Is transparency an obstacle or promotor in the transition to a circular economy?

Managers, entrepreneurs and students explored the pro and cons of the transparency and visibility of data when blockchain is in place at the first Code of Conduct Deep Dive, organised by innovators Studio Wolfpack and Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) at Venture Café in Rotterdam recently.



Digital technologies like blockchain, AI, and IoT are essential for innovation and help companies develop and sustain their supply chains, from production to logistics and transportation. But Jan Joost Jullens from Studio Wolfpack says: “Blockchain is strong for its security through transparency. This might also scare or hold back organisations who are not used to this new paradigm. We have high hopes of new developments like self-sovereign identities for better data curation.”

How transparency that comes with blockchain helps the new algorithm economy

Paul Smits, CFO Port of Rotterdam, kicked off this deep dive session by sharing the Port’s experience with setting up a blockchain. He acknowledged the current pilots and projects with blockchain for their ability to create interconnectivity between supply chains and thus efficiency. “About transparency it’s important to keep in mind that we need to disclose what’s behind the window and not the window itself,” says Smits.

Trust is essential for human flourishing

In her research of the automotive industry Dr Merieke Stevens, associate professor in technology and operations management, finds that only 10 per cent of the suppliers in the industry think they are ‘ready’ for the new economy and have the ability to cope with transparency of data.

“Young educated experts do not want to work for a car manufacturer anymore. The reputation of the mechanical environment does not appeal to them. But the data management knowledge is needed,” says Dr Stevens.

She added the same counts to regulate the data transmission. “The one who builds the algorithm often is the owner of the data. Algorithm builders aim to transfer data analysis as a service, at a fee, to the data source, usually a corporate organisation. These would ultimately pay to receive data about their own processes.”

Enabling algorithms with senses like empathy and trust is key is this transmission, Dr Stevens pointed out. “Digitalisation raises a lot of operational questions. Many operational questions have a human answer. Also, humanising machines enables us to trust them, for example by implementing talking board computers in cars. In the definition of trust we talk about the willingness to be vulnerable to somebody else’s behaviour. This will change to the willingness to be vulnerable to technology or a code.”

Small companies

Aljosja Beije, logistics lead at BlockLab pleads for safe and sound communication to be able to make people understand the abilities of blockchain. “We need to start explaining what blockchain is and what it enables. Since the fintech experiences with Bitcoin we now often need to explain that blockchain is certainly not the solution to everything, but it can tackle the problem of trust that stands in the way of solutions.”

Especially in the decentralised network of port logistics we see opportunities, Beije said. “There are a lot of small companies involved where blockchain can improve their efficiency and profitability. Co-operation in a business is needed for a continuous methodology that tests if your trustworthy relationships are sustainable. It goes way beyond implementing a data management application. Saying blockchain is a database technology is like saying a Tesla is a battery on wheels.”

Ownership of data

In the final talk with Dr Sjoerd van Tuinen, associate professor of philosophy at Erasmus School of Philosophy, the audience was given a philosophical insight in the ideal of transparency.

“Historically the need for transparency arises not only out of a need for openness and revealing power asymmetries, but also out of the dream of total mastery and control over the circulation of capital, data and bodies. This shows for example in the steel and glass constructions of panoptic prisons or 19th century shopping malls, which survive in the German Bundestag,” says Dr Van Tuinen.

“Transparency makes us more reliable according to a model or technology but not more trustworthy, because it is always based on an abstraction from our concrete material reality. This is also true for the ownership of data. Owning my own data will not make me a more sovereign human being, it will only make me a more calculable one.”

Co-operation and co-creation

Digital transforms our very notions on values like trust, control, access, interdependence and security well beyond the current organisational boundaries. What values do people have in the upcoming algorithm economy? Co-creation is essential for future business professionals – and therefore a business school – to be part of the new algorithm economy and to address social challenges. RSM’s Positive Change director Eva Rood about Code of Conduct: “In this pilot RSM works with innovators from Studio Wolfpack and Venture Café to create a Code of Conduct which can be a force for positive change in the transformation to a more just and inclusive society. During the sessions current data solutions and application are mapped with the social (im)possibilities and consequences it is facing, and the challenges and dilemmas are discussed.”

About Code of Conduct

RSM, Studio Wolfpack and Venture Café Rotterdam offer a series of deep dives for business professionals, RSM MBA and master students and entrepreneurs. Each edition of Code of Conduct will feature frontline entrepreneurs who are pushing the boundaries, professors who put both technology and social values in a transitional perspective, and boardroom members explaining how their organisations are handling these new opportunities and challenges. They will explore the outlines of a ‘Code of Conduct’.

More information

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is one of Europe’s top 10 business schools. RSM provides ground-breaking research and education furthering excellence in all aspects of management and is based in the international port city of Rotterdam – a vital nexus of business, logistics and trade. RSM’s primary focus is on developing business leaders with international careers who can become a force for positive change by carrying their innovative mindset into a sustainable future. Our first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes encourage them to become critical, creative, caring and collaborative thinkers and doers. Study information and activities for future students, executives and alumni are also organised from the RSM office in Chengdu, China. www.rsm.nl

For more information about RSM or this release, please contact Marianne Schouten, communications manager for RSM, on +31 10 408 2877 or by email at mschouten@rsm.nl.

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