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A Blockchain Research Framework: What We (don’t) Know, Where We Go from Here, and How We Will Get There


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While blockchain technology is commonly considered potentially disruptive in various regards, there is a lack of understanding where and how blockchain technology is effectively applicable and where it has mentionable practical effects. This issue has given rise to critical voices that judge the technology as over-hyped. Against this backdrop, this study adapts an established research framework to structure the insights of the current body of research on blockchain technology, outline the present research scope as well as disregarded topics, and sketch out multidisciplinary research approaches. The framework differentiates three groups of activities (design and features, measurement and value, management and organization) at four levels of analysis (users and society, intermediaries, platforms, firms and industry). The review shows that research has predominantly focused on technological questions of design and features, while neglecting application, value creation, and governance. In order to foster substantial blockchain research that addresses meaningful questions, this study identifies several avenues for future studies. Given the breadth of open questions, it shows where research can benefit from multidisciplinary collaborations and presents data sources as starting points for empirical investigations.
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What we (don’t) know, where we go from here, and how we will get there
State of the Art Article
While blockchain technology is commonly considered to be potentially disruptive in various regards,
there is a lack of understanding where and how blockchain technology is effectively applicable and
where it has mentionable practical effects. This issue has given rise to critical voices that judge the
technology as over-hyped. Against this backdrop, we adapt an established research framework to
structure the insights of the current body of research on blockchain technology, outline the present
research scope as well as disregarded topics, and sketch out multidisciplinary research approaches.
The framework differentiates three groups of activities (design and features, measurement and value,
management and organization) at four levels of analysis (users and society, intermediaries, platforms,
firms and industry). The review shows that research has predominantly focused on technological
questions of design and features, while neglecting application, value creation, and governance. In
order to foster substantial blockchain research that addresses meaningful questions, we identify
several avenues for future studies. Given the breadth of open questions, we show where research can
benefit from multidisciplinary collaborations and present data sources as starting points for empirical
Keywords: Blockchain, Research framework, Literature review, Distributed ledger technology,
1 Introduction
Blockchain technology currently receives a lot of public attention as advocates argue that it constitutes
the foundation for truly trust-free economic transactions based on its unique technological
characteristics (Glaser 2017). Blockchain technology is among the most trending technologies
(Gartner 2016) and argued to disrupt various intermediary services (Tapscott and Tapscott 2016). It
acquired fame as the technology underlying Bitcoin (Beck and Müller-Bloch 2017) but is currently
expanded to other areas of application (Wörner et al. 2016).
At the same time, however, scholars are drawing parallels between blockchain technology and, for
example, bubble memory regarding their revolutionary impact on business, remembering that bubble
memory also never lived up to the expectations associated with it (Avital et al. 2016). Glaser (2017)
recites the commonly expressed concern that blockchain technology is an innovative technology
searching for use cases. Despite the great expectations, there is currently a paucity of knowledge
regarding where and how blockchain technology is effectively applicable and where it can provide
mentionable societal effects. We argue that research can help overcome this paucity by
comprehensively understanding the effects of unique blockchain properties (e.g., decentralization,
transaction speeds, security, auditability and control) and by investigating respectively appropriate
societal fields of application. So far, however, application-oriented contributions to blockchain
research appear to be scarce, disconnected and focused on a limited number of topics (e.g., payment
systems). To address these issues, we draw on an established research framework that has previously
helped structure and create a meaningful research stream in the related area of social media and
business transformation (Aral et al. 2013). We adapt this framework to the particularities of the
blockchain technology. By drawing on a fruitfully established framework and transferring the
corresponding research questions, we intend to systematically organize findings and develop research
topics that look beyond the currently considered subjects. Thereby, we address two research
questions: What is the current state of knowledge regarding blockchain, and how can it purposefully
be advanced?
To achieve our research objective, we systematically collected published scholarly blockchain papers
to review them under consideration of the related research framework and relevant technological
foundations (Tschorsch and Scheuermann 2016). Different from existing blockchain frameworks (Yli-
Huumo et al. 2016), this approach enables us to structure current findings as well as inspire research
questions beyond the focus of extant work. Moving forward from the current state of research, we
highlight links to other disciplines and propose starting points for empirical research by pointing at
some available data sources that can help close the big discrepancy between scholarly knowledge and
expectations. To substantiate a long-term contribution, we provide online access to the framework and
invite collaborative paper submissions to keep the literature overview up to date
The remainder of the paper is structured as follows. First, we introduce the key technological concepts
underlying blockchain technology. Subsequently, we describe the study’s processes of collecting and
analyzing the literature before introducing the adapted framework with the respective research
questions and existent findings. We then highlight links to related disciplines as several broad
questions may require IS researchers to collaborate with scholars of other disciplines or at least
consider their theories in order to conduct relevant and rigorous research. Lastly, we present promising
We provide open access to the overview over current scientific knowledge (Table 2 and Table Appendix 1) here:
We are thankful to Florian Glaser for his inspiring feedback to the avenues for future research
data sources for empirical investigations and critically discuss the work’s contributions before deriving
general conclusions.
2 Conceptual Background
In its generic form, blockchain technology
refers to a fully distributed system for cryptographically
capturing and storing a consistent, immutable, linear event log of transactions between networked
actors. This is functionally similar to a distributed ledger that is consensually kept, updated, and
validated by the parties involved in all the transactions within a network. In such a network,
blockchain technology enforces transparency and guarantees eventual, system-wide consensus on the
validity of an entire history of transactions. As current blockchain technology can not only process
monetary transactions but can also ensure that transactions comply with programmable rules in the
form of “smart contracts” (Tschorsch and Scheuermann 2016), it allows even parties who do not fully
trust each other to conduct and reliably control mutual transactions without relying on the services of
any trusted middlemen. This may be one reason why nearly all banks are currently engaged in
developing a vision of what this technology means for their business (Glaser 2017).
Beyond their primary distributed ledger functionality, single implementations of blockchain
technology differ in their technical details and capabilities. Recent publicly available blockchains (e.g.,
Ethereum or Hyperledger Fabric) comprise elements for implicitly managing a fully distributed
network of peers, different cryptography-enabled consensus mechanisms for capturing and storing
transactions as well as data attached to transactions, and programming languages to create smart
contracts of immutable or dynamic business functionality that can be used during transactions (Glaser
2017). Implementations differ regarding their mechanisms to enforce consensus, the power of included
programming languages, their capabilities to define who is allowed to participate in a network, and the
type of cryptocurrency they include (Beck and Müller-Bloch 2017; Yli-Huumo et al. 2016).
Recent reviews of technical papers on blockchain research show that the majority of scholarly work
has focused on improvements and challenges of current protocols, primarily for cryptocurrencies in
general and for Bitcoin in particular (Yli-Huumo et al. 2016; Morisse 2015; Glaser and Bezzenberger
2015; Tschorsch and Scheuermann 2016). While security, data privacy, and usability in these
blockchain implementations are subject to ongoing development, particularly the question of the best
algorithms to incentivize and ensure transactional validity and consensus is fiercely discussed in
research and practice (Walsh et al. 2016). As such, proof-of-work approaches that require high levels
of energy but guarantee relatively high levels of consistency and protection against forgery by any
actor in the network (e.g., in Bitcoin) compete against less costly ones (for a comprehensive
introduction see Tschorsch and Scheuermann (2016)). Such alternative approaches require a portion of
trust in some elements of the network, such as actors based on the resources they put at risk during
validation (e.g., proof-of-stake in Peercoin) or in the manufacturers of devices that are used to validate
transactions (e.g., proof-of-elapsed-time in Hyperledger Sawtooth Lake). Blockchain implementations
that target the general (not to be trusted) public (e.g., Ethereum, Bitcoin) typically include reward
mechanisms based on cryptocurrencies to incentivize actors to verify transactions (“mining Bitcoins”)
whereas implementations targeting closed, rather trustworthy or at least mutually familiar groups of
users (e.g., Hyperledger Fabric) put more emphasis on permissioning mechanisms that allow for
granting participation rights to identifiable and accountable actors while denying them to others. In
sum, the different approaches towards validation and consensus building aim for different balances
regarding availability, consistency, and trustworthiness (Tschorsch and Scheuermann 2016). They
in the following also interchangeably referred to as “blockchain”, “blockchain systems”, “blockchain environment”, or
decentralized blockchain
thereby influence the potential applications and affordances of each implementation of blockchain
technology (Glaser and Bezzenberger 2015). By separating such technical decisions into modular
layers that can easily be changed, blockchain technology gains enormous application possibilities
beyond simply exchanging tokens of a single cryptocurrency like Bitcoin (Glaser 2017). In fact, some
scholars even propose that this technology paves the way for entirely new models of business and
organization as it allows for economically reasonable transactions with potentially untrustworthy
transaction partners without any additional measures of precaution. They promote the vision of a trust-
free economy with truly virtual organizations and automatic business transactions of devices in the
internet of things (Beck et al. 2016; Glaser 2017; Puschmann and Alt 2016; Christidis and
Devetsikiotis 2016).
Against this backdrop, we believe that it holds merit to throw the spotlight on research that focuses on
the wider ramifications of blockchain technology beyond technical details and cryptocurrencies. Prior
work fruitfully reviewed and synthesized technical research on protocol improvements, primarily with
implications for cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin (Yli-Huumo et al. 2016; Morisse 2015; Glaser and
Bezzenberger 2015; Tschorsch and Scheuermann 2016). Yet, little is known about research that delves
into the purported disruptive potential of blockchain technology that extends beyond IT (Beck and
Müller-Bloch 2017). In light of this broad reach, we strive to structure extant work on blockchain
technology beyond cryptocurrencies and aim to provide a conceptual framework that outlines a
research agenda with guidelines for researchers from IS as well as from neighboring disciplines.
3 Method for Structuring Blockchain Advancements
This study intends to provide a framework that can guide future research and delineates prior research
for scholars to progress from. For this purpose, we collected and reviewed the existent body of
research in a structured manner. Afterwards, we developed the study’s framework through a guided
content analytical approach towards the collected literature. Both processes are further elaborated in
the following.
