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Introducing CRADL: The Crypto Research and Design Lab

By Tricia Wang, Sheila Warren, Lauren Serota

Crypto Research and Design Lab Logo

Key Points

  • We’re announcing the Crypto Research and Design Lab (CRADL). The lab was founded to investigate the true power and promise of blockchain — for people. We create evidence-based thought leadership that accelerates the crypto industry toward its goal of creating a more equitable, inclusive society.
  • CRADL’s research agenda sits at the intersection of three functions — design, crypto, and social impact — that often operate in silos.
  • Design is our unique value proposition. We turn research into compelling content and experiences that inspire action, in response to our driving question: how can crypto address seemingly intractable problems in the existing financial stack?

1.7 billion people. When crypto industry leaders want to highlight the inclusive potential of the alternative financial system they’re building, the number 1.7 billion inevitably comes up. That’s the number of people currently being financially excluded from the traditional banking system, in theory, at least. One of the many promises of crypto is a future where those 1.7 billion underserved, overlooked global citizens finally get the robust financial support they need but have long been denied. There’s no doubt that crypto has the potential to transform banking and finance as we know it. But that impressive statistic needs to be put into context.

The 1.7 billion figure is drawn from a World Bank Global Findex report from 2017, which immediately poses the question of whether it’s recent enough to be reliable. More fundamentally, the statistic tells us nothing about the circumstances and diversity of the world’s unbanked. Where they live, what they do, and what financial challenges they face vary widely; so do their reasons for not using banks, to the extent that they have a choice. They live in a broad variety of communities. And critically, the extent to which crypto might empower them, relative to financial systems that have traditionally excluded and disempowered them, is far from uniform.

Last year, Christine Moy (then at JP Morgan) and Jill Gunter of Slow Ventures and the Open Money Initiative wrote a piece encouraging traditional finance to join the crypto industry in making financial inclusion a reality. The prospect of a more open, inclusive banking system is thrilling for us, just as it is for these two experts, but we’re also painfully aware that crypto isn’t reaching or serving many of the people who could most benefit from it.

We’re painfully aware that crypto isn’t reaching or serving many of the people who could most benefit from it.

This disconnect between the needs of people and the potential of crypto is precisely why the Crypto Research and Design Lab (CRADL) was founded. Our vision is to put people at the center of crypto.

This starts with asking big questions about how and for whom the system works and doesn’t. It continues with deep research on those human needs that crypto can address and the design of actionable interventions such as interactive content and event programming. We do all this in a way that’s centered on humans, anchored in community, informed by trauma, and grounded in racial and class equity.

Pattern created from the CRADL logo

Looking back before leaping forward

Now is the time to dive into this research. We’re at a liminal point in tech development, standing on the brink of Web 3.0. Looking back, it’s clear that the transition from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 was ideological, with no shared public conversation and analysis of the new changes brought by the second phase.

By barrelling ahead into Web 2.0, we developed mechanisms for data usage and surveillance that have stripped people of their autonomy, leaving us with a web that’s useful but not satisfactory. We know something is off, even if we can’t articulate it. Web 3.0 offers a different vision for a more inclusive web, and we have a duty to articulate more thoughtful, equitable ways of building it, before we knowingly or inadvertently make path-defining decisions.

CRADL is doing exactly that. We investigate the true power and promise of blockchain by creating evidence-based thought leadership that accelerates the crypto industry toward its goal of a more equitable, inclusive society. Our findings illuminate pathways for courageous founders, investors, policymakers, and product teams, to shift the crypto industry from tech-centered to people-centered.

How can crypto address seemingly intractable problems in the existing financial stack?

Despite consensus on crypto’s potential to democratize financial access, there’s been little systematic research on how crypto-based financial services and products could benefit communities, particularly those that have been systematically excluded.

CRADL exists to conduct, analyze, and share that critical research. To answer these pressing questions, we need to understand how people use crypto to create economic value, and who is already doing it. We need to distinguish between areas where crypto complements existing systems, and when it’s superior. And we need to learn what must change in order for crypto to be adopted at scale.

We’re investigating three topic areas:

  1. What are people’s actual needs and challenges? We focus specifically on people’s current lived realities around finances, whether they use fiat currency or not. This baseline will provide the crypto industry with the information to articulate who it is serving (for example, breaking down that 1.7 billion), and design for actual human needs.
    - What do financial inclusion and exclusion look like for individuals and communities?
    - What specific challenges do people face in existing financial systems?
    - What does it mean to be excluded from the traditional financial system (and why does it matter)?
    - What makes it hard to accumulate wealth?
    To answer these questions, we will conduct ethnographic studies with communities, both digitally and in the field.
  2. How is the crypto industry operating right now to address people’s needs? We look inward, focussing on the crypto industry’s perspectives, actions, and impact.
    - What’s working?
    - How is financial inclusion being framed?
    - How is the industry building products and services?
    - What makes a successful crypto UX heuristic?
    - What role do crypto investors and founders play?
    - How are crypto companies reflecting the diversity of the market within their companies?
  3. How do we close the gap between the crypto industry and peoples’ realities? This topic is two-fold. First, we assess the diverse ways in which people are experimenting with crypto.
    - What are the successful use cases?
    - What makes a use case successful or unsuccessful?
    - What new benefits are people seeing from crypto usage?
    The second part analyzes the gap between what’s working in current crypto cases and peoples’ actual financial needs. This is all about defining impact and scaling use cases through design interventions, including content, events, and tools.

