A Comparative Case Study of European Blockchain adoption… and the fear of missing out
Livia Norström and Juho Lindman – University of Gothenburg, Sweden
Public sector organizations lack ways to understand and experiment with technology that is not yet fully mature and which is surrounded by high levels of expectations and hype – like blockchain.
As a first step of bridging this knowledge gap, academics from the University of Gothenburg examined the early innovation activities with blockchain technology in local governments in Europe. Cases were selected from the European public sector and research was conducted by the Gothenburg Blockchain Lab as part of the BLING project – where academic institutions and public sector organizations collaborate to increase knowledge about public sector blockchains.
Researchers found that the ‘organising vision’ of local governments who were trying to innovate with blockchain-enabled solutions was made up of three things:
- how the organizations interpreted blockchain technology,
- how they legitimized its use in the public sector context, and
- how they mobilized resources to experiment and implement blockchain technology.
They explain the three processes in detail and explore how this overall vision is shaped by the hype of blockchain technology and the overblown expectations of its benefits.
Organizations’ interpretation of blockchain technology was mainly based based on secondary sources such as industry press and technology vendors, on private sector experience, and – especially – about Bitcoin. This knowledge helped organizations to try out blockchain in practice. This then led to tensions and contradictions when the technology – created for a private sector context and surrounded by high expectations – was applied in the public sector context. These tensions and contradictions created both technical and organisational learning opportunities for government organizations experimenting with blockchain.
Legitimating experimentation with a novel technology in an organization can be tricky. This was especially true in the case of blockchain in the public sector, when there were no best practices and established use cases to rely on.
To legitimize the use of blockchain, buzzwords such as “decentralization” and “revolution of public sector” were heavily used in the organisations the team studied. The media played an important role in spreading both these buzzwords and the organizations’ interest in innovating with this new technology. In some cases, the examination of blockchain-enabled solutions was legitimized by technologically driven arguments including the “fear of missing out” and for the need to be the “first to innovate”.
The mobilization process is about allocating resources and organizing activities to realize the technology’s benefits. Organisations they studied sought expert knowledge by turning to university students and technology consultants and by organizing hackathons where partners can meet and collaborate around blockchain technology. These activities are an important part of building a long-term innovation environment. They make organisations appear attractive
to both internal and external/regional actors, and also show a willingness to support local entrepreneurs and innovation ecosystems.
INTERPRETATION Understanding of blockchain was based on…
Information from technology vendors and press
Influences from private sector and especially Bitcoin with no empirical evidence from public sector cases
Learning by experimentation, discontinuities and tensions between conflicting blockchain affordances
LEGITIMIZATION Blockchain rationales were motivated by…
Attention in media
Technology driven arguments about “fear of missing out” and being the “first to innovate”
Individual managers innovation interests
Conceptualized business needs
MOBILIZATION Internal resources were allocated by…
Seeking expert knowledge in university students and technology consultants
Supporting local entrepreneurs to build a longer-term innovation environment
Advertising blockchain projects in media to get positive organizational and career impacts on proponents
A blockchain hype matrix
The table summarizes local public governments enactment of the hyped blockchain technology through interpretation, legitimization and mobilization:
Gothenburg’s findings show that the early hype around blockchains – including buzzwords and overblown expectations – played a central role in the early innovation activities which interpreted and legitimized blockchain technology, and when mobilizing local resources to work with the technology in these organizations.
Norstrom, L., Lindman, J., Lindquist, M., Karlsson, J.,
& Landsten, N. (2022). Turning Buzzword into Public Service: A Case Study of European Blockchain Projects.
In Americas Conference on Information Systems, Minneapolis, August 10-14, 2022.