3.1 Paper Collection for Literature Review
In conducting a scoping review (Paré et al. 2015) of blockchain research, we followed a systematic
approach towards selecting and analyzing literature in this emerging research stream. Based on our
research questions, we developed a protocol for identifying papers to be included in the analysis. In
line with the idea of a scoping review, we thereby aimed for a comprehensive overview of prior work
relevant to our research questions but willingly excluded even high quality papers on blockchain
technology if they did not help answer our research questions (Paré et al. 2015). The protocol
consisted of defined sources of research to scan, means to access them, and basic criteria for inclusion
and exclusion of single papers (Kitchenham and Charters 2007; Paré et al. 2015). As we were
interested in scientific knowledge on the wider ramifications of blockchain technology, we only
focused on scholarly literature and thereby excluded the manifold statements, ideas, and visions of
blockchain enthusiasts and opponents in public press, media, and whitepaper collections. In doing so,
we acknowledge that there are enormously influential whitepapers that have shaped the discussion of
blockchain in industry as well as academia (esp. Nakamoto 2008; Back et al. 2014; Buterin 2014a;
Rosenfeld 2012; Schwartz et al. 2014; Wood 2014), but we refer readers to detailed extant discussions
of these papers (Tschorsch and Scheuermann 2016; Yli-Huumo et al. 2016).
We searched the databases of the Web of Science, IEEE Xplore, the AIS Electronic Library,
ScienceDirect, and SSRN for research on blockchain technology published in journals and
conferences. In particular, we used the search terms “block chain” and “blockchain” in the mentioned
databases. As there is a number of helpful syntheses on the state of technical research on blockchain
protocols (e.g., Morisse 2015; Tschorsch and Scheuermann 2016; Yli-Huumo et al. 2016), we decided
to focus only on papers that went beyond technical blockchain protocol improvements. We were
particularly interested in finding conceptual papers or empirical analyses of the application, design,
use, or implications of blockchain technology for humans, organizations, and markets. For reasons of
quality assurance, we discarded all working papers and workshop proceedings to retain only published
academic research in scholarly journal articles and conference proceedings. We then examined titles
and abstracts of all retained papers for elements that referred to the application, design, use, or
implications of blockchain technology for humans, organizations, or markets. All papers that matched
any one of those criteria were included in our review. We explicitly excluded papers that solely
focused on technology or on cryptocurrency performance or market trends. Technical papers
improving or proposing algorithms without any connection to humans, organizations or markets were
also discarded. In order to ensure consistency in the selection procedure, the first and second authors
of this paper jointly defined the inclusion and exclusion criteria, examined a set of 10 papers together
with a research assistant for their relevance, and then had the research assistant recommend selection
or rejection for all identified papers based on their full text. The first and second authors then each
examined half of the proposed selections and rejections based on their abstracts to verify the selection
quality. In few cases of disagreement, the authors and the assistant discussed their opinions to come to
a joint verdict about inclusion or exclusion (Paré et al. 2015). In order to address the critique of
systematic literature reviews (Boell and Cecez-Kecmanovic 2014), we also reviewed the citations of
selected papers to determine whether any of them referenced research papers that we had inadvertently
overlooked in our initial selection process (Webster and Watson 2002). The authors lastly read the
selected literature and removed papers that were not targeting the focus area as expected from the
abstract. A qualitative content analysis was conducted for a final set of 69 papers. Figure 1 depicts the
numbers of papers that emerged from the single steps of this process. In sum, we collected a broad set
of literature from various disciplines that provided the input to our content analysis.
Figure 1: Literature Selection Process
3.2 Directed Content Analysis Approach
In order to develop a framework for tracking and guiding blockchain related advancements, we
oriented towards Morris’ five-step process for directed content analysis as described below (Morris
1994; Hsieh and Shannon 2005). We based our approach on predefined categories and descriptions of
a recognized research structure from the social media context (Aral et al. 2013), which enabled us to
draw systematic and valid inferences from the collected data (Krippendorff 2012). This framework
was selected, because it pursues corresponding purposes for a conceptually related technology. We
consider social media technology to be conceptually related, because comparable to blockchain it
provides a tool for transparent and large-scale, many-to-many exchanges that empower the individual.
In the case of social media, this complex and participatory environment has redirected control from
companies to consumers and enhanced the users’ ability to undertake collective action (Shirky 2011).
Comparably, blockchain technology enables comprehensive bidirectional transactions, improves
transparency, and is argued to pose disruptive challenges to society and central authorities (Atzori
2015). Thus, we assume the social media framework from Aral et al. (2013) to provide a viable
starting point for structuring blockchain research.
Following Morris (1994) five steps, at first the singular studies were determined as the unit of analysis,
which constitute the fragments in which the data was broken down to for the coding process (Rourke
et al. 2001). We categorized them for their academic discipline and for their research method.
Subsequently, we developed the categorization framework based on the established social media
structure from Aral et al. (2013). Initially, the scheme was intensively discussed among two senior
researchers familiar with the theoretical and technological background. Afterwards, it was applied to
structure the collected studies, which led to some revisions under consideration of the blockchain
specifics (Glaser 2017) alongside the test-classification process until the final version was created
(further details can be found in sections 4.1 and 4.2). Lastly, the authors processed all 69 selected focal
studies in accordance with the research framework.
4 Results
4.1 Research Framework
The framework (Table 1) is based on the popular social media research agenda from Aral et al. (2013).
It was adapted to the blockchain context mainly by adjustments regarding the characteristic aspects
and affordances of blockchain technology (Glaser 2017). The framework is conceptualized as an
intersection of activities that blockchain developers and users can undertake and the levels of analysis
on which these activities wield influence. Relying on a powerful, established framework from related
literature and transferring respective research questions enables us to systematically identify general
research topics beyond the currently discussed research objectives. Thereby, we are able to raise
themes that move beyond the current blockchain state-of-the-art and broaden the scope to topics that
have not yet been considered by contemporary research reviews that solely focus on the subjects
covered by the reviewed articles (Yli-Huumo et al. 2016).
The combinations of activities and levels of analysis in this framework provide analytical categories of
technological and theoretical advancements regarding blockchain systems. It needs to be noted, that
these categories are not defined to be mutually exclusive in the sense that a research objective can only
address one activity and one unit of analysis at a time. These categories rather help to structure and
inspire future advancements in blockchain research. They allow for the identification of neglected
topic areas and the definition of meaningful implications for the respective analytical categories.
Furthermore, due to the pervasive potential of the blockchain technology (Glaser 2017), it is expected
to affect various different aspects of society (e.g., politics, business models). Therefore, we argue that
it is beneficial for researchers to collaborate across disciplines or at least consider related theories and
analytical contexts. Consequently, the developed framework also seeks to inspire cross-disciplinary
research with contributions from separate fields of expertise (further elaborated in section 4.3.1).
The framework’s levels of analysis refer to the scale of the research target. In reference to Aral et al.
(2013), we differentiate between the four perspectives: ‘users and society’, ‘intermediaries’,
‘platforms’, and ‘firms and industries’. As opposed to social media, blockchain systems are
decentrally hosted providing a reliable infrastructure independent from the particular intermediary
services provider (Glaser 2017). Thus, deviant from the original structure in the social media context,
we consider intermediaries and platforms distinct from each other to account for this unique potential
of blockchains as an intermediating technology (Yli-Huumo et al. 2016) and for the technological
separability of fabric and application layers (Glaser 2017). Users and society refers to individuals who
transact through blockchain applications and the societal consequences that the technology implies.
Intermediaries refer to intermediary service providers as well as applications and processes that are
hosted within a blockchain environment connecting a service provider and a service consumer. The
key focus on this level revolves around smart contracts and the consequent opportunities for
automating transactions among dispersed entities (Szabo 1997), for example, in the context of the
Internet of Things or supply chain management. The category Platforms comprises different
blockchain implementations and networks (e.g., Ripple, Ethereum, Hyperledger), various types of
blockchains (e.g., permissioned vs. permissionless), as well as cross-system interactions (e.g.,
integrating blockchain systems with each other or into established systems). Lastly, Firms &
Industries describe the organizations and industries that are prone to be affected by blockchain
technology or deploy blockchain solutions themselves (e.g., financial markets, public services) as well
as how (new) business models will develop in a blockchain industry. This level of analysis can be
considered to account for the majority of the present hype around blockchain, as different industries
try to assess the disruptive force that blockchain technology entails.
The activities regarding the Design and Features revolve around the questions of how blockchain
systems are designed and what the differential effects of the various characteristics (e.g., consensus
mechanisms, privacy settings, transparency, immutability, decentralized control) are. The overarching
goal is to derive an understanding of how systems should be designed to achieve certain goals.
Measurement and Value generally concerns the added value that blockchain based solutions provide
on the different levels and how it can be appropriated. Work in this area assesses the benefits and
competitive advantages that result from blockchain technology as well as how these systems challenge
existing services and industries. Management and Organization addresses questions regarding the
governance of decision rights in blockchain environments and the strategies and tactics employed by
actors in blockchain systems. Specific topics in this area cover, for example, the development and
implications of different consensus mechanisms, legal consequences accompanying transactions,
organizational strategies, and patterns of participation in blockchain systems. In the original social
media framework, strategy and tactics constituted a distinct activity. It referred to how the different
entities use the technology to best achieve their goals (Aral et al. 2013). Our review of blockchain
literature, however, revealed that respective endeavors are usually determined by the context. Smart
contracts, for example, are often characterized by the maxim “code is law”. Strategic decisions on
blockchain rather revolve around which blockchain, coin, smart contract to use for the individual
purpose or how to best integrate it into operating services. These questions, however, are closely
interrelated with the management and organization of the respective blockchain based system. Thus,
while we acknowledge that tactical questions exist in the blockchain environment, we see them as
interwoven with managerial and organizational decisions rather than as a distinct activity.
Table 1. Multidisciplinary Blockchain Research Framework with Prospective Paradigmatic Research
Level of
Design & Features
Measurement & Value
Users &
How do blockchain
features and design
affect the interaction
between users and
technology adoption?
How do different
features constrain or
unchain usage?
What are the benefits
and costs of using
blockchain technology
for the individual user
and the society?
How do alternative
blockchain features and
designs enact different
intermediary services?
How do specific features
complement existing
How can blockchain
systems maximize their
role as a transaction
What are the value
propositions and the
limitations of
blockchain technology
compared to established
intermediary services
How do blockchain
platforms differ
regarding features and
How can different
blockchain systems
complement each other
to overcome individual
How can blockchain
systems enhance their
dissemination among
users and linkage with
operating systems?
What are the
complementary benefits
of blockchain systems to
established information
Firms &
How can firms utilize
blockchain features for
their own business
What blockchain
features are relevant for
different company
divisions or industry
What type of blockchain
is best-suited for the
respective purposes?
