In a major 88 page tome on Blockchain and distributed ledgers published today, the UK Government's Chief Scientist, Sir Mark Walport, sets out how this technology could transform the delivery of public services and boost productivity.
The UK report states that Blockchain technology could provide government with new tools to reduce fraud, error and the cost of paper intensive processes and it also has the potential to provide new ways of assuring ownership and provenance for goods and intellectual property.
From the report:
The first role for government in supporting the development of distributed ledgers is to develop a clear vision of how this technology can improve the way government does its business and is able to deliver services to citizens. This needs to be followed by government acting as an expert customer to implement the technology — procuring distributed ledger solutions where they are applicable. In doing so, government can support and influence the development of economic activity in this sector, including new and growing businesses as well as larger incumbent businesses.
The opportunity is for government to enable a future where the delivery of government services is more personal, immediate and efficient. Wherever appropriate, citizens should have the opportunity to signal their individual preferences and needs through participation in smart contracts. The implementation of distributed ledgers with embedded smart contracts should lead to substantial improvements in compliance, cost-efficiency and accountability. The UK Government Digital Service is developing a digital platform for government to deliver its services and distributed ledgers could be at the heart of this.
The report recommends that the government should provide ministerial leadership to ensure that government provides the vision, leadership and the platform for distributed ledger technology within government. Specifically, the Government Data Service should lead work in government as a user of distributed ledgers and the DCMS Digital Economy Unit should lead work on government as an enabler of distributed ledgers (working with the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills and with Innovate UK).
They also state that the Government Digital Service and the DCMS Digital Economy Unit should develop a high-level capability road map and a supporting outline plan based on the work of this report and very early stage activity already underway in departments, and deliver this in a timely fashion; and continue to oversee the recommendations made in the rest of this report, to maintain momentum and rapid action. In undertaking this work, they should work closely with other government departments and with industry and academia and should consider setting up a time-limited expert advisory group in support.
Other recommendations from the report include that the UK research community should invest in the research required to ensure that distributed ledgers are scalable, secure and provide proof of correctness of their contents and they need to provide high-performance, lowlatency operations, appropriate to the domain within which the technology is being deployed as well as need to be energy efficient.
The newly-created Alan Turing Institute, working with groupings such as the Whitechapel Think Tank, could play an important role in co-ordinating and ‘self-organising’ the public and private research and development sector interested in this and related technologies. The private sector should consider investing in the Alan Turing Institute to support the pre-competitive research that will ultimately facilitate new commercial applications that are robust and secure. This includes work on obvious areas such as cryptography and cybersecurity but also extends to the development of new types of algorithm.
The report also recommends that the movernment could support the creation of distributed ledger demonstrators for local government that will bring together all the elements necessary to test the technology and its application. A demonstrator at a city level could provide important opportunities for trialling and implementing distributed ledger technologies. Innovate UK could use its work with cities in the development of ‘city deals’ to implement the development of a city demonstrator.
The expert group that supported the development of this report has scoped some specific examples of potential uses by the UK government, and these are set out in five use case studies in the report in detail.
- protecting critical infrastructure against cyberattacks
- reducing operational costs and tracking eligibility for welfare support, while
offering greater financial inclusion
- transparency and traceability of how aid money is spent
- creating opportunities for economic growth, bolstering SMEs and increasing
- reducing tax fraud
The report also includes a lengthy look at Estonia who is already moving quickly to adopt distributed ledgers — and the case study of Estonia shows how quickly a small country with an effective digitally-aware leadership can progress and considers the features of advancing digital nations and argue that the hallmarks of these include:
- A digitally-informed leadership
- An empowered focused government department for all national digital
transformation, which is internationally minded and collaborates closely with
all industry sectors
- A living, collaborative national plan, which is industry-led with government
- Technologically aware, qualified and experienced senior political officials in
every government organisation
- Engineers and digital business leaders as politicians
Sir Mark Walport said:
Distributed ledger technology has the potential to transform the delivery of public and private services. It has the potential to redefine the relationship between government and the citizen in terms of data sharing, transparency and trust and make a leading contribution to the government’s digital transformation plan.
Any new technology creates challenges, but with the right mix of leadership, collaboration and sound governance, distributed ledgers could yield significant benefits for the UK.
The report makes a number of recommendations which focus on ministerial leadership, research, standards and the need for proof of concept trials.
- government should provide ministerial leadership to ensure that it provides the vision, leadership and the platform for distributed ledger technology within government; this group should consider governance, privacy, security and standards
- government should establish trials of distributed ledgers in order to assess the technology’s usability within the public sector
- government could support the creation of distributed ledger demonstrators for local government that will bring together all the elements necessary to test the technology and its application.
- the UK research community should invest in the research required to ensure that distributed ledgers are scalable, secure and provide proof of correctness of their contents
Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy, Ed Vaizey, said:
Government wants to make sure the UK is at the forefront of using emerging technology to improve public services. The UK is well-placed to realise the full potential of this technology, and Sir Mark’s report clearly sets out how we can use these new tools to transform and streamline their delivery.
Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, Matt Hancock, said:
Sir Mark’s report provides a clear set of recommendations and I am delighted we are leading the way.
Digital transformation is central to our reform of the public sector, helping deliver better services at a much lower cost and improving the relationship between the citizen and the state. With our world-class digital capability and strong research community, the UK is well placed to reap the potential benefits of distributed ledger technology.
Read the 88 page report in full here.