Research Report - Blockchain Constitutionalism: The Role Of Legitimacy In Polycentric Systems

Primavera de Filippi, Morshed Mannan, Kelsie Nabben, Jamilya Kamalova, Sofia Cossar, Tara Merk, Silke Noa, Marco Crepaldi, Joshua Dávila.

Between 5 and 7 June 2023, BlockchainGov organized a conference on “Blockchain Constitutionalism: The Role of Legitimacy in Polycentric Systems” at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, European University Institute in Florence, Italy. 

Blockchain networks and Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) have seen a surge in adoption in recent years. To fulfill their promise of widespread structural innovation and change meaningfully, they require governance that maintains legitimacy for internal and external stakeholders. As permissionless, globe-spanning technologies with significant effects on the general public, there has been a growing interest in viewing these blockchain-based systems in constitutional terms.

Early analysis regarded the rules expressed through software code as a form of ‘on-chain constitution.’ At the same time, more recently, these have been supplemented with written documents that articulate additional rules and principles regarding the governance of the blockchain-based system (‘off-chain constitutions’). The common thread among the various examples of blockchain “constitutions” seems to be that they define aspects of a system’s decision-making process and make them relatively difficult to change. However, both blockchain practitioners and legal scholars do not agree on whether we should consider these as ‘constitutions’ or ‘constitutionalization’ processes in a strict sense, nor to what extent these efforts can render blockchain systems more legitimate.

The EUI Conference brought together experts, academics, and practitioners to explore this intersection. You can read the full report here.