Peer production and local governance through the Blockchain

Since the 90s local authorities in the UK charge council tax to all registered adult residents. It is a flat rate charge on domestic property divided into 8 bands from small to large properties. These funds are core to local government’s provision of services, from education to waste disposal. While access to open government data is enabling some transparency on the distribution of these funds and web based technologies facilitate scrutiny of financial commitments, current use of technology does not enable the leap to direct distribution of funds and collective governance. In this project we investigate a proposal to develop a new system based on blockchain technologies. Local Ledger is intended to enable direct participation in budget distribution, by creating a system of service bids and tenders that can be evaluated and awarded by citizens.

This radical new form of peer production and set of innovative governance tools themselves require careful scrutiny and collective evaluation while in design stages. Blockchain technologies have been widely discussed among scholars and practitioners, raising questions about direct and indirect forms of governance and how the Blockchain's embedded values play out when technologies based on it are deployed (see Reijers, O'Brolcháin & Haynes, 2016). Drawing on and moving beyond contemporary theoretical approaches, this project adds to the pool by developing a critical exploration of the ethics and social effects of this specific proposed technology. We undertake this exploration through speculative design methods combined with techniques from the 'Theatre of the Oppressed', using 'Applied improvisation' to 'imagine, critically reflect and engage in dialogue' (Rozendaal, 2016).

Speculative design is a set of methods to discover and interrogate the effects of a proposed technology through the construction of prototypes and their investigation through scenarios. Speculative design is particularly effective in its ability to explore the ethics of technologies, or reveal otherwise unforeseen social consequences. Theatre of the Oppressed is a set of methods developed by Augusto Boal during the 1960's in Brazil, influenced by the political theorist and educator Paolo Friere. These methods seek to engage all members of the public in the analysis of power and governance in society, regardless of participants' prior experiences of formal education or the political process. The methods are based on participatory, creative, performative activities (Macchia et al, 2016). Our project will document our use of the theatre of the oppressed techniques combined with a speculative design approach.

These methods seem appropriate to explore the Local Ledger technology, with their attention to power, ethics and accessibility, all of which mirror the core aspirations of the technology itself. In this sense we propose that this method of technological evalution and development is itself a form of peer production.