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Paper 3: Digital Infrastructure Development and Governance in Maritime Trade: The Role of Blockchain

3. Research method

3.2. Data sources

England and Wales, 2021). In other words, mere possession of a BL can confer rights on its possessor.

In commercial practice, this means that BLs have an intrinsic value as security to banks that finance the sale of the underlying goods in a transaction, and they entitle their legitimate holders to initiate new transactions while the goods are in transit by virtue of the transfer of the BL (Dubovec, 2006).

As such, the BL has been developed as one of the prime means for financing international commercial transactions (Schmitz, 2011).

Secondly, this setting is appropriate because it allows for observation of a nascent global digital infrastructure in the making and, therefore, also for identifying factors and mechanisms that play a crucial role in digital infrastructure development.

Data sources Use in analysis Interviews (25 semi-structured interviews)

Phase 1: July 2018 – October 2019 3 interviews

Exploratory interviews aimed at examining the issues related to digitalization in the container shipping industry and previous attempts to introduce eBLs vis-à-vis the most recent ones involving blockchain technology, from an inter-organizational and technical perspective.

Identifying key stakeholders in the container shipping industry and the broader trade ecosystem involved in major trade digitalization initiatives.

Phase 2: March 2020 – September 2020 8 interviews

To capture the technical and organizational complexities around the development of a maritime trade ecosystem-spanning blockchain-based information exchange platform from the perspective of relevant ecosystem members. Identification of the bill of lading, the legal and commercial document used as a base around which digital infrastructure would be developed to enable trade digitalization.

Phase 3: July 2021 – January 2022 14 interviews

With a focus on boundary spanners, the aim was to develop an understanding of additional governance and legal complexities related to the digitalization of trade documents of title, where the eBL was particularly prominent. To understand the roles and interactions among relevant stakeholders able to produce governance mechanisms (e.g., technical and private legal standards developed by industry standard developing organizations (SDOs), public legislative standards, laws), and formal and informal governance units (e.g., industry associations, advisory boards, working groups) that enable collaboration of these independent centers of decision-making. To understand the role of individual firms that provide eBL solutions, ocean carriers as issuers of bills of lading and other key players in the maritime trade ecosystem. To capture how these interactions and mechanisms contribute to the development of a digital infrastructure to support eBLs.

Fieldwork and conference participation November 2017 – January 2022

Participation at 33 industry conferences and webinars

To observe and understand broad trends in the container shipping industry and the broader trade ecosystem, stay up to date with the most recent developments and plans for the future. To identify boundary-spanning individuals in charge of making decisions in inter-organizational settings. To directly engage with these individuals and establish initial contacts for interviews.

Archival data November 2017 – March 2022

Drafts and final technical and legal standards published by the DCSA, the UNCITRAL Model Law for Electronic Transferable Records (MLETR) and framework agreements, ministerial declaration and roadmap for reform by G7, consultation paper, report, and draft legislation for legislative reform in England and Wales and Singapore, industry and cross-industry body whitepapers, policy briefs and business cases for legal reform, other business publications, internet sources, corporate materials, minutes from meetings of a

cross-To attain background and explanatory information that informs, supports or clarifies, and ultimately extends evidence collected from other data sources, primarily interviews. To get familiarized with the content and scope of published governance mechanisms such as standards, as well as to obtain primary data on the formation of relevant governance bodies, including their membership, overall aims, and governance structures.

industry governance body, presentations, DCSA quarterly newsletters, videos

Table 2: Overview of data collection

The COVID-19 pandemic had a crucial impact on the execution and availability of industry events, as they needed to be converted into an online-only format, with some events adopting a hybrid online and in-person approach in late 2021. Anecdotal observations from conference participants and online publications71 indicate that the online-only format of these events was generally observed as having benefits that far outweigh the downsides. Between June 2018 and January 2022, 25 in-depth interviews were conducted with various informants. Additionally, 33 industry conferences and similar events were attended (See appendices A and B for details).

The data collected from the interviews were valuable in identifying key stakeholders involved in maritime trade digitalization (first phase); major inter-organizational and technological complexities related to the rollout of major digitalization initiatives based on blockchain technology, and additional legal complexities related to the digitalization of the bill of lading as a first step in making maritime trade truly digital (second phase). Based on insights from the first two phases, the data collected during the third phase clarified the roles and interactions between individual organizations (e.g., ocean carriers, eBL solution providers), industry associations they formed or formally collaborated with (e.g., DCSA, BIMCO), inter-governmental and lawmaking bodies (e.g., UNCITRAL), and an inter-industry body (e.g., ICC DSI) that was formed specifically to orchestrate this collaboration through advocacy and a newly formed governance structure72. These data revealed how governance was nested across several levels at which actors could independently develop governance mechanisms, which in turn collectively contributed to the development of a nascent digital infrastructure.

In the third phase, the informants predominantly held senior positions (i.e., C-level or equivalent).

Since the focus of the study was to explicate the interaction and dynamics involved in global digital information infrastructure development, the emphasis was on interviewing boundary spanners

71 For an example see: https://www.europeanbusinessreview.com/the-pros-and-cons-of-using-online-meeting-technology/

72 Operating under the auspices of the ICC and the governance board of the ICC DSI, the Industry Advisory Board, formed in the Fall of 2021, offered a global, cross-industry neutral governed venue for senior stakeholders from SDOs, inter-governmental institutions and large firms from various industries including container shipping to collaborate toward developing and promoting standards that enable trade digitalization.

(Dekker, 2016), individuals who are in charge of decision-making in inter-organizational settings.

Additionally, focusing on boundary spanning individuals as the primary source of interview data in the third phase was deemed appropriate as boundary spanners concurrently need to balance the strategic objectives of their organization with the objectives of the broader collaborative effort in the industry (Thambar et al., 2019), which added further nuance to the empirical findings.

The insights about the appropriate respondents came from two sources. First, they were based on interactions and observations at industry events, where individuals in senior positions often assumed speaker roles on behalf of their respective organizations. Second, they were based on a snowball sampling or networking approach (Collis and Hussey, 2013). Respondents were asked to recommend individuals who held senior positions in key stakeholder organizations and played an active role in establishing and governing different bodies working on the digitalization of the BL.

In addition to interviews and field data, during the period of more than four years, large amounts of archival data were accessed (see Table 2). Archival data often served as the primary source of evidence such that they revealed relevant events, contents of standardization and lawmaking activities, memberships, governance configurations, principles, and sources of funding of industry and inter-industry bodies. Archival data also complemented the evidence obtained through interviews and fieldwork. For example, since many events and developments were documented through different sources, the data collection efforts allowed for triangulation and cross-validation (Yin, 2014).

Additionally, during three repeat interviews (all during phase three), the respondents were asked to reflect on insights provided in previous interviews and reflect on the current state of the analysis and the latest version of the developing theoretical framework at the time when the interviews were performed. This led to several corrections (e.g., positioning of lawmakers and government advisory bodies on a global level in terms of the impact of the governance mechanisms they enact instead of their legal remit, which is national in scope; clarifying membership and governance mechanisms in the ICC DSI Industry Advisory Board, and working groups involving eBL solution providers under the auspices of DCSA), which enriched and sharpened the findings.