DECaDE is a 60 month centre, comprising 21 people and building upon over £8.6 million pounds of feasibility scale UKRI/EPSRC investments in DLT and Human Data Interaction (HDI) held by the proposing team. DECaDE is a three-way partnership between the Universities of Surrey and the Institute for Design Informatics at Edinburgh, and the Digital Catapult DLT Field Labs. The latter is a full member of the consortium, through which we have co-created this research programme and with whom we will engage in further co-creation of the future DDE through diverse end-users in the public and private sector to support the competitive position of the UK.

Data-driven innovation is transforming every sector of our digital economy (DE) into a de-centralised marketplace; accommodation (AirBnb), transportation (Uber), logistics (Deliveroo), user-generated vs. broadcast content in the creative industries (YouTube). We are witnessing an inexorable shift from classical models centred upon monolithic institutions, to a dynamic and decentralised economy in which anyone is a potential producer and consumer. A gig economy, underpinned by digital products and services co-created through shorter-lived, diverse peer-to-peer engagements.

Yet, the platforms that enable this DE are increasingly built on centralised architectures. These are not controlled by society, but by large organisations making commercial decisions far from the social contexts they affect. There is an urgent need to disrupt this relationship, to deliver proper governance that empowers society to take control of the DE and enables people to assert greater agency over the vast centralised silos of data that drive these platforms.  

We stand on the cusp of a second wave of DE disruption, driven by bleeding edge data-driven technologies (AI) and secure, distributed data sharing infrastructures such as Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLT), in which data is no longer siloed but becomes a fluid, de-centralised commodity shifting power away from tech giants to individuals and de-centralised organisations. This future Decentralised Digital Economy (DDE) enables people and organisations to work together, to trade, and ultimately to trust via frictionless digital interactions free from reliance upon centralised third parties, but often with reliance upon autonomous services.  

This shift in agency and power is a game changing opportunity for society to take back control over its digital economy – but we have a limited window of opportunity to get it right. We have already witnessed de-centralisation in the financial sector, where the lack of regulation and clear governance of crypto-currencies has proven a double-edged sword, allowing free exchange of value across the globe, but that is coupled with fraudulent company flotations and currency rates rigged by large mining pools. This is a consequence of technology-driven innovation unchecked by socio-economic insight; a lack of knowledge making policy makers impotent in the face of the tech giants. We are now at the tipping point of similar wide-sweeping disruption across all sectors in the DDE, a transformation that will radically redefine our models of value and how it is created, the ways in which we work, and how we use and extract value from our data.

DECaDE represents a critical and timely opportunity to shape this emerging de-centralised digital economy (DDE), to develop insights that define a new 21st century model of work and value creation in the DDE, and ensure a prosperous, safe and inclusive society for all.