“The pace of change will never be slower than it is today.” It’s been over a year since Justin Trudeau spoke these words at Davos in 2019, and they continue to resonate with me to this day.

At that point, the rate of emerging technology adoption had quickened and blockchain innovation was accelerating. I found myself in a series of conversations weighing the need for speed and freedom from constraint against the protections of regulatory guardrails.

One person went so far as to suggest we sign a disclosure waiving our rights to the protection—and scrutiny—­of laws and regulation. The idea was, in order for blockchain innovation and the greater good to thrive, we had to play at our own risk. I could see where they were coming from: Anyone who’s worked with me knows that I, too, see the value of challenging orthodoxies, “considering the crazy” and creating wholly new approaches.

On the flipside, my corporate and government clients were at an inflection point, searching for solid ground as they pivoted from applied research and proofs of concept to contemplating the road to production. They needed to consider the performance, security, operational, quality and risk requirements that ensure new business solutions are appropriate for users and stakeholders. They also needed answers to key questions that every blockchain and multiparty system must ask:

  • Who will operate the platform?
  • How policies are maintained and enforced?
  • How are ongoing upgrades managed?
  • Who holds what liability and responsibilities... and, when something goes wrong, who fixes it?

The many layers of ecosystem transformation are a natural part of what consultants, advisors, systems integrators, platform providers, and others work through every day with clients. But blockchain platforms present unique challenges. There’s more flexibility in who operates the system and how. You need data privacy and data segregation to allow competitors to collaborate, and you have to ensure appropriate usage of that data. This is why we developed specific ways of building systems and transforming processes, to deliver responsible technology that accounts for the needs and requirements of all stakeholders involved.

Finding common ground

With unfettered innovation in one hand and unprecedented complexity in the other, I couldn’t help but wonder where the two meet.

To drive speed to adoption and scale, you must first establish credibility. Blockchain has the potential to not only cut costs and complexity but also to establish whole new ways of working, building a more inclusive digital world in its wake. The promise of how much good it can do is too important to be anything but focused and diligent about doing it right. To take the next step together, we need to agree on where we stand.

That’s why I immediately volunteered to help author the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Presidio Principles, which were released today. The Presidio Principles are a bill of rights, a guidepost that provides a foundation for us align the technology we’re building to the social values of the system we want to be a part of.

The four Presidio Principles are:

  1. Transparency & Accessibility – The right to information about the system
  2. Agency & Interoperability – The right for individuals to own and manage their data
  3. Privacy & Security – The right to data protection
  4. Accountability & Governance – The right for participants to understand available recourse

The very notion of responsible technology revolves around user rights, and the best way to develop it is by following core principles that are rooted in using systems safely and caring for user needs. If you start there, you’re certainly on the right track. Security by design, user needs by design and responsible implementation from the beginning are crucial.

This is the intent of Presidio Principles. These shared standards are the spiritual extension of our push for freely accessible open-source platforms and common technology. By providing a clearly articulated common reference language for user rights, they enable us to work together in a more open and collaborative environment, developing blockchain further, faster. After all, if we’re not using the same language and understanding from the start, we’ll never arrive at the right place.

Given the rapid pace of blockchain innovation, this couldn’t come soon enough. Now is the time to take a step back, think about what we’ve learned from our mistakes and define our future. We have real initiatives in production, with real risk and real needs; having a reference point for what’s driving them is critical, and we’re very proud to be a part of it.

Any individual or entity can sign the document to make their support part of the public record. The Blockchain Council is in the process of developing guidance documents and other tools to help signatories put the Presidio Principles into action. These resources will help a variety of stakeholders, whether they’re individuals wishing to start the conversation about user rights with employers, development teams performing a design sprint or compliance officers conducting an audit.

Accenture’s embrace of the Presidio Principles aligns with our longstanding commitment to responsible technology and, as such, is in the best interest of our clients and partners alongside the greater good. We live in an exciting time wherein we can configure our technology systems to reflect our varied social, political and civic goals. These principles, which were extensively vetted by WEF and publicly on GitHub, provide a shared north star to underpin our work and will no doubt help blockchain and multiparty systems continue to thrive.

David Treat

Lead – Technology Incubation Group

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