How does blockchain
provide added value for
companies to conduct
transactions within the
company or with
customers, other
companies, stakeholders
and the government?
Which markets, industry
branches, business
models or corporate
divisions are more likely
to be affected through
4.2 Current State of Knowledge and Research Trends
Blockchain technology is receiving a substantial amount of interest from researchers and practitioners.
While research on some forms has rapidly developed (e.g., cryptocurrencies, payments), a
comprehensive understanding regarding terms of application and use-cases is generally missing.
Through reviewing extant findings and arranging them in accordance with the proposed framework,
we structure the current knowledge and develop an agenda for future advancements in blockchain
research (Table 2, Table Appendix 1). Thereby, this work intends to calm the hype regarding societal
and business implications while enabling the alignment of efforts also across disciplines to ensure
impactful research.
Table 2. Results of the Blockchain Research Classification Based on the Research Framework
Level of
Design & Features
Measurement & Value
Users &
(Abramova and Böhme
(Fabian et al. 2016)
(Yli-Huumo et al. 2016)
(Walch 2017)
(Beck et al. 2016)
(Nguyen 2016)
(Pilkington et al. 2016)
(Gipp et al. 2016)
(Hashemi et al. 2016)
(Juels et al. 2016)
(Kosba et al. 2015)
(Mainelli and Smith
(Watanabe et al. 2015)
(Yasin and Liu 2016)
(Zhang et al. 2016a)
(Korpela et al. 2017)
(Feng 2016)
(Zhang and Wen 2015)
(Danezis and Meiklejohn
(Gervais et al. 2016)
(Glaser and Bezzenberger
(Kazan et al. 2014)
(Tschorsch and
Scheuermann 2016)
(Walsh et al. 2016)
(Watanabe et al. 2016)
(Zhu et al. 2016)
(Hayes 2016)
(Lindman et al. 2017)
(Sanda and Inaba 2016)
(Xu et al. 2016)
Firms &
(Aitzhan and Svetinovic
(Brandon 2016)
(Glaser 2017)
(Mettler 2016)
(Morisse 2015)
(Wörner et al. 2016)
(Ainsworth and Shact
(Azaria et al. 2016)
(Brenig et al. 2016)
(Christidis and
Devetsikiotis 2016)
(Morini 2016)
(Nofer et al. 2017)
(Pilkington and Lee
(Sikorski et al. 2017)
(Yermack 2017)
(Yuan and Wang 2016)
4.2.1 Design & Features
The novel features that Blockchain introduces, for example regarding decentralized control and
immutability of event logs, determines the applicability and potential of the technology (Tschorsch
and Scheuermann 2016). In our understanding, research on blockchain design and features forms the
basis for the value and management propositions. It deals with identifying the unique blockchain
features and explicating their respective impacts. As our analysis shows, this area is currently the most
heavily investigated research stream helping to understand the technological basics. Drawing on the
blockchain archetype framework by Walsh et al. (2016), we review the respective literature regarding
the features that distinguish different blockchains (i.e., consensus mechanisms, types of permissioning,
data access, modularity, scalability, interoperability, centralization, and anonymity).
Users and Society. Questions regarding this topic address how users perceive and interact with
different blockchain characteristics. As a key topic, research needs to provide insights on why people
use the technology and what features enhance or constrain its dissemination among the society. In
their particular context, for example, system providers are interested in the relative importance of
different features (e.g., privacy, security, usability, latency) that determine end-user adoption.
Regarding anonymity, deanonymization attacks through analyzing transaction logs (Meiklejohn et al.
2013; Ron and Shamir 2013) are argued to be a major technology adoption hindrance (Kosba et al.
2015). Privacy and security related issues could, for example, also be moderated by cultural (King and
Raja 2012) or age related differences (Hoofnagle et al. 2010). Furthermore, research may need to
critically examine the uncritically accepted assumption that people generally appreciate the trust-free
characteristics found on different blockchains. Importantly, it is not even clear whether blockchain
transactions are actually perceived as trust-free since they may still require a certain amount of trust
into the blockchain providers or smart contract developers (Glaser 2017).
Regarding the level of anonymity (Walsh et al. 2016), Fabian et al. (2016) found in a recent survey
that anonymity serves as a double-edged sword in blockchain based transaction. For example, while
the majority of active Bitcoin users report minor concerns with the network’s anonymity, almost 20%
consider abandoning the technology because of it. Future research will need to investigate how this
adverse effect can be mitigated and where it stems from. Further research interests address blockchain
scalability. After developing a blockchain dependent solution for coffee-shop payments, Beck et al.
(2016) argue that scalability issues, costs, and volatility in the transaction currency can constrain the
adoption and utilization. Other researchers have shown that scalability issues are closely related to
security issues and that trade-offs may be necessary between these two dimensions depending on the
consensus mechanisms that single blockchains entail (Anceaume et al. 2016). Therefore, Buterin
(2014b) proposed a system of multiple, different blockchains that provide security for each other
irrespective of their distinct purposes. This would help overcome security issues that limit the
scalability of singular blockchains for society. Regarding the effects of decentralization, Abramova
and Böhme (2016) found that decentralization constitutes the smallest perceived technological benefit
among Bitcoin users compared with faster transaction processing and control over money. Thus, it can
be concluded that first research has begun to identify features that support and restrain the blockchain
appropriation. The revision of these different technological blockchain features and issues points
towards currently discussed (e.g., Decker and Wattenhofer 2013) and scientifically further investigated
technological issues (e.g., latency, throughput, blockchain versioning) (Yli-Huumo et al. 2016).
Applying the blockchain archetypes framework (Walsh et al. 2016) shows that while anonymity,
decentralization and scalability have initially been investigated, other aspects such as effects of (un-)
permissioned blockchains, restricted data access, consensus mechanisms, modularity, and
interoperability are mostly disregarded. Furthermore, the currently insufficient technological
understanding translates into legislative risks (Walch 2017), which substantially affects the individual
adoption of blockchain technology (Abramova and Böhme 2016). Therefore, future research needs to
acknowledge the distinct features of different blockchains (e.g. consensus mechanisms, block sizes,
permissioning) to understand their respective application consequences (e.g. for scalability, security,
privacy). More comprehensive research is needed to fully understand the underlying mechanisms and
to be able to identify means of overcoming these obstacles in order to advance the technology’s
Intermediaries. Blockchain technology offers swift implementations of automated transaction
management with comparatively little coding effort. In this area, the blockchain application layer that
provides intermediary services is of primary interest. The focus lies on the design of smart contracts
and the development of decentralized applications (DApps) that run on them (Glaser 2017).
Respective studies can, for example, identify or design different application features (e.g., permission
requirements) or integrate blockchain based solutions into established systems (e.g., enterprise
resource planning, account management systems) and evaluate their performance (e.g., regarding
operational reliability).
Design related blockchain research on the intermediary level generally investigates the intersection of
interoperability and anonymity. In an explorative approach, Mainelli and Smith (2015) concluded that
integrating distributed ledgers into trusted third party systems can support services such as know-your-
customer, money-laundering prevention, insurance or credit services. Scientists develop easily
implementable protocols for smart contracts that pool transactions in order to anonymize single
transactions and protect individual privacy (Kosba et al. 2015), manage healthcare (Zhang et al.
2016a) and IoT applications (Hashemi et al. 2016) or enable contract recording (Fujimura et al. 2015)
and tamper-proof dashboard video transmission (Gipp et al. 2016). Unfortunately, however,
anonymously running smart contracts can also be applied for criminal purposes (e.g., information
leakage, private key theft, real-world crimes) difficult to prevent through countermeasures (Juels et al.
While first studies show the relevant and productive opportunities of these aspects, a lot more research
will be necessary to properly address these practically relevant topics. Blockchain features such as
levels of permission, data access, consensus mechanisms, scalability, and decentralization (Walsh et
al. 2016) are generally neglected in this regard. With a growing number of available applications, we
expect this field to gain momentum. So far it seems that the developed blockchain based solutions
rather provide new systems instead of replacing or complementing existing ones. We encourage
research in the future to consider the compatibility of services.
Platforms. This line of work focuses on classifying and advancing the different technological
mechanisms underlying different types of blockchains, platforms, and networks on the fabric layer that
is also addressed in technical whitepapers (esp. Nakamoto 2008; Back et al. 2014; Buterin 2014a;
Rosenfeld 2012; Schwartz et al. 2014; Wood 2014). Features of interest comprise consensus
mechanisms, permissioning of writing or reading rights, scalability mechanisms, decentralization,
levels of anonymity and interoperability. Thereby, different interdependencies between features need
to be considered. For example, private blockchains can make use of more lightweight consensus
mechanisms than public blockchains by relying on a certain level of trust in participants (Buterin
2015). This allows them to rebalance efforts for security with efforts for speed and scalability, for
example. So far, however, research has not yet provided a systematic overview regarding these
interdependencies and their consequences for use cases. Different blockchains implement various
consensus mechanisms for validators. Research needs to identify the impact of these consensus
mechanisms for the appropriation in different business cases and the (dis-)advantages of open-source
vs. proprietary blockchains. Furthermore, research will need to identify means of integrating
blockchain platforms into established systems (e.g., aligning a real world dividend payment system
with blockchain based token distribution; data transmission between corporate internal auditing
systems with governmental taxation systems) or integrating complementary blockchain systems (e.g.,
integrating Hyperledger Fabric with Ethereum). Regarding the constituting features, future work can
critically revise the optimal block size or the respective cryptographic security measures depending on
the specific context of implementation. This could lead to an advancement of the hashing algorithms
to prepare the different platforms to increasing security challenges from, for example, distributed
denial of service attacks (Coleman 2016). Lastly, we expect to have a discussion in this area on what
actually constitutes a blockchain. First authors have already critically noted that the recently developed
(permissioned) blockchains do not constitute blockchain systems in the original sense (Glaser 2017).
This controversy will increase as further blockchain systems (e.g., the IBM blockchain system
operated in a hosted cloud environment) enter the market.
