Politicians – and lots of other people, but mainly politicians – are continually trying to duck and dive around what they have committed to and what they have achieved. The media, as well as activist groups and regular citizens, spend countless hours trying to hold politicians to account.
There has never been a better situation where there are multiple distrusting parties all need to agree to a single source of information. And that is blockchain technology’s superpower.
With a public blockchain, anyone can check the record. Details as to commitments would be available. And verifiable results can be recorded, verified and shared with the public. As a bonus, both commitments and results could be signed by an individual to prove their authenticity.
The data stored on the blockchain could be either short statements or commitments – or they could be references to longer documents. For longer texts, you could record a digital signature of the material itself to prove that it had not been tampered with or amended.
Because the blockchain would be public, there would be multiple copies of the data on the blockchain and writing new information onto the blockchain would be decentralised. Each political party, media outlet, an activist group and even members of the public could run their own node and participate in the consensus process before committing information to the blockchain.
Once the records are on the blockchain, who decides if the results have been delivered? In blockchain technology, there is the concept of an “oracle service”. There could be multiple oracle services created to validate events in the real world.
There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.
Today there are oracle services that check the time, check how much rain was received overnight, the arrival time of a train or a flight – and even the number of daily active users for a newly launched mobile app. Oracle services work by having multiple sensors (like digital rain gauges), various information sources (like numerous stock price services). Numerous people (business analysts) all come together with their data, and they will then reach a consensus to answer a yes or no question. Did it rain more than 5cm in London last night? Did 1519 from Peterborough to York arrive on time? Did the Skylark iOS app have more than 10K daily active users in June 2020?
And yes, there could be oracle services that confirm if political commitments were achieved. Did the government make 100,000 COVID-19 tests/day in April?
The quote attributed to Mark Twain says, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” The issue is nearly always in the “context” of reporting. Statistics are remarkably good at specifying the exact context (no matter how obtuse or absurd) in which the data has been reported and thus supporting the desired outcome.
Statements or outcomes need not just headlines, but they also need a fixed context for measurement. Nothing makes a politician more uncomfortable than being asked to be specific and removing future ability to wiggle. I think their communications teams may become obsolete if there is no chance or need for spin.
Either it did, or it didn’t rain more than 5cm in London. We don’t have to deal with the 5cm might be measured if it was at 0C. We don’t have to think about how you define the city of London. We don’t even have to establish whether we are talking about raining water or cats and dogs. The criteria are specific, and the oracles are approved – and the consensus of the oracles is binding.
How can actions be tied to outcomes?
Smart contracts in blockchain can connect to data stored on the blockchain and also to oracle services and then take actions. People often refer to digital currencies as being “programmable money”. Smart contracts eliminate the need for intermediaries. Automated code eliminates the risk of discretion or influence. Programmatic decision making means there are no longer delays for “discussion” or “because Jonathan is on holiday this week.”
What is the incentive for politicians to actually put their statements and commitments onto an immutable public ledger?
Smart contracts could release funds to communities. They could release statements of endorsement upon successfully attaining a goal or delivering on a promise. Smart contracts could equally activate if a goal was not achieved within a specified time.
Now comes the hard part. What is the incentive for politicians to actually put their statements and commitments onto an immutable public ledger? And what is the motivation to be clear and specific and measurable as to outcomes? What is the point of making these promises publicly available and progress verifiable? The answer is clear:
Blockchain technology doesn’t bring trust. Blockchain technology provides the basis for proving that information hasn’t been changed and hasn’t been influenced by external parties. It provides an immutable record of precisely what was committed and how it was (or was not) achieved. And from this, people can begin to restore their sense of trust.
And it isn’t just trusting in their leaders; it is also trusting in media. Reports of commitments and results will have a specific context, and this will substantially reduce the opportunity for spin.
It will only take a few politicians who are willing to agree to have their commitments written into the blockchain. Then it will become a standard to which everyone else must either agree, or they must answer the question: And why won’t you add your commitment to the blockchain? Is the commitment not genuine? Are you unsure that you can deliver? Do you not wish to be held accountable?
A blockchain ledger can hold a permanent and immutable record of data for all to see. A blockchain network can ensure that there is no opportunity to data corruption or loss of integrity of the data. A blockchain protocol can ensure that all of the participants reach consensus reasonably and efficiently.
Blockchain can hold the political data, but it is up to the public to hold the politicians to account.
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Troy Norcross, Co-Founder Blockchain Rookies