Nena Dokuzov works for the Slovenian government and is involved in several international blockchain projects. Here she shares some of her thoughts about the possibilities for blockchain in government, and about the uniquely effective approach of the Slovenian government in facilitating innovation.
What is your current role?
I am head of the ‘New Economy and Blockchain’ project group which was established by the Slovenian Ministry of Economic & Technical development. We are working on implementing blockchain based technologies and integrating them into technical and sociological solutions. I’m also a member of the ‘Blockchain Expert Policy Advisory Body’ (BEPAB), which was set up by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), on their Blockchain Expert Advisory Body. We have prepared a white paper on blockchain use cases that can support the OECD’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Slovenia is one of the countries in Europe that is on the forefront of work to adopt blockchain. Can you tell us a little bit about how that happened?
Yes! It started in 2017. This was when the hype surrounding blockchain was at its highest. In June 2017 we organised a huge meet-up with representatives of companies, academia, civil society and government.
A few months later we did a follow-up event, but this time also included members of the international community. We had been working on a Slovenian declaration on blockchain, which was adopted then. This happened about the time when the European Commission established the Blockchain Observatory and Forum. Then in 2018 I became a member of the European Blockchain Partnership, which is a collaboration between member states and the European Commission.
We adopted a national blockchain action plan. This was a strategy with some very concrete goals. First, we would identify relevant areas to be covered by blockchain technologies and do research on where these applications could be useful. Secondly, we tried to identify if legislation should be changed in order to allow the adoption of these technologies, and if so, in what way should the laws be updated. Thirdly we tried to define the different roles of specific stakeholders: government, companies, NGO’s, etc.
Then we had a call for projects, funded by €73 million from the Slovenian government. Most of these projects involved new technologies like Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things, and a lot of the projects focussed on smart cities and smart factories. About 60% of these projects expected to use blockchain. Another important technology that is related to blockchain is Artificial Intelligence – it turns out it can be very useful to combine AI with blockchain. And then in 2019 Slovenia launched SiChain – the world’s first national blockchain test infrastructure.
What made the Slovenian approach so successful?
I think what was special and effective about the Slovenian approach was the fact that it was really bottom-up. We organised a lot of meetings with stakeholders and asked them what ideas they had, but also what kind of support they needed, or what problems they faced. We really got to know the blockchain community, and this gave us a good sense of direction and what to do. We saw a lot of use cases that were very focused, in really niche markets. We saw a lot of solutions that were not possible before.
Because of this approach, Slovenia was selected as a role model by the United Nations: our strong cooperation between government and the private sector in the development of blockchain solutions is seen as an example for other countries.
Of course, these kinds of things depend on people, not just methods. People need to be personally engaged with these ideas. We were able to work with a very strong community of companies in Slovenia that were developing use cases for blockchain and developing projects, and we successfully connected that community with other more traditional companies.
What kind of use cases do you see right now for blockchain?
In Slovenia we see a lot of different (potential) use cases. A lot of things are happening around energy, especially the sharing of sustainable energy. And traceability of materials is a very important one too. Data and health are other domains with blockchain use cases.
What will Slovenia do next?
Currently we are working on new legislation to facilitate the use of blockchain solutions. But we’re not rushing this, since the European Commission is also working on recommendations in this area. The most important blockchain use case for us is digital identity. When we have a solid legal framework for using digital identity (in public services and in commercial transactions), we can more easily define how that framework should work and look at the specific workings of the law.
A second step is defining a regulatory sandbox. Not only for the technical sector, but for all relevant industries that want to explore this technology. We want to respect the existing regulations, but also make them suitable for new technologies such as blockchain. Another important thing for us is interoperability and standardization. Since of a lot of use cases can be applied on an international level, it will be very important to make sure the technology has the same standards. So I’m happy to see that a lot of international collaboration is being done in this area.