applied to areas such as climate change, preservation of cultures and cross-border disputes where centralised organisations are failing, where collective intelligence is needed and where everyone’s interest is at stake and therefore everyone should have a say.

How DAOs Can Revive Local Communities

– In our third prize winning essay, Rhian Lewis explores how decentralised technology can not only help global tech organisations, but also support the growth of local initiatives, such as community-owned pubs, shops and cafés. In this way, Lewis argues that decentralised digital organisations can craft a future where individuals can decide the shape of their own communities and build the lives they want, centred around vibrant high streets where everyone feels a sense of ownership and pride.

The Web of Commons: Rethinking the Status Quo from the Data Up

– In this essay, Karissa McKelvey draws parallels between the historical enclosures of common land and the gatekeeping of current knowledge commons, such as scientific papers. She then draws on Elinor Ostrom’s seminal work to describe a framework for what a fairer, more secure and more private web might look like and argues why blockchain is not the right tool for this.

Cooperation Across Difference

– Jack Henderson also explores the tragedy of the commons. He argues that if we want sustainably egalitarian decentralised societies, then the rules and mechanisms that govern them are as important as the data structures that enable them. He then highlights how some of the ideas put forward by the RadicalxChange movement are being applied in this space.

How the Blockchain’s Internet of Transactions Can Ensure a New Contract with Nature

– Michel Bauwens takes a centuries-long historical view of systems of control and paradigm shifts in social models. He makes the case that we are currently undergoing another transitional phase of human history, from one stable system to another. He hypotheses about where we are heading, what changes we will make to get there and what technologies and tools we might need to achieve such ends.

The Illusion of Blockchain Democracy: One Coin Equals One Vote

– In this essay, Dionysis Zindros argues why the consensus mechanisms used by current blockchains unavoidably favour the wealthy and are thus not the answer to more democratic corporations and governments.

The Future Is a Safe And Dark Web: This is What It Will Look Like

– Joshua Tobkin asks how we can reconcile privacy preservation with the need to coordinate and exchange value with others, concluding that ‘selfsovereign’ distributed identity is the only way forward. He makes the case that over the next decade, increasing internet surveillance will drive us to encrypt everything and communicate online on a purely need-to-know basis. He discusses the role that blockchain will play in allowing us to coordinate and exchange value in such a world.

Taking the Power Back

Ziri Rideaux and Brendan Miller offer a vision in which decentralised autonomous organisations (DAOs) replace both corporations and governments as the preferred type of human organisation. Like Bauwens, they see moderm representative democracy and nation states as being incapable of solving various problems, which instead require global collective action, and envisage what a global direct democracy platform might look like. Taking the Power Back

Earth 2030

Primavera De Filippi and Tony Lai take a different tack, exploring a fictional post-COVID future through the eyes of Leia, whose community embraced decentralised technology following the crisis, as she talks to others from different communities which followed different paths."