Can Blockchain Facilitate the Governance of Commons-oriented Communities?

A conversation with Berkman Klein Center Faculty Associate Samer Hassan

photo from pixabay

Hassan is an activist and researcher, Faculty Associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society (Harvard University), and Associate Professor at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid (Spain). He is focused on decentralized collaboration, which he explores through his research project, P2P Models, to build Blockchain-powered organizations.

Hassan has an academic background in computer science as well as political science. However, it was Hassan’s activism, that got him to where he is today. He wondered if he could combine his academic interests with his activism and did so by garnering experience by working in multiple communities and grassroots initiatives such as SwellRT and Jetpad.

Hassan thinks of the blockchain within the context of how do we use it to manage trust in large, decentralized communities. The videos below were taken from Hassan’s talk at digital HKS. In the first video, Hassan gives his explanation of what the blockchain is. The second video highlights the narratives around the blockchain and how Hassan’s team uses the “commons approach” when discussing the blockchain. The third video explains the six features of the blockchain, as defined by Hassan and his team.

A Brief Description of the Blockchain

What sets the blockchain apart from centralized servers

Hassan offers an explanation of the blockchain. He explains that the platforms we interact with all rely upon one central server that contains all the data and instructions for that platform. Hassan talks through how blockchain relies on smart contracts in a distributed network.

“Everyone connects to this central place [the server] where everything happens. Blockchain replaces that server. The storage is distributed and the computation happens distributed.”

Blockchain Narratives and the “Commons Approach”

How are we thinking about the blockchain and why the Commons

In this video, Hassan explains that while the blockchain is a useful tool it will not solve all the problems.Hassan and his team want to go beyond the hyped narratives surrounding blockchain and use a “commons approach” to the blockchain. He explains Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom’s 8 Principles for Managing A Commons and explores how blockchain relates to each of the principles.

Six Features of the Blockchain

Hassan describes the six features the blockchain provides

This video shares the six features the blockchain provides and how each one operates. These six include the following features:


2. Self-enforcement & Formalization

3. Autonomous Automatization

4. Decentralization of Power over Infrastructure

5. Transparentization

6. Codification of Trust

Asking the Right Questions

While Hassan does recognize that this approach will not solve all the problems of community governance, it offers a lens to look at how we can use the blockchain and the different features it offers to facilitate governance of commons-oriented communities.

In wrapping up the talk, digital HKS faculty director David Eaves said, “The thought experiment of this is very powerful and it’s a very important question to ask: Do these capabilities [of the blockchain] match the capabilities we need it to have?”

Learn More About Samer and the Blockchain