The Decentralised Future Prize

www.nesta.org.uk/blog/decentralised-future-prize/
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The Decentralised Future Prize

The corporate structure, as we know it, took off in the early 1900’s, when bringing people together to communicate was expensive and inefficient. This structure centralised creativity and decision making into the hands of a few key leaders or managers. Now, more than one hundred years since this structure began to dominate, technology (particularly the internet and now blockchain) allows people to communicate, self-organise and collaborate much more easily. Consequently, the traditional hierarchical structure may no longer be the most effective way of organising work.

The launch of Bitcoin in 2009 showed how blockchain technology could be used to build a completely decentralised cash system. A decade on, similar technology has been applied to build a wide range of decentralised networks (e.g Ethereum, Dfinity, Polkadot), operating systems (e.g. Colony, Aragon, DAOstack) and applications that run on these networks.

What will the next decade of decentralisation bring? Increasingly, innovators are looking beyond cryptocurrencies to explore how blockchain and other forms of tokenisation can help us digitise corporate governance and accountability, build trust frameworks, incentivise collaboration and reach consensus decisions. Thus allow us to work together in more democratic, equitable and transparent ways. This includes both organisations building dencentralisation into pre-existing processes (e.g platform cooperative Resonate), alongside more radical Decentralised Autonomous Organisations (DAOs) — essentially, leaderless organisations governed by rules encoded as a computer program on a blockchain (e.g. MakerDAO, DigixDAO, TheDAO). These new decentralised digital organisations are radically changing the way people think about what an organisation is, how it can be structured and how it incentivises its workers to collab– potentially for the better.

Despite the possible benefits, the public image of blockchain and other decentralised technology remains tainted by the large number of scam Initial Coin Offerings of 2017. Similarly, many policymakers are still focused on the negative aspects, such as the risk of money laundering, rather than the potential positive impact of decentralisation — including greater resilience, increased transparency and democracy, reduced transaction costs, and vastly more new opportunities for value creation.

That’s why Nesta is launching an open call for essays which explore how the next decade of decentralisation could change the way we work together towards shared goals, how we structure organisations, and the societal impacts of these changes. We want these essays to inform policymakers and the public about the potential of these new technologies and inspire a new wave of innovators to experiment with different organisational structures for social good.

To enter, you’ll need to send us a short written pitch for your essay (500 words max) by Sunday 26th January.

A Nesta jury will shortlist up to 10 finalists, who will be invited to turn their short pitches into full essays (1,600 - 2,000 words). The writer of the best essay will secure a £3,000 prize; second place will receive £2,000; third place will receive £1,000. All other articles that we chose to publish will receive £500. Essays will be published online by Nesta and promoted in the media.

What are we looking for in an essay?

Virtually every week, someone proposes a new use-case for blockchain or a new governance mechanism for decentralised organisations. Part of the motivation for running this essay competition is to understand which of these new ideas have legs and which don’t. But we also want to know the big questions which we should be thinking about.

For this reason, the essay topic we have set is relatively broad. We will welcome any essay which explores if and how over either the next 0-5 years or the next 5-10 years decentralised organisations, enabled by blockchain, tokenisation or other digital solutions, could change the way we work together towards shared goals; how we structure organisations; and the societal impacts of these changes. We are asking for essays exploring either the next 0-5 years or the next 5-10 years because we are interested in publishing essays about both the near and the slightly more distant future.

For the open call we are not looking for white papers or technical papers we are looking for engaging essays that will be compelling and accessible to members of the public and policymakers with an interest in technology and the role it plays in shaping society. Essays can describe current applications, organisations or ideas but should do so in a way that focuses on the broader impact they could have in the future.

We are not only looking for essays that talk about the advantages of decentralised digital organisations and how they will change the world for the better, but are also interested in writing that discusses their challenges, why they won’t take off in certain sectors or even how they could make our lives worse.

As an example, essays could address one or more of the following questions, though they should not restrict themselves to these suggestions:

  • Will decentralised digital organisations become mainstream. If so, why and in what sectors? If not, why not?
  • How will decentralised digital organisations change the way we think about work and traditional organisational structures?
  • What mechanisms will they use to incentivise collaboration and reach consensus decisions?
  • What other broader societal effects, both positive and negative, will decentralised digital organisations have (e.g. on equality, innovation, privacy, productivity, law and democracy)?
  • How will borderless / leaderless organisations be reconciled with current legal and tax processes?
  • Will decentralised digital organisations be created that eliminate the need for human input entirely. If so, what will these organisations do and how?
  • What challenges will decentralised digital organisations create, will they be overcome, and how?
  • How will decentralised digital organisations make use of and work alongside other technological advances, e.g. in AI, autonomous vehicles or quantum computing.
  • How will governments work with decentralised digital organisations. Will they embrace them or try to suppress them?
  • How will DAOs interact as part of the so called ‘decentralised internet’?

Whichever questions you decide to explore, you should make sure that:

  • your idea should not be entirely speculative or abstract - research and evidence should be available to support your case;
  • you must be able to illustrate how your idea can be applied to ‘real world’ problems - even if this has yet to be done in practice;
  • this isn’t just about the scope for commercialisation or investment potential. Tell us about the social and public benefit;
  • finally, and most importantly, your pitch will need to be accessible and compelling to a general interest audience. Watch out for specialist jargon or an academic tone.

How will the open call work?

To enter, you’ll need to send a short written pitch for your essay (500 words max) to [email protected] by Sunday 26th January. In addition to the pitch please send us a CV or short bio and tell us how you’ve developed your knowledge of the topic in less than 150 words. We may ask for additional information about you or your pitch before selecting the finalists.

The writers of the most persuasive pitches will then be asked to turn them into essays of up to 1,500 - 2,500 words suitable for a general audience by Sunday 15th March. A specialist editor will work with you to ensure that your piece is suitable for publication, so please be prepared to undertake at least one round of revision.

Final essays will be judged by a panel of internal and external experts; the writer of the best essay will secure a £3,000 prize; second place will receive £2,000; third place will receive £1,000. All other articles that we chose to publish will receive £500. Essays will be published online by Nesta.

Who can enter?

Anyone over 18, anywhere in the world can enter - but you do need to convince us that you are knowledgeable about your proposed topic.*

We would encourage researchers and university students, bloggers, tech writers or anyone else with an interest in blockchain, decentralisation, and organisational forms to enter.

Timetable

Sunday 26th January - Deadline for receipt of pitches

Friday 14th February - Finalists confirmed

Sunday 15th March - Deadline for receipt of first drafts

Monday 23rd March- Feedback provided by editors

Sunday 12th April - Deadline for receipt of final essays

Terms and Conditions

By sending us your pitch, you are agreeing to our terms and conditions and confirm you have read and understood our privacy policy.

*Nesta staff are not eligible to enter.

Special thanks to the panel of advisors supporting this call: Chris Haley, Alice Casey and Katja Bego from Nesta, Lawrence Lundy-Bryan from Outlier Ventures and Rob van Kranenburg from The Internet Of Things Council.

Author

Jonathan Bone

Jonathan Bone

Jonathan Bone

Senior Researcher, New Technology and Startups

Jonathan is a senior researcher in the New Technology and Startups team.

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Christopher Haley

Christopher Haley

Christopher Haley

Head of New Technology & Startup Research

Chris leads Nesta's research interests into how startups and new technologies can drive economic growth, and what this means for businesses, intermediaries and for the government.

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