First approaches introduced blockchain technology to research by providing overviews over
(de)centralized consensus systems in the context of cryptocurrencies (Glaser and Bezzenberger 2015;
Tschorsch and Scheuermann 2016), blockchain typologies (Walsh et al. 2016) or digital payment
providers in general (Kazan et al. 2014). These provide detailed overviews over the differentiating
characteristics of alternate platforms or elaborate their cryptographic foundations to analyze the
applicability to policymaker regulations (Kiviat 2015). Focusing on particular blockchain properties,
some studies have advanced insights on consensus mechanisms. Generally, it has been established that
the proof-of-work based consensus mechanism applied by Bitcoin developers as a prominent
blockchain application example sacrifices a substantial amount of transaction speed and volume for
little incremental security (Gervais et al. 2016). By scripting a signature that assures transaction non-
repudiation (Zhu et al. 2016) or proposing a consensus mechanism for contract management that is
robust against resource monopolization (Watanabe et al. 2016) researchers were able to increase
transaction security. Others focus on the scalability related feature of hashing to overcome the security
issue of double spending. Danezis and Meiklejohn (2016) discuss different forms of centralization
within a cryptocurrency framework to show that the reduction of inefficient hashing and a scalable
system due to a modest degree of centralization can reduce the danger of double spending attacks.
Others focus on the cryptographic properties by developing solutions to stabilize block rates over
longer periods of time by manipulating hashing difficulties (Kraft 2016).
Research on platform design and features has successfully contributed to the public understanding of
the applicability of blockchain technology and its characteristics. Most prominently, research has
investigated approaches to increase transaction security and consensus mechanisms, scalability, and
partly decentralization. Other blockchain features such as levels of permissioning, data access,
modularity, interoperability and anonymity (Walsh et al. 2016) are frequently researched in industry
but have received less academic attention. Considering the rapid developments, this topic area can be
expected to continuously evolve and advance. Particularly the maturation of cryptographic
foundations, for example, towards a proof-of-stake (Back 2017) and assessing the consequences for
the scalable applicability of blockchain technology is of ever-growing interest.
Firms and Industries. The features of blockchain technology are considered to make it potentially
disruptive for many different businesses processes and industries. However, little is yet known
regarding which (combinations of) features are relevant for particular industries and how they need to
be designed. These types of questions need to be addressed in order to influentially deploy the
technology to business cases. A blockchain system in the context of Scottish stock-trading settlement
(Detrixhe 2016), for example, will have block size and confirmation speed requirements that differ
from those for settling public services (Finley 2016). These findings will inform and inspire further
business related research regarding (dis)advantages and possibilities of home-grown and externally
hosted blockchains. Beyond effects on established businesses and services, blockchain also enables
new business models like decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) or decentralized
autonomous corporations (DACs). Their prospects also depend on the underlying computational
design (e.g., security features), as was recently shown by a substantial capital loss due to flawed
system design (Price 2016).
Research in this area principally revolves around the general blockchain features. Glaser (2017), for
example, argues that immutability will provide major benefits for auditing services, where only a
permissioned blockchain that reduces transparency constitutes a feasible solution. This claim was
extended further to the accounting discipline (Brandon 2016). Other work has begun to discuss the
disruptive potential of general blockchain features (i.e. immutable public database, time-stamping
service, verifiable audit trails, decentralized infrastructure) for different sectors like digital assets,
marketplaces, and notary services (Korpela et al. 2017; Wörner et al. 2016), the energy (Aitzhan and
Svetinovic 2016) or healthcare sectors (Mettler 2016). In the context of cryptocurrencies, these
findings can be expanded in accordance with the technological classifications derived from the
overviews of cryptocurrencies (Morisse 2015; Glaser and Bezzenberger 2015). Only recently it was
pointed out that the discussion of business applicability needs to consider different blockchain features
as, for example, not all consensus mechanisms match industry-specific requirements (Rückeshäuser
It can be concluded that previous work on firms and industries has provided extensive frameworks and
starting points for future research to advance research in a structured and impactful fashion. However,
a more sophisticated consideration of the differentiating blockchain features namely the level of
permission, data access, transaction consensus, modularity, scalability, interoperability, centralization,
and anonymity (Walsh et al. 2016) is needed. Moreover, research on the interaction of new
organizational forms such as DAOs and technological features of blockchain are still to come. This
stream of research has the potential to provide meaningful guidance for the design of increasingly
versatile solutions that enter the market.
In general, the overarching analysis of research on blockchain design and features shows that
tremendous effort has produced first insights into the particularities of blockchain technology.
Particularly centralization, anonymity, consensus mechanisms and scalability have been
predominantly investigated, while other features like data access, modularity, and interoperability have
received less attention. These approaches, however, seem to be rather incoherent. For example,
different levels of anonymity and the perception of anonymity are typically only investigated on the
user level. Interoperability has only been researched on the intermediary level. Only scalability issues
have been discussed on most units of analysis. We argue that a structured and comprehensive
overview of interdependencies of blockchain design and features will as a first step help to provide
a solid foundation for future research and as a second step to systematically discuss the relation
between blockchain features and design on the different levels of analysis.
4.2.2 Measurement & Value
This line of research generally addresses the added-value that blockchain produces for users and
industries under consideration of platforms and applications. While aforementioned literature has
provided first insights regarding the blockchain design, economic consequences are usually assumed
but not demonstrated. Regarding the value related to blockchain technology, most of the discussion
has revolved around cryptocurrencies, especially Bitcoin. However, identifying the unique value that
blockchain technology provides compared to established systems is arguably among the most
intensely conversed topics in this area. In this regard, research will also need to investigate the value
and cost of integrating blockchain based solutions into existing information systems, considering that
the switching costs might deter people and organizations from migrating entire systems or services
onto blockchain systems (Shin 2016). Beyond the benefits of blockchain technology, research will
also need to weigh the expense at which the respective surplus comes. Gaining transparency, for
example, could also demand a trade-off with reduced anonymity due to higher identifiability through
transaction pattern recognition or user meta-information. These deliberations ultimately lead to the
question of value measurement. While the economic return on investment is the most commonly
demanded measure by practitioners, researchers should also investigate the relative importance of and
impacts on other ascertainable metrics (e.g., ease of use, trustworthiness). Considering blockchain
technology’s core functionality of providing validated and immutable transactions, projects in this area
should generally first identify which types of transactions could benefit from blockchain affordances
and then assess how these improvements can be measured. Currently, however, literature provides
only few convincing use cases (Glaser 2017).
Users and Society. Digitalization is expected to be the major disruptive force for modern society in the
years to come. Due to the advantageous efficiency of programmable processes, digitalization is
believed to reshape even knowledge-intensive industries and services (Loebbecke and Picot 2015).
Due to its potential pervasiveness (Glaser 2017), especially blockchain technology represents a potent
driver of this development. Researchers need to investigate the associated costs of blockchain systems
for individuals and the society (e.g., reduced anonymity, loss of jobs) to enable, for example, policy
makers take reasonable measures addressing these risks. Beyond potential costs, blockchain also offers
ascertainable benefits for the individual. It is argued that this added value comprises the facilitation of
payment services (Beck et al. 2016), profound knowledge on product background (Finley 2016), and
inexpensive intermediary services (Tapscott and Tapscott 2016). Thus, it can be seen that the potential
risks and benefits of blockchain are manifold. Identifying and measuring the potential value of
blockchain systems for the individual will also be of interest for businesses, which need to decide how
this technology can help them provide more efficient and leaner services to their customers.
Beck et al. (2016) were able to provide a first proof of concept for a blockchain system that facilitates
the payment process for customers in the case of a coffee shop. At the same time, however, they also
showed that individual level adoption hindrances are a key determinant for the system success or
failure. Apart from this first use-case implementation, researchers generally focus on conceptualizing
the potential societal benefits of blockchain to diminish political corruption (Pilkington et al. 2016) or
revolutionize the banking sector to enable a sustainable global economy (Nguyen 2016). Beyond the
first practical approach, however, little has been demonstrated regarding the individual level costs and
benefits of blockchain technology. Existent publications rather focus on to the conceptualization of
potential societal benefits of blockchain technology. More practical implementations and considerate
empirical investigations are needed to substantiate these claims.
Intermediaries. As mentioned earlier, a core affordance of blockchain technology is its potential to
improve intermediated transactions in general. Smart contracts enable autonomous mediation between
transaction partners without the need for trust into the other party. Thereby, blockchain technology is
argued to provide inexpensive alternatives to classical intermediary services providers (e.g., credit
card companies, stock exchanges) (Glaser 2017). This introduces a broad range of questions, for
example on how blockchain applications can replace intermediary services providers or whether the
established companies can implement blockchain based solutions to complement their current
business. Regarding procurement, for example, features such as transparency and immutability enable
the unique value propositions of the blockchain based intermediary service provider Everledger (Price
2015). By identifying the value propositions and the limitations that blockchain technology offers
compared to established intermediary services providers, research can also shed light on which
business models are actually going to be challenged by blockchain based systems (e.g., notary,
financial industry). Furthermore, other current digitalization advancements can benefit from
blockchain. Thus, not only established businesses can be changed but new business opportunities may
arise through blockchain based applications. The most prominent case are current developments
regarding the Internet of Things where blockchain is argued to introduce a new platform technology
that provides the missing link for privacy, reliability and scalability for the rising technological trend
(Banafa 2016).
In a first approach, Christidis and Devetsikiotis (2016) actually indicated the potential of smart
contracts to safely support transactions between devices in the context of the Internet of Things. They
are able to derive temporal advantages through cryptographically verified automated system
interactions. But also in real-world settings, blockchain technology transaction processing and time-
stamping has been found useful for supply chain management in general (Korpela et al. 2017) and in
combination with RFID technology for the food chain in particular (Feng 2016).
Beyond these findings, however, no studies have actually investigated questions of blockchain’s value
for intermediary service provisioning. As the technology development progresses and business cases
arise, we expect this to be of major interest for academic and practitioner communities. Particularly
the combination with transmitter technologies (e.g., RFID, beacons) constitutes a great potential for
supply chain management automation. Thus, researchers should consider implementing respective
applications and empirically measuring value created in real life settings.
Platforms. After different types of systems have been established, it will be necessary to determine the
unique surplus these systems provide. For example, considering parallels to physical currencies where
political borders influence the scope of value, little is yet known regarding the convertibility of
cryptocurrencies or even other digital assets across platforms. Seeing that different platforms
implement their unique tokens that correspond to different valuta, researchers need to inform the
process of managing value between multiple currencies. These findings will also help monetary
authorities in developing proper means of integrating cryptocurrencies into established systems and
regulating cryptocurrency exchanges. Furthermore, drawing the comparison between blockchain
networks and social media platforms, it will be necessary to investigate the differences between
environments. Thereby, their respective added value can be identified in order to enable users and
companies make educated decisions on which platform to engage for attaining their respective goals.
