Exploring distributed collaboration and the potential of blockchain as an enabling technology

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O'Leary, Kevin
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University College Cork
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Since the emergence of the internet, the growth and development of communication technologies have presented new opportunities for collaboration. Practitioners in almost every industry can now collaborate with the skilled personnel across a range of fields, regardless of their geographic location. This contemporary working arrangement is referred to as Distributed Collaboration, which I define as the pursuit of a shared objective by groups that include non-proximate members, whose participation is facilitated by ICT. However, Distributed Collaboration is not without drawbacks. The dispersed and volatile nature of numerous participants makes these groups vulnerable to many challenges, primarily, free-riding, production blocking, evaluation apprehension, and perceptions of fairness. Meanwhile, Blockchain technology has emerged over the last decade, initially to facilitate the cryptocurrency market. However, research interest has recently focused on its potential to support non-financial use-cases such as the ability to track assets, both digital and physical, in a secure, transparent, and immutable manner. These technological capabilities of Blockchain would suggest it has the potential to support Distributed Collaboration by tracking individual contributions across a distributed ledger. Therefore, the objective of this thesis is to explore Distributed Collaboration and the potential of Blockchain as an enabling technology. This research was initiated by examining the potential of Blockchain to enable Distributed Collaboration from a macro-level perspective through the lens of the cryptocurrency market. The market can be considered a network of distributed participants, communicating to evaluate Blockchain as a technology. The findings show that in the absence of established factors and methods to evaluate cryptocurrencies, market participants rely on social cues to evaluate the assets. Next, I conducted a first iteration of Design Science Research (DSR) by exploring the potential for Blockchain to address the issue of free-riding in cross-functional groups. This endeavour found that there was potential. However, a more comprehensive understanding of the components of this research was required in order to extract theoretical and practical contributions. Therefore, a systematic literature review was performed to synthesise a comprehensive definition of Distributed Collaboration, as well as developing an understanding of the factors which lead to the success of these groups. Following this, qualitative interview data were gathered and analysed from practitioners operating in Distributed Collaboration to develop an understanding of the challenges faced when operating in this environment and the necessary components for a potential system to alleviate these issues. Finally, I completed a second iteration of DSR to rigorously investigate the potential of Blockchain to support Distributed Collaboration. A Blockchain-enabled system was developed, implementing the design construct of Creative Ancestry to improve perceptions of fairness in Distributed Collaboration. Findings show that Blockchain increases perceptions of fairness and thus improves overall collaboration. My research has implications for theory, practice, and future research. I provide a core model for successful Distributed Collaboration and detail how to implement a Blockchain-enabled system that addresses key issues. I also illustrate the presence of herding behaviour in the cryptocurrency market and how market participants are prone to amplified reactions to changes in the price of assets. These findings and their implications are discussed at length in the final chapter.
Blockchain , Distributed collaboration
O'Leary, K. 2019. Exploring distributed collaboration and the potential of blockchain as an enabling technology. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.