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Co-ordinator,  Facilitator
UTS: Innovation and Entrepreneurship
July til October 2016
Workshop Series

Blockchain for Social Good

You have probably heard of bitcoin - who hasn't? But what about the technology that powers it. Blockchain technology is fundamentally changing the way we think about currency, digital assets and identity, but how could it be used for social good?

In a series of 8 workshops for UTS: Innovation and Entreprenuership we explored how Blockchain works and how we could use it to build a better future.


In June 2016 Monique Potts from the Innovation and Entrepreneurship department of UTS (University of Technology Sydney) invited me to create an experimental workshop series that would explore the possibilities of using blockchain technology for social good.


This was before the bitcoin bubble had reached it's zenith and was a time where the people interested in blockchain were mainly developers and lawyers who saw that this was a technology that could disrupt their industry. At the time there were a few blockchain meet ups (mainly focused on ethereum) but they were developer focused. Monique saw the need for something that explored the possibilities of blockchain away from the fintech industry and so gave us the focus of - blockchain for social good. 


We got good interested in the workshop series, but we had a little problem - our participants were varied, and so was their knowledge of how blockchain technology worked, so the first thing we needed to do was to bring everyone up to speed.


The Blockchain Game


During the process of looking for guest speakers and experts, I came across Wei Wu Zhang. Wei Wu had written an article that I found very interesting where we used the analogy of Australian gambling game Two Up to explain how blockchain worked. I was intrigued. To me using analogies was going to be central in trying to help people understand such a complicated technology, but I wanted to talk to Wei Wu about how we could take it further - how did we design an experience that people could play that would help them understand blockchain?


The result was a game entitled - How to Build a Blockchain. 


The Great Forking Debate


Just before we started the workshops an Ethereum DAO account was hacked (well technically not hacked but a loop hole in the smart contract was exploited) and millions of dollars was 'stolen' - read more about the DAO attack here. This action had left the blockchain community in disarray as there appeared to be two ways to move forward a hard fork or a soft fork. Knowing that this was an important issues, and we had people on both sides in the workshops, I organised a presidential style debate.A panel of experts including Blockchain author Tim Lea, entrepreneur Emma Poposka and legal expert Dr Pip Ryan went to town discussing / arguing over which direction the ethereum chain should take. It was a fun and lively session.


Lawyers vs Developers


After we had covered the basics of blockchain it was time to explore how Smart Contracts work. Instead of just talking about it, Dr Pip Ryan an expert in blockchain from a legal point of view suggested that we create a smart contract both from the legal perspective and from the developer perspective. I roped in Nick Addison to help.

Together Pip and Nick came up with a scenario of a billboard that would charge advertisers based on how many cars drove past. While Pip wrote the legal contract for the parameters of how this would happen, Nick wrote the code. 


The Internet of Lots of Things


For another session, James Sangali and James Brown created a learning session where participants programmed sensors to simulate how the blockchain could run the Internet of Things.  Each group received an IoT device with a display and a temperature sensor. They could then edit a simple smart contract to perform some action based on the temperature, initially just simply shifting cryptocurrency into an account. If people then wanted to get creative they could do things like, have the payout dependent on two devices. They then finished by doing things in reverse and had teams make micropayments into each other’s IoT devices, simulating how movement of ethers can be used to trigger events in the real world.


The Projects


For the second half or ‘Project” section of the series, the group was again divided this time into two groups that were:


  • The Standards Group: This group helmed by Pip Ryan and Chris Yong from UTS started preparing a white paper outlining what standards should be imposed on the blockchain to present to standards Australia, and to the rest of the class and invited guests in the last session.

  • The Ideas Group: This group came up with ideas for projects in the social good arena that could be powered by blockchain technology. They then completed a very basic coding class with Sean Seefried to gain a better understanding of how developers would approach a project, and in the last session were invited to pitch their projects to the rest of the group and invited guests.


The Future


In the last session I asked two of the key contributors Dr Pip Ryan and Tim Lea to present us with their predictions for where blockchain would go, check out their amazing predictions in the image gallery below.  



Overall the workshop series was a blast. The participants were active and engaged. During the series there was a lot of interest from the industry participants and outside groups in working with UTS, especially as this is such a new area of technology. One of the key contributors pitched their blockchain platform to UTS student services, and many positive relationships were formed between industry and faculty staff and students. The group started a facebook group which is still active today, and even arranged some meet ups post the workshops.


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