In this context, it will also be necessary to determine their complementary values in order to be able to
judge the sustainability of these systems. For example, the integration of an Instagram account into
one’s Facebook profile is rather inconsequential compared to a migration of a potentially affluent
depot from one Ethereum-based blockchain system to another in the case of a blockchain merger. A
deepened understanding of these networks for the public and businesses could then again increase
their willingness to engage even on public platforms.
First scientific approaches in this particular regard have focused on outlining research questions
towards understanding the blockchain potential as a digital payment system (Lindman et al. 2017) up
to discussing its capability of replacing a central bank (Hayes 2016). On a lower scale focus,
researchers have proposed a framework towards analysing the integration of blockchain-platforms into
existing software solutions (Xu et al. 2016) or actually integrated a blockchain system to safely
encrypt open Wi-Fi hotspots (Sanda and Inaba 2016).
While these approaches outline the added value of blockchain technology for different industries,
barely any research has practically addressed the issue of integrating blockchain-platforms into
operational information systems to complement and improve services. The measurement of generated
value has largely been confined to cryptocurrency market trends on their respective platforms.
Firms and Industries. Insights regarding the impact of blockchain technology on business values are
probably of the highest public interest at the moment. Questions in this area predominantly address
which markets or industries will be affected by blockchain systems and how business models need to
be designed to derive economic value from blockchains. While the financial markets is most
commonly discussed (Vernon 2016; Holotiuk et al. 2017; Yermack 2017), other areas like logistics
(Allison 2016) or public services (Ølnes 2016) move into focus as decision makers realize the
potential for added value from this technology. The upcoming business models can be differentiated
into enabling transactions between companies horizontally across the supply chain (e.g., R3 in the
financial market) or within the companies’ value chain (Science 2016). Currently, however, these
assumptions are still only idea driven, and first skeptical corporations are withdrawing their
investments from such business models (McLannahan 2016).
First research groups have taken on the substantial questions of blockchain value for firms and
industries and are engaging in empirical research beyond mere conceptual discussions. As such, Beck
and Müller-Bloch (2017) interviewed high ranking decision makers from large corporations to
systematically develop a process of how blockchain technology can successfully be introduced within
companies to generate business value. Brenig et al. (2016) develop a framework for the assessment of
the business models of decentralized consensus system operations. and Glaser (2017) provides a
structure to systematically assess blockchain use cases. Similarly, others have started to understand
industry-specific affordances of blockchain through structured data collections (Korpela et al. 2017;
Holotiuk et al. 2017). In combination with IoT services, blockchain is esteemed to have substantial
transformative power across several industries (Christidis and Devetsikiotis 2016). Beyond these
conceptual approaches, researchers have investigated the blockchain business value in various
different industries such as transportation (Yuan and Wang 2016; Pilkington and Lee 2017), financial
industry (Morini 2016), electricity market (Sikorski et al. 2017) or the e-health sector (Azaria et al.
2016). But also public services can benefit from blockchain applications, for example in the case of
EU-wide tax evasion-proof VAT collection (Ainsworth and Shact 2016).
These first studies provide increasingly reliable insights into the currently most discussed topic
regarding the business value of blockchain technology and how to leverage its disruptive force.
Building upon these studies provides a promising avenue for high impact studies necessary to
substantially advance blockchain research. In particular, extensive empirical studies would be
desirable to move the discussion of the value of blockchain technology to firm grounds.
4.2.3 Management & Organization
This line of research is concerned with questions surrounding the governance, use, effects and overall
organization of blockchain based information systems. As such, it includes research that aims to
understand the strategies and tactics employed by actors working on a blockchain as well as research
that develops policies for integrating blockchain technology into current and future economic and
societal settings. We expect that questions in this realm will also arouse the interest of
multidisciplinary teams of researchers and will benefit particularly from collaborations of IS
researchers with scholars from organization, management, political sciences, and law.
Users and Society. Decentralized networks of cryptography-based economic activity are a relatively
new phenomenon, and societies need to understand the potential liberties and restrictions that come
with them. General public and policy makers have recently been showing interest in cryptocurrencies
and their interfaces to national currencies and electronic markets. In particular, legislative institutions
around the world are trying to devise measures that prevent money laundering, fiscal fraud, and illegal
activities in darknet marketplaces (Kiviat 2015). Societies and national states thereby try to apply their
established systems of legal rules unchanged to blockchain systems that are largely based on
pseudonymity of users and network-wide transactions irrespective of physical locations. The
discussion to which degree such a transfer of rules is possible, and actually desirable, is so broad and
impactful that we believe researchers from IS should engage with scholars of law and political
sciences to bring together expertise in socio-technical, political, and legal matters necessary to drive
this discussion in a competent way. Against this backdrop, the analysis of Kiviat (2015) brings to
attention that currently devised regulatory approaches for cryptocurrencies have the potential to
restrict the general applicability of blockchain technology for its even more powerful purpose: the
exchange of digital assets. In order to prevent such collateral effects of legislation, scholars who are
knowledgeable in socio-technical basics of blockchain technology should join the discourse and
analyze proposed measures (Kiviat 2015). Given our discipline’s focus and history, we see IS
researchers well-equipped to do so.
Beyond cryptocurrencies, blockchain based solutions have recently been discussed as a means for
decentralizing political power and enabling truly democratic participation. Pilkington et al. (2016), for
example, provide detailed concepts and evaluations how existing and emerging blockchain based
projects may aid in fighting the effects of corruption and in increasing the social welfare in the
Republic of Moldova as an example of a developing country. They point out that corruption
particularly thrives when information is opaque and easily manipulated. To alleviate such antecedents
of corruption, blockchain based systems need to be open and freely auditable, rather than permissioned
and verifiable by few like some proposed closed systems (Pilkington et al. 2016). At the same time,
there are also critical voices that do accept blockchain technology’s potential for affecting even our
current conception of national states but call for careful evaluations whether decentralized decision
making indeed leads to more power for the individual or in fact to more privatized monopolies and a
loss of common good and collective rights (Atzori 2015). This suggests a tremendous need for
research that helps clearly identify and understand the strategic decisions that governments or even
societies need to make when conceptualizing and introducing blockchain based services. First scholars
of law are engaging in these emergent discussions both from normative and from analytical points of
view (e.g., Raskin 2016; Reyes 2017; Savelyev 2017).
This discourse is closely related to the rapidly growing technical research stream that focuses on
increasing data privacy on blockchains (cf. Yli-Huumo et al. (2016)). Although single users currently
act pseudonymously based on their unique cryptographic keys in most blockchain implementations,
the distributed and replicated nature of blockchain technology by and large exposes transactional data
and the contents of smart contracts to all nodes of the network. Data analytics can therefore be used to
gain insights into activities of single users as well as entire blockchain systems. While this can be seen
as a strength regarding auditability, it can also be viewed critically from a privacy perspective (De
Filippi 2016). Prior work on the network of users on the Bitcoin blockchain has, for example, shown
that prominent nodes in blockchain transactions can often be identified as specific persons or
organizations (Maesa et al. 2016; Yli-Huumo et al. 2016). The question where more or less anonymity
of users is not only technically feasible but also desirable from an individual or societal perspective
requires research to understand the behavior of networked individuals and groups under different
levels of anonymity. Streams of IS research that have previously helped understand how even
perceived anonymity fosters deviant behaviors of social media users (Lowry et al. 2016) may be
fruitfully used and extended in this context.
Although well-established IS methods and tools may be used to analyze blockchains in which human
actors interact with other individuals, organizations, as well as technological artifacts like smart
contracts, only few researchers have done so. For instance, Maesa et al. (2016) conduct a social
network analysis of the Bitcoin blockchain. Their results suggest that characteristic deviances in the
social network structure of Bitcoin from the social network structure of Facebook and other
established social networks could be rooted in attempts to conceal real asset transactions between
users. Scrutinizing and refining these results may therefore be of great interest to regulators and fiscal
authorities. Finding ways to balance legal authorities’ rights of inspection of asset transactions and the
individual blockchain user’s data privacy is therefore not only a technical question that should be
worked on by software engineers and computer scientists. It is a socio-technical question that should
also encompass studies of users and social networks who interact and conduct economic transaction
based on specific blockchain technology.
Finally, blockchain implementations may actually provide the chance to study some uncharted areas of
user behavior and human computer interaction. As such, blockchains will provide a platform even for
complex business transactions between individuals and fully or partly autonomous technological
agents like DAOs. Even today, human actors can invest in blockchain based programs that
autonomously manage physical art objects, their monetization, and even their evolutionary
development (Lotti 2016). It will be interesting to examine why and how individuals determine
transactions with such technological actors as trustworthy. On the one hand, explicit and readably
coded smart contracts may reduce uncertainty and the need to trust transaction partners, taking for
granted that the transactions can only take place in the programmed way. On the other hand, the lack
of legal enforcement possibilities should increase uncertainty and make individuals search for
trustworthy transaction partners. Given the IS discipline’s long history in researching trust in
technology-mediated settings, we expect IS to make significant contributions in understanding how
humans come to trust such new forms of organizations and their offers.
Intermediaries. Although intermediary service providers are most likely the organizations whose
business models will first be disrupted by blockchain based, automated solutions (Glaser 2017), there
is comparatively little research on the strategies and tactics that intermediaries apply to benefit from
blockchain technology or, at least, lessen the damage it causes to their business. This dearth of
research may partly be rooted in a lack of existing and observable productive blockchain solutions by
traditional intermediary service providers. Importantly, valuable solutions involve not only strong
internal changes at intermediaries but also new intra- and inter-organizational collaborations (Beck
and Müller-Bloch 2017). Solutions currently under development may therefore take some time to
become productive. Nonetheless, scholars are expecting strong changes to the current state of
intermediaries and accordingly also to the needs for legal boundaries of intermediaries (Vogel 2015).
Conceptual analyses suggest that the services of some intermediaries in multisided markets could be
fully provided by relatively complex smart contracts (Glaser 2017). Even if these intermediaries were
the ones to develop those smart contracts, it would be hard for them to charge their traditional amount
of service fees as they would always need to fear a less costly community solution. One elegant way to
deal with this problem may be inherent to many blockchain implementations already: cryptocurrency-
based reward mechanisms. Intermediaries may possibly use them to bind customers and service
providers to their platform in order to generate network effects while simultaneously reducing
operating costs by outsourcing blockchain operations to them. This approach has been demonstrated in
prototypical implementations and few startups. For example, Yuan and Wang (2016) describe a case
where validation of the blockchain transactions is provided by the so incentivized service providers in
a ride-sharing network (i.e., by the drivers). Azaria et al. (2016) describe a prototype where data
providers incentivize healthcare institutions and researchers to run and validate an infrastructure for
exchanging encrypted patient data by providing them with anonymized, aggregated patient data as a
bounty. Lastly, intermediaries could use the smart contract structure of DAOs to make their
complementors shareholders of the intermediary. Doing so, they could however create even more open
legal questions related to blockchain technology, particularly regarding the questions of who is liable
for service provisioning and in case of fraud. We suggest that these questions be addressed in close
collaboration with scholars of law.