Crypto is a global phenomenon, prolifically evolving on a daily basis. Focus is key to ensuring the best use of this inflection point. We’re starting our research in 2022 in the US for two reasons:

  • Little research has been done on the potential and current uses of crypto in the US.
  • The decisions of US-based policymakers still have a significant, far-reaching impact.

We remain committed to listening and tracking what’s happening in the rest of the world. We’re building a global network of research affiliates and advisors to ensure that we’re grounded in the speed of change outside of the US.

What makes CRADL different?

There is no shortage of research labs at universities and independent think tanks exploring the implications of cryptocurrency and Web3. Like many of them, we remain chain-agnostic and committed to sharing insights that drive better products. For insights to have an impact at scale, research needs to be shaped into content that can shift cultural behaviors and practice. This is why research at CRADL looks at the overlap of three functions — design, crypto, and social impact — that often operate in silos.

CRADL Approach: Venn diagram with overlapping circles representing Design, Crypto, and Social Impact. At the nexus of the three are our research lenses: People, policy, and processes

In the past, design has served as a force multiplier. The personal computing revolution took off when companies like Macintosh and IBM began offering appealing physical design paired with intuitive operating systems; before that, desktop PCs were reserved for workplaces and tech aficionados. Likewise, Internet access felt convoluted until Netscape and eventually AOL came along and made it accessible to the masses.

The world of crypto is rife with design challenges, not just at the UI level but at the conceptual level. CRADL anchors its work in design to successfully inform and inspire new products and policies. This is why ethnographic work that systematically documents people’s stories is so critical: all design should start with understanding. And for that understanding to be actionable, we need metrics, which is why we’re committed to integrating qualitative and quantitative data in our content.

How did CRADL come to be?

CRADL was initially co-founded in early 2021 by Sheila Warren and Tricia Wang, who brought their collective backgrounds in crypto, digital justice, and systems change to bear in tackling these challenges. As the team assembled, we brought in a founding partner in the latter half of 2021, Lauren Serota, who has a career in traditional finance, design, and emerging markets.

We operate independently, but work directly with the crypto industry so we can exchange ideas quickly and fluidly. CRADL is part of the World Economic Forum’s Crypto Impact and Sustainability Accelerator (CISA), which puts us in conversation with actors across the crypto ecosystem, including chains that are committed to impact. Founding funders of CISA (Ethereum Foundation, Celo, Algorand, Stellar, CoinDesk, a16z, Goldman Sachs, Ripple, Grayscale Capital, Chainanlysis, Ernst & Young) understand the need for a product- and platform-agnostic organization to assess what’s really working, and what’s really needed.

We believe that crypto evolving without delivering lasting social impact would be a massive mistake, with consequences felt for generations to come. Our team’s core values ensure that we elevate marginalized perspectives and drive for equitable outcomes in everything we do. We prioritize research on overlooked topics, and emphasize inclusivity in our analysis as justice and fairness are our foundation. As Web 3 unfolds, we want to hold decision-makers accountable for including and inviting everyone to participate.

The future of financial inclusion

Investment in “financial inclusion” in crypto has so far yielded few cases or significant numbers of users. Traditional financial efforts aim to get more people into a system that was exclusive and racialized from the beginning, and hasn’t changed in a meaningful way in more than a century (proven by economist Thomas Philippon, a professor of finance at New York University). Banking does not eliminate the possibility of being exploited by predatory lenders, misled by institutions, marginalized by unfair policies, or punished due to systemic injustices of racism, classism, sexism, and genderism. Given the enduring power of intermediaries, the goal should not be to get more people banked, but to offer a better way to address financial needs for everyone, both in the banking system and outside of it.

Crypto allows for a shift in mindset, from caring about “inclusion” to focussing on financial health. In Web 3, being “banked” is not the end goal. Our focus is on presenting compelling reasons to use crypto to meet the needs of the 1.7 billion “unbanked,” in ways that banks currently do not.

We’ve seen incredible examples of crypto offering alternative pathways: in currency-unstable countries such as Argentina, in warzone crisis environments such as Ukraine and Myanmar, and in diaspora communities around the world that need to send cross-border payments. We see emerging, sustainable income-generation opportunities for communities and creators. But more must be done. “Financial inclusion” and “social impact” are foundational concepts in the crypto space, and for policymakers attempting to regulate it. CRADL exists to support and amplify all efforts through design interventions, tools, and content that will truly democratize access to finance.

We’re here to accelerate this change, and ensure it’s a change that serves people:

All people. Everywhere.

If you’d like to learn more, look at some of our first reports, consider joining our community or look at our hiring page.




The Crypto Research and Design Lab (CRADL)‘s vision is to put people at the center of crypto. Its mission is to use evidence-based thought leadership to accelerate the crypto industry toward its goal of creating a more equitable, inclusive society.

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Crypto Research and Design Lab

Crypto Research and Design Lab

Putting people at the center of crypto.

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