Many blockchain enthusiasts are convinced the technology will revolutionize government. Although it was invented 10 years ago, government adoption of blockchain is still nascent. A few brave government agency leaders see the potential of the technology, and are experimenting with ways to use blockchain to make government services more effective.
Blockchain is best known as a means for trading cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. More than a fancy database, blockchain is a secure digital technology for storing and exchanging information in a way that’s almost impossible to fake. (It’s way more complicated than that, and the definition is not standardized. Learn more in this useful blockchain explainer.)
The public sector has blockchain on the brain. Last year, National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) called blockchain “one of the next big transformational technologies.” In a survey, the GovLoop community predicted blockchain will be one of the five most prominent emerging technologies at agencies in 2018.
Who are the trailblazers in the U.S. looking to leverage blockchain to transform the public sector?
West Virginia turned into a trend-setter when it became the first state to offer blockchain-backed online voting in a federal election. During the May 2018 primary election, a few dozen currently deployed military members, spouses, and their dependents cast their ballots through a mobile app that uses blockchain and biometric identification.
The Office of the Secretary of State of West Virginia hopes blockchain will improve voting accessibility, enhance confidence in the local electoral system, and keep absentee ballots anonymous. The state is conducting an audit of the pilot before deciding whether to roll it out statewide for the November 2018 election. The pilot has its critics, as does the entire idea of using blockchain for elections. Even so, given the threat of election manipulation, many are hopeful blockchain can improve election security.
Berkeley, California is fast advancing a plan to use blockchain to let people buy cryptocurrency to fund municipal bonds that will raise funds for the city. As Next City explained, “The money raised will pay for things such as affordable housing, homeless shelters, ambulances, street trees, even a community theater.”
Some city leaders envision these blockchain-based “microbonds” as a way to help Berkeley issue smaller denomination bonds at a lower cost, and with improved security and transparency.
The tech sector has taken hold in Austin, Texas, and with it a lack of affordable housing and an increasing number of people who experience homelessness. TechCrunch reported the city is piloting a blockchain platform to “improve the ability of its patchwork of government and private homeless service providers to offer integrated and comprehensive aid.”
Called the MyPass Initiative, the goal is to give people experiencing homelessness a way to securely store their personal identification and records, and then choose to share their information with providers who can help them access services.
U.S. General Services Administration
The U.S. General Services Administration experimented with blockchain to speed up federal procurement contract review and make it easier for vendors to establish contracts. As FCW explained, the proof of concept addressed two steps in the procurement process: “the review of vendor-submitted financial statements, used to determine the vendor’s financial solidity, and the preparation of a negotiation letter that outlines issues over which GSA wished to negotiate before accepting the vendor on schedule.”
By combining a distributed ledger, a redesigned user interface, and automation, GSA reduced the time it takes to award contracts in federal procurement from 100 days to less than 10 days.
South Burlington, Vermont
South Burlington, Vermont is in the midst of a trial run of blockchain to record real estate sales. The pilot is testing whether blockchain can make property title transfers secure, which could reduce the need for title insurance.
Working in partnership with a private real estate technology company, the city is recording a small set of all-cash property sales in a blockchain database, with the city clerk also entering the same transactions into city records in the traditional way. In February 2018, South Burlington completed what might be the first fully blockchain-based real estate transaction in the U.S.
The state of Illinois is bullish on blockchain. In 2016, it announced the Illinois Blockchain Initiative, a consortium of state and county agencies exploring the use of blockchain for government. Less than two years later, the state released its first official report about the technology’s “potential to transform the delivery of public and private services, redefine the relationship between government and the citizen in terms of data sharing, transparency and trust, and make a leading contribution to the state’s digital transformation.”
Summarizing the findings, StateTech explained the report points out three key advantages of blockchain for state governments: transaction reconciliation, immutability and data integrity, and improved transaction security and resilience.
Is your agency experimenting with blockchain? Tell us about your initiative in a comment.
Lauren Girardin is a marketing and communications consultant, freelance writer, and trainer based in San Francisco. She helps organizations engage their communities and tell their stories. Her website is laurengirardin.com and you can connect with her on Twitter at @girardinl.