Despite valuable first insights (Glaser 2017), it is currently largely unclear for which intermediaries
public or private blockchain systems constitute a threat or opportunity. Based on the affordances and
constraints of blockchain technology, research should consequently continue investigating which
services provided by intermediaries can reasonably be programmed and automated if behavioral
uncertainty of the parties is reduced and which services become obsolete if data can be shared directly
through distributed, tamper-proof event databases. In fact, this could be a very valuable application for
theory-guided action research. Given our discipline’s theoretical, methodological, and practical
expertise in IS outsourcing, we deem this also one very important area for empirical IS research to
make valuable contributions.
Platforms. Single implementations of blockchain technology differ i.a. in their openness regarding
their permissioning systems, their interfaces to external systems, as well as their incentive and
consensus mechanisms (Tschorsch and Scheuermann 2016). In their entirety, such technological
choices enable and constrain different behaviors of actors on these blockchains. On the public Bitcoin
blockchain, for example, technological choices have so far stimulated a tendency towards
conglomeration of mining activities (Tschorsch and Scheuermann 2016) that may eventually endanger
the decentralized control of the network through monopolization. Simulation models that can be used
to analyze or even predict such phenomena have, however, grown quite complex and specific. For
example, Cocco and Marchesi (2016) succeed in reproducing many developments on the Bitcoin
blockchain. In order to do so, however, they need to simulate not only specifics of the Bitcoin protocol
but also technological advances in the hardware used for Bitcoin mining, archetypical behaviors of
Bitcoin traders, and a price formation mechanism for Bitcoin (Cocco and Marchesi 2016). Although
game theory traditionally provides a dependable foundation for analyzing consensus mechanisms in
blockchain technology (Tschorsch and Scheuermann 2016), it is questionable how easily results from
such fitted simulations can be generalized across single implementations of blockchain technology. IS
research should therefore complement extant approaches to studying single blockchain platforms by
bringing in theories and methods that have successfully yielded generalizable results in similar
research streams such as on social media platforms and software ecosystems.
Particularly findings from software ecosystems literature (Agarwal and Tiwana 2015) may be helpful
to understand how to organize and manage blockchain systems. In turn, platforms based on blockchain
technology may be an interesting area of research for scholars of platform ecosystems as they clearly
share several characteristics with traditional software ecosystems (e.g., the ones managed by SAP,
Oracle, Apple, or Google) but also have distinctive properties: similar to traditional ecosystems, public
blockchains need to attract and retain complementors to spur innovation and provide value-added
services on top of the platform infrastructure in order to attract actually paying users. Similarly, public
blockchains differ in their specific degrees of openness and modularity, in their technology-enforced
rules what complementing smart contracts can do and what not. Contrastingly, however, public
blockchains are distributed systems and do not have a single owner that can freely decide on changes
to the platform or easily exclude insubordinate complementors. In contrast to traditional platforms,
blockchain systems have a specific state and history of transactions which are very hard to tamper
with. These differences to traditional platforms become obvious when running blockchains are to
receive major updates or when historical transactions are to be changed, for example after a successful
hacker attack. For blockchain systems, such maintenance procedures, comparatively trivial in
centralized systems, need the consent and active acceptance of all validating nodes in order to be
effective. Without such consent, these procedures can actually result in a split of the chain so that two
versions with competing transaction histories stay active until abandoned by all validating nodes (i.e.,
a hard fork, see Tschorsch and Scheuermann (2016)). On the one hand, open source research suggests
that forks can have negative motivational consequences for developers in a project (Stewart and
Gosain 2006) which could also apply to complementors on a blockchain. On the other hand, hard forks
could signal that a public blockchain is able to react even to seemingly catastrophic events, making it
more attractive for complementors. In case of hard forks that result in two enduring blockchains, some
users may moreover be able to spend their historically accumulated digital assets twice, once on each
version of the blockchain. There is little research on what such hard forks do to existing blockchain
systems, their users, their complementors, and even the virtual organizations residing on them (Decker
and Wattenhofer 2013). IS researchers should use their expertise on software ecosystems to address
such important behavioral questions. Scholars targeting this fruitful area of research can find further
valuable guidance in a research agenda on blockchains as platforms provided by Lindman et al.
Firms and Industries. Although many contemporary technical proposals of blockchain systems from
research target specific industries (e.g., Yuan and Wang 2016; Zhang et al. 2016b), the vast majority is
currently in a mere prototypical state and not based on theoretical or empirical insights in these
industries or organizations acting therein. Regrettably, very little research has empirically investigated
the strategies and tactics applied by companies or entire industries when working on new blockchain
solutions or acting on existing blockchains. As a mentionable exception, Beck and Müller-Bloch
(2017) not only investigate value creation through blockchain technology but also outline a process of
innovating based on blockchain technology in financial institutions. They show that management
vision is of utmost importance in this process.
Beyond these valuable first steps, researchers have however largely ignored this field of research
clearly connecting organization research and technology. Particularly blockchain technology’s
innovative character regarding distribution and its potential to interconnect potentially opportunistic
actors within supply chains and entire industries yield many questions regarding strategy, tactics, and
governance. For example, who holds which rights and power in industry-wide permissioned
blockchain systems such as R3 in financial industry? How can existing inter-organizational business
processes and value chains be redesigned given tamper-proof, distributed databases of transactions?
Which factors determine whether firms interact more productively in an inter-organizational network
based on blockchain technology, and how do different models of ensuring data privacy and
confidentiality affect organizations’ behavior? Lastly, research should also start to examine if, how,
and why the purported new forms of organizations such as DAOs and DACs are viable and how such
organizational forms can be effectively governed and be made compliant with legal regulations (Price
2016). All these questions are strongly related to traditional fields of IS and organizational research
and therefore hold huge potential to expand extant research into the innovative field of blockchain
In sum, theory-driven, empirical research has only recently started to address questions of managing
and organizing actions of users and organizations in the face of blockchain systems. We expect
enormous research contributions coming from IS and related disciplines during the next years.
4.3 Avenues for Advanced Research
Research should further address the important research directions we have pointed out so far. Table 4
should also help interested researchers to pick meaningful further research questions. In the following,
we indicate interdisciplinary, theoretical and empirical linkages that will hopefully be particularly
helpful for the closing of apparent research gaps.
4.3.1 Potential for Multidisciplinary Research Collaborations
Blockchain technology is pervasive in the sense that it introduces decentralization to the digital
infrastructure spanning the layers from the hardware, over fabric and application layers up to the
presentation layer (Glaser 2017). As the framework above shows, blockchain systems have the
potential to affect various aspects of life due to their unique affordances. Both technological and
application-oriented prospects promote input from and implications for other disciplines. However, as
our review shows (Tables 2 and 3), extant publications still focus primarily on technological and
business related topics and are often confined to the disciplines of computer science and information
systems rather than addressing the broader societal, political or judicative questions. Only recently,
major outlets in other disciplines have started picking up on the transformative potential of blockchain
technology in their respective areas. For example, Yermack (2017) provides first concrete ideas how
blockchain may influence practice as well as academic research of corporate governance and executive
compensation. We argue that the practical and academic questions that emerge from blockchain
technology and its design, application, and implications, provide a big potential for meaningful
multidisciplinary research that extends beyond the boundaries of one specific discipline.
Research Discipline
Number of
Related Publications
Computer Science
Information Systems
Political Science
Table 3. Overview over Disciplines of Blockchain Related Publications
For design and features, we recommend considering related concepts and theories from computer
science, law, and psychology to inform these research endeavors. As was shown by the literature
review, a big proportion of the existent findings address this area or research. Particularly many
conceptual papers and business-related technical improvements are published by computer scientists
in their respective outlets (Table 3). Within the information systems discipline, the related design
science research has successfully investigated first blockchain based use cases and first empirical
projects are addressing adoption drivers and hindrances. We see a need for future research crossing the
boundaries of computer science, information systems and law in many technical areas including
cryptography (Yli-Huumo et al. 2016). For example, there is a big need for evaluating smart contracts
through universal composability frameworks (Kosba et al. 2015; Canetti 2001) or non-interactive
arguments of knowledge protocols (Juels et al. 2016). Where smart contracts indeed refer to business
transactions, the expertise of scholars of law should not be neglected when designing technical
solutions. Further advancements will pertain to developing means of moving proof of work protocols
to proof of ownership models (Back 2017). However, as the technological development progresses
and more applications become feasible, we expect findings from psychology to offer important input
and contributions. Psychological research and related work in information systems has produced
substantial insights regarding usability engineering (Dix 2009; Shneiderman 2010) and adoption of
information systems (Venkatesh and Davis 2000). In order to further advance blockchain technology
dissemination, research will not only need to improve the ease-of-use but also investigate the
perceived costs and benefits. First results, for example Fabian et al. (2016), suggest that questions of
how users perceive and enact their privacy needs will need to be better understood in order to explain
voluntary user adoption of blockchain solutions. We see substantial opportunities for collaborations
across information systems and psychology to investigate such questions based on robust theory.
Moreover, blockchain has been purported to allow trust-free transactions. Psychology based research
can help determine whether and under which conditions this is actually the case. Theories on group
decision making (e.g., group think or group polarization) from psychological research can inform the
understanding of the decision formation process, for example, in the case of lacking consensus on a
user level that leads to hard forks.
