Ruli Pennington - Talking Local Government podcast producer @CLGdotPOD executive producer @CLGdotTV. Passionate about better public services, devolution, chess, malt whisky, women's football.@UnruliP
George Rhodes of KPSN and Kent Connects & Jane Hancer of CC2i talk to Joe Tibbetts about blockchain in local public services
Once upon a time all the transactions that run our lives were recorded in enormous books, ledgers, by people who made written notes of the transactions so that when needed it was possible to find a record of what we had done and what we had agreed to do.
Now, more and more, our lives are run via digital transactions. Not just the sort of digital transaction where we buy stuff on-line but transactions between us and our doctor, between us and our lawyer or accountant, the tax office, our insurers, our council, our government, our bank, our rubbish collector, and all those who enforce regulations like traffic wardens and the police and the other blue light services and our social networks, and even our family, for what else are wills and birth certificates and deeds of house ownership if not recorded transactions and these transactions are increasingly taking place in the digital space.
So now we have digital ledgers to record these digital transactions. Our bank keeps a digital ledger, our doctor keeps another, the people who sell us things keep digital ledgers of what we buy and how often, and so on over the horizon and into the future.
This is fine except for one thing the digital space is not secure and neither are the digital ledgers in which the digital transactions which make up our lives are recorded. We need secure digital platforms and we need them now.
In blockchain data and transactions are saved in a block. Every few minutes, all the recent transactions are noted, date and time stamped and stored in another block that is linked to the preceding block. This creates a chain. If you want to change or fiddle about with one piece of it you have to rewrite the entire history of that chain back to the dawn of time. This is difficult if not impossible.
Furthermore blockchain is held in a distributed ledger. Instead of one organisation or one individual holding and owning the data and the record of the transactions the blockchain is held by all who have access to it, it is literally everywhere and nowhere so there is no single database to hack, no one can control it, own it or profit by selling it or manipulating it. It lives out there in the network not on the servers of a single, powerful, institution. And we all can download it and run it on our own computer.
Now big organisations, including but not limited to banks and governments and bureaucracies, are building blockchains, revolutionising the ways that data, information and transactions are stored and operated. The result is faster, cheaper, more secure, transactions without centralised systems that can be attacked and fail.
A blockchain can be either public (for example in the case of a consultation gathering opinions) or private (for example in a procurement blockchain where only the members of the procurement process have access). And where access is restricted there can also be different levels of permissioned access for different types of users. Anyone with the right access keys can view it at any time and know that these are authenticated, trusted, transactions - between one and one or one and many or many and many - facilitated by mass collaboration and driven by the will and the interests of the group (society) not by businesses that are motivated by profit and bent upon increasing their reach and their control.
The internet of things and the smart cities built on that IoT will soon be sharing our data and our transactions, all to our advantage, protecting the environment and our health and making our lives better in a myriad ways big and small. Smart cities need the data from citizens and citizens need to trust the mechanisms that use their data and records their transactions.
Blockchain will profoundly affect the lives of all people. Consumers who want to know what they are eating, sole trader businesses reaching out to their local markets, those who want to be free of banks and banking, refugees who want to return home and claim the property or land they owned when they were forced to flee many years before, those who want to hold their political leaders to account. Someone on social media who wants to stay on social media without risking abuse or exploitation.
It is possible that soon our calendars will be divided into two epochs. BB and AB. Before Blockchain and After Blockchain. It’s that fundamental, that important, that significant
Joe Tibbetts May 2018
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