Moving towards measuring the value of blockchain and the costs at which these benefits come for the
society and businesses will be a major driving force for the technological dissemination. The findings
from this literature review support the concern recited by Glaser (2017) that blockchain is an
innovative technology in search of use cases. We expect input from other disciplines like finance,
economics, and sociology to support addressing this gap by offering insights on how to gain surplus
and manage risks associated with the technology. We expect that multidisciplinary research will
reveal, for example, whether and to which extent technically feasible blockchain based solutions (e.g.,
for notary services) (Crosby et al. 2016) will actually make it to productive applications compliant
with legal requirements (Sean 2017). Finance is considered to be substantially affected by blockchain
technology (Tapscott and Tapscott 2016). Thus, research on topics such as cryptofinance (Harvey
2016), securities issuance, insurance, trading and settlement will help advance terms of blockchain
applicability (Nofer et al. 2017). While the financial market and respective intermediary institutions
are currently at the focus of the debate, recent developments indicate that it is not necessarily the
financial industries (McLannahan 2016) but other industries (e.g., logistics) (Allison 2016) that will be
disrupted by the blockchain. Furthermore, economics can help to predict developments regarding the
progression of blockchain based cryptocurrencies and derive means on how to integrate them into
established currency systems. By transferring insights and principles identified by studying
consequences of the networked economy (Choudary et al. 2016), economists will greatly contribute to
the understanding of micro- and macroeconomic effects accompanying blockchain. In line with
general digitalization developments (Loebbecke and Picot 2015), blockchain also poses challenges for
the society. In collaboration with sociologists, research needs to provide political decision makers with
reliable information regarding, for example, consequences for the job market and the consequences of
enhanced transparency on the social behavior. Furthermore, currently discussed concepts such as
cryptocitizens, cryptosustainability, and crypto-enlightened governance (Nichol 2016) will need to be
properly elaborated in order to understand and harness the societal effects of blockchain.
Ultimately, these insights on the technological and influential aspects of blockchain will help to
inform the organization and management of blockchain related systems. Depending on the level of
analysis, research will depend on collaborations with management, political sciences or law. When
considering the handling of societal consequences and imposing regulations, knowledge from political
sciences but also sociotechnical expertise from information systems will be imperative to providing
impactful intelligence. Collaborating with law experts is going to advance research on the legislative
aspects regarding intellectual properties and imposing legally binding frameworks for decentralized
transactions of any type of goods thereby setting the boundaries for intermediary service providers
(Vogel 2015). Scientists need to assess regulatory responses to crypto-currencies and draw useful
lessons from regulatory deficiencies (Guadamuz and Marsden 2015). Furthermore, the potential
empowerment of the individual at the expense of governmental power may even require a reevaluation
of the principle of coercion as the basis for the rule of law and the eventual consequences for the
balance between liberalism and democracy (Atzori 2015). Management sciences are important for
deriving proper strategies on how to deploy blockchain services within the supply and value chains.
Beck and Müller-Bloch (2017) already demonstrated the importance of top level managers for
introducing this novel technology within companies. To advance these insights towards actionable
strategic advice for executives, insights from management science will help guide the process.
However, we expect management contributions to go further by applying different theories, including
for example transaction cost theory, to determine entrepreneurial consequences (Williamson 2005;
Interlogica 2017).
Overall, we can conclude that the pervasiveness of the technology is currently not met by
correspondingly comprehensive and multidisciplinary research approaches. This leaves great potential
for future research to improve our understanding of the terms of change entailed by blockchain
systems for the individual, businesses processes, and society at large. In Table 4 we depict several
specific research questions derived from our previous analysis to provide guidance for future (partly
interdisciplinary) blockchain research.
Level of Analysis
Selected Research Questions for Future Research
Design and Features
Users and Society
How do specific blockchain induced affordances such
as decentralization and different consensus
mechanisms affect individual adoption?
How does traceability and potential deanonymization
alter online transaction, investment, and spending
How can smart contracts and the services they provide
interoperate across multiple blockchains?
Are some smart contracts particularly suited to be
hosted in certain blockchain environments?
How can interfaces between smart contracts and
existing information systems be designed to increase
What are the technological interdependencies between
different blockchain features (e.g., levels of permission
and consensus mechanisms)?
How can the technical strengths of multiple public and
private blockchain platforms be combined for complex
business transactions?
Which combination of blockchain features offers
greatest protection against issues such as 50+1 attacks?
Firms and
Which features (e.g. consensus mechanisms) make a
permissionless blockchain applicable for different
company use cases?
How can scalability issues be overcome in order to
enable Internet of Things transactions?
How can business processes involving sensitive data
such as patient information or financial records be
implemented on blockchain?
Measurement and
Users and Society
Do the blockchain provided benefits of immutability
and decentralized control translate into monetary
Do features like the perceived transaction speed and
control over money flow affect the individual
willingness to pay?
Which new forms of employment arise for trained
experts of intermediary services companies in a
blockchain industry?
To what extent does trust in an algorithm differ from
trust in a third-party service provider?
How can fraudulent coin offerings be detected and
legally indicted?
Does the relationship between token transfer and value
follow the same principals as trading volume and
Does the removal of an intermediary party cause an in-
or decrease in the perceived empowerment and
Does the combination of currency and service offering
within the same blockchain enable new forms of
dynamic pricing?
Can transaction traceability be leveraged to identify
criminals or prevent unlawful transactions on darknet
What are the (dis-)advantages of traditional auditing
systems compared to blockchain based corporate
How can decentralized blockchain systems help
overcome issues of fragmented markets?
Firms and
How can tax authorities utilize transaction logging to
automate tax deductions and avoid tax fraud?
To what extent does blockchain enabled
decentralization and traceability challenge sharing
economy platforms such as Uber and AirBnB?
To what extent are the consequences of automated
decentralized intermediation for service providers
comparable to those of the industrial revolution for
How does blockchain enabled traceability within
supply chains affect product prices and quality?
Which kinds of business models can be economically
successful in a blockchain industry?
Management and
Users and Society
How can blockchain based voting mechanisms mitigate
threats of group decision making biases?
How can blockchain technology increase participation
of citizens in political decision making?
How do DAO/DAC structures affect the influence of
individual stakeholders?
Which insights from political referendums can be
transferred to DAO/DAC decision making?
What is the individually preferred balance between
legal blockchain regulation and operational risk?
How do differences in ecosystem governance affect the
provision of services on public blockchains?
Which variations of token functionalities (such as
representations of property, utility, or rewards) are most
conducive to disintermediation?
How does outsourcing to blockchain smart contracts
differ from traditional outsourcing regarding contract
completeness and governance mechanisms?
Which consensus mechanisms can blockchain platforms
deploy to avoid monopolization of power?
What are the economic consequences of managerial
interventions on public blockchains such as hard forks?
How can blockchain platforms device community
mechanisms to facilitate protocol evolution and prevent
Firms and
How can companies meet international data privacy
standards when conducting blockchain based
Which forms of consensus mechanisms should
companies deploy when conducting industry-wide
decentralized transactions?
Who finances and governs the development and
operation of decentralized inter-organizational
blockchain systems?
Table 4. Exemplary Blockchain Research Questions for Future Studies
4.3.2 Potential for Empirical Research
Table 5 provides an overview of the methodological approaches taken in the papers we analyzed. Our
analysis shows that there is a mentionable amount of conceptual and design-oriented research,
particularly prototypes, and analytical investigations into cryptocurrencies. The amount of business-
related quantitative research beyond cryptocurrencies is, however, extremely limited and theory-driven
empirical research on blockchain related phenomena is generally scarce. On the one hand, this may be
owed to the fact that blockchain technology is still relatively early in the hype cycle and researchers
from outside computer science took long to realize the technology’s potential. On the other hand, it
may be owed to researchers’ lack of knowledge about how to collect data for meaningful quantitative
analyses in an area that has long been dominated by technical jargon and conceptual fuzziness (Glaser
2017). To enable more scholars to join this fruitful area of research, we briefly present some sources
of data that may allow advancing business-related empirical research on blockchain technology and
connect them to our framework and prior work.
Number of
Related Publications
and design-
Design Science/
Literature Review
Case Study
Table 5. Overview over Methodologies of Blockchain Related Publications
For all levels of analysis presented in our framework, researchers can collect primary data for
qualitative or quantitative analyses. For example, Beck and Müller-Bloch (2017) study the case of a
firm in the financial industry based on interviews, Yuan and Wang (2016) present a case of a
blockchain start-up for intermediating ride sharing, Abramova and Böhme (2016) and Fabian et al.
(2016) conduct user surveys on Bitcoin, and Kazan et al. (2014) combine interview data from platform
providers with archival news data. These approaches show that even the anonymity particular to some
blockchain platforms does not prevent primary data collection. In fact, there are even successful
examples of user surveys in clearly illegal markets fueled with cryptocurrency where participating
subjects have to fear legal prosecution (Van Hout and Bingham 2013a, b). We consequently encourage
fellow researchers to devise methods for collecting primary data despite the initial perception of
obstacles related to the cryptographic aspects and network distribution involved in blockchain
Blockchain systems consistently store a linear history of transactions. Although increasing data
privacy and differentiating read and write permissions for transactions are two major contemporary
research areas (Yli-Huumo et al. 2016), many blockchain implementations are currently fully
transparent and all network actors can read their transactions and smart contracts. This has created
quite mentionable opportunities to collect and analyze secondary data by inspecting publicly available
blockchain systems including Bitcoin and Ethereum. For technical questions, researchers have already
made use of these possibilities (Tschorsch and Scheuermann 2016; Yli-Huumo et al. 2016), but little
business-related research has done so. While some researchers may want to analyze public
blockchains fully on their machines to apply or develop specific measures, for example for social
network analysis (Maesa et al. 2016; Glaser et al. 2014), others may want to rely at least partly on
aggregation services that can be found on the internet. As such, Cocco and Marchesi (2016) use to calibrate their analytical model. There are several such online services and
blockchain analytics software solutions that allow for pre-analyzing or fully analyzing data from
different public blockchain systems. Several provide application programming interfaces (APIs) to
directly export and consume data. In Table Appendix 2, we summarize several popular data providers
and depict some characteristic pieces of data that can be retrieved via each provider. Detailed
explanations for each piece of data can be found on the websites and documentations of the APIs and
are omitted here for the sake of conciseness.
We argue that such data providers and blockchain analytics services can fruitfully be used for
empirical research and save researchers some trouble of going deep into protocols of each blockchain
implementation. Particularly research on platform and on user levels may be interested in using such
services as those are, together with single transactions, the levels of analysis that are typically
provided by the services. For research on the societal level, we moreover suggest that researchers may
want to analyze the points where public blockchains and the physical world interface. As such, the
geographic distribution of ATMs exchanging Bitcoin to fiat currency may be one interesting starting
point and is provided publicly (see Table Appendix 2). For studies on intermediaries and smart
contracts providing intermediary services, the website may be a starting point with
rudimentary analytical capabilities for smart contracts on Ethereum. Lastly, researchers may simply be
interested in finding representative companies for their firm level studies. For this purpose, Table
Appendix 2 also depicts a service that ranks blockchain companies and consortia by their activity on
social media which can be used to gain a first overview of relevant candidate firms.
In sum, we hope that these data sources provide valuable starting points for projects of researchers
who want to become active in empirically investigating business-relevant phenomena related to
blockchain technology.
5 Discussion
This paper set out to chart the state of knowledge on blockchain technology beyond cryptocurrencies
and to identify current as well as prospective research topics to enable meaningful scholarly
engagement in blockchain research. The intent is to streamline and inform future blockchain related
scientific endeavors across disciplines to advance insights in terms of blockchain application. The
insights provided by the literature review in combination with the adapted framework for blockchain
research have a number of implications for research.
First and foremost, there is a dominant concentration of extant work on design and features of
blockchain technology that is largely driven by conceptual, prototyping, and analytical papers, often
on cryptocurrencies. This is consistent with prior reviews on blockchain from a more technical
perspective (Tschorsch and Scheuermann 2016; Yli-Huumo et al. 2016; Morisse 2015). To further
understand the applicability, use and effects of blockchain technology, we propose that future research
sophisticatedly considers interdependencies and trade-offs between different blockchain features (e.g.,
scalability, security and privacy) as well as the effects of the separate features on the different levels of
analysis (Yli-Huumo et al. 2016; Anceaume et al. 2016; Walsh et al. 2016). Despite the purported
disruptive potential and the grand expectations about blockchains, the almost exclusive focus on
technology has led to a situation where critically needed research has largely been neglected (Glaser
2017). Our review shows that this holds true for research on value creation and measurement as well
as governance and management of blockchain systems which encompass organizational and individual
users. The current application focus of blockchain on the financial market (i.e., stock exchange, banks,
credit card companies, and cryptocurrencies) can be explained by the Bitcoin background of the
technology and the general orientation of financial institutions towards digital services. However, the
pervasiveness and extent of the technology call for considering areas of application beyond the
currently discussed financial market (e.g., logistics, procurement) (Allison 2016; Nofer et al. 2017;
Price 2015). The current state of research suggests particular values of blockchain for supply chain
management (Korpela et al. 2017) through the combination with IoT services (Christidis and
Devetsikiotis 2016) or transmission technologies (e.g., RFID) (Feng 2016). Regarding societal and
legal consequences, some forms of research have rapidly developed (e.g., essays on regulatory issues
regarding cryptocurrencies) (Guadamuz and Marsden 2015), whereas other aspects are barely
considered (e.g., decision making mechanisms, rule enforcement, coercion). Despite the heightened
expectations regarding the empowerment of the individual as opposed to companies or the
government, critical analyses of the applicability of blockchain for societal purposes (e.g., in e-
government) emphasize that this can by no means be seen as a development towards dispensability of
state control (Atzori 2015). Thus, we assume that research on measurement and value as well as
management and organization that builds upon comprehensive insights on blockchain design and
features can provide essential contributions regarding the terms of blockchain application.
Second, our analysis revealed that there are only scarce examples of empirical and theory-driven
research. Although we cannot claim to know the underlying reasons, the presented research agenda in
combination with the starting points for empirical investigations are intended to support researchers in
conducting rigorous research in this highly relevant area.
Third, analyzing contributions of the distinct disciplines revealed that there is little multidisciplinary
research to reflect the ramifications of blockchain systems that extend far beyond technological issues
into economy and society. We are convinced that collaborations across disciplinary borders are fruitful
and actually necessary for meaningful research on blockchain systems. First scholars from multiple
disciplines have begun to examine single technical features to build an informed understanding that
enables legislators and policymakers to address regulatory concerns (Kiviat 2015). Joining their forces
on the outlined open questions should, from our perspective, benefit the comprehensiveness of their
important research projects. Thus, we have introduced several important areas and open questions
where multidisciplinary research is critically needed (e.g., group decision making, cryptocitizens,
coercion). At the same time we acknowledge that multidisciplinary research is challenging regarding
the selection of proper publication outlets and the proper research scope under consideration of the
targeted discipline. Thus, while multidisciplinary research poses great challenges, we expect this will
be the way to cope with the implications of blockchain technology and to inform society, industry and
academia how to shape the technology to leverage the particular prospective benefits.
6 Conclusion
Blockchain technology is among the most trending technologies and is said to have strong disruptive
potential (Gartner 2016). At the same time, however, blockchain is commonly referred to as an
innovative technology in search of use cases (Glaser 2017) and may possibly not fulfill the great
expectations placed on it (Avital et al. 2016). We assume that a comprehensive overview of the
present scientific research activities in a framework with prospective guidelines for future research
will help to sustain blockchain research beyond the current hype. Addressing this objective, we created
a general research framework for blockchain systems based on a popular and successful template (Aral
et al. 2013) and the technological affordances of blockchain technology (Glaser 2017). It draws
attention to the questions how different blockchain systems should be designed, how blockchains can
be deployed to generate value, and how blockchain systems including organizational, individual, and
artificial actors can be managed and governed. These general questions relate to more specific ones on
different levels of analysis, namely for users and society, intermediaries, platforms, as well as firms
and industries. Reviewing and classifying the existent literature into the respective areas, we identified
the predominant and the neglected fields of blockchain research beyond cryptocurrencies. By
providing online access to the current state-of-knowledge and inviting researchers to collaborate by
submitting new blockchain publications, we intend to substantially inform future research
. This study
also highlighted the intersections of different disciplines that provide the basis for multidisciplinary
research collaboration to create meaningful advances in blockchain research. Lastly, we provided an
overview of potential data sources for investigations on different levels of analysis to help scholars get
started with more empirical research. Our findings suggest that published research provides a decent
understanding of the current technological state-of-practice. Investigations into consequences of
different technological variations, into the business value of blockchain systems, and into their
management and organization are fairly scarce. We conclude by urging researchers to take on the
challenge and achieve contributions that advance the general knowledge on blockchain systems,
particularly regarding value creation and management. Conceptually, we contribute to blockchain
research by providing a prospective research framework that was adapted from the prominent guiding
agenda for a disruptive network technology by Aral et al. (2013). Even beyond the research questions
defined in this paper, the conceptual framework can be used to map focal user activities (Design,
Measure, Manage) and levels of analysis (Users, Intermediaries, Platforms, Firms) in order to spot
open areas for research in the future or systematically create new research questions. The combination
of categories is intended to guide research and structure findings. Therefore, these categories are not
set to be mutually exclusive. Studies can focus on one activity that simultaneously addresses different
levels of analysis (e.g., Design & Features: Intermediaries, Firms & Industries) (Juels et al. 2016) or
pursue different activities targeting similar levels of analysis (e.g., Platforms: Design & Features,
Management & Organizations) (Luu et al. 2015). Acknowledging the bigger picture by referring to an
established framework will hopefully also allow future researchers to comprehensively guide
investigations beyond areas mentioned by the current literature like existent reviews do (e.g., Yli-
Huumo et al. 2016).
The contributions of the study need to be considered in the light of its limitations. Due to the emergent
nature of the topic, the reviewed literature was not published in high ranking journals with prolonged
review cycles. Therefore, parts of the developed research questions are based on the exchange with
experienced blockchain developers and other precarious sources. Nonetheless, the key components of
the work and predominant share of literature were drawn from peer-reviewed outlets in the
information systems and computer science disciplines representing the current state of knowledge.
Furthermore, the goal of this work was to develop a framework of blockchain research as a whole.
We provide open access to the overview over current scientific knowledge (Table 3) here:
Therefore, the share of Bitcoin literature is quantitatively underrepresented. We refer to the existing
reviews on this specific type of blockchain (Tschorsch and Scheuermann 2016; Wörner et al. 2016;
Glaser et al. 2014; Morisse 2015), while incorporating the general insights into this review.
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8 Appendix
Title of Paper
Key Findings
Level of
Abramova, S.;
Bhme, R.
Perceived Benefit and
Risk as Multidimensional
Determinants of Bitcoin
Use: A Quantitative
Exploratory Study
Identify the impact of
perceived benefits and risks
on Bitcoin use as well as the
technological aspects
(decentralization, transaction
speeds, security and control)
on the perceived benefit
37th International
Conference on
Systems, Dublin,
Design &
Users &
Ainsworth, R.
T.; Shact, A.
Blockchain (Distributed
Ledger Technology)
Solves VAT Fraud
Elaborate how blockchain
enables particular efficiencies
to EU VAT collection
Boston University
Law & Economics
Research Paper, 41
Measurement &
Firms &
Aitzhan, N.
Svetinovic, D.
Security and Privacy in
Decentralized Energy
Trading through Multi-
Signatures, Blockchain
and Anonymous
Messaging Streams
Implement a proof-of-concept
for decentralized energy
trading system using
blockchain technology
enabling peers to
anonymously negotiate
energy prices and securely
perform trading transactions
IEEE Transactions
on Dependable and
Secure Computing,
Design &
Firms &
Azaria A.;
Ekblaw A.;
Vieira T.;
Lippman, A.;
MedRec: Using
Blockchain for Medical
Data Access and
Permission Management
Develop a blockchain
platform for medical data
exchange with access to
anonymized data as mining
2nd International
Conference on Open
and Big Data,
Vienna, Austria
Measurement &
Firms &
Back, A.;
Corallo, M.M
Dashjr, L.;
M.; Maxwell,
G.; Miller, A.;
Poelstra, A.;
Timón, J.;
Wuille, P.
Enabling blockchain
innovations with pegged
Develop and propose a
sidechain-based concept for
transferring digital assets
between different blockchain
Design &
Beck, R.;
Czepluch, J.;
Lollike, N.;
Malone, S.
Blockchain The
Gateway To Trust-Free
Develop a proof of concept
prototype that has the
potential to replace a trust-
based coffee shop payment
24th European
Conference on
Measurement &
Users &
Beck, R.;
Blockchain as Radical
A Framework for
Engaging with
Distributed Ledgers
Case study in a financial
institution analyzing the
benefits of blockchain on
transaction costs and
developing a framework on
properly rolling out
blockchain systems
Hawaii International
Conference on
System Sciences,
Waikaloa, USA
Management &
Firms &
Bell, T. W.
Copyrights, Privacy, and
the Blockchain
Explain the conflicting law in
the United States regarding
copyrights and privacy rights
that could be overcome
through blockchain
Ohio North
University Law
Review, 42 (16)
Management &
Firms &
Brandon, D.