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Jim Harper: 2015 Will Rebuild the Bitcoin Foundation

(@pete_rizzo_) | Published on March 6, 2015 at 10:32 BST
Feature

Jim Harper"Campaigns tend be about high drama and broad statements of principle."

That’s Jim Harper, the Bitcoin Foundation’s newly elected board member and former global policy council, discussing the recent election in which he and Olivier Janssens triumphed amid controversies over voter turnout and cries that the organisation should be disbanded.

Harper is keen to move the Bitcoin Foundation on to more practical concerns when he joins the seven-person board that will include BTC China CEO Bobby Lee; Ribbit Capital's Meyer 'Micky' Malka; venture capitalist Brock Pierce; BitPay's Elizabeth Ploshay; Janssens; and soon, a member to be elected to a new international seat.

During a new interview with CoinDesk, Harper addressed a matter close to home, the stability of the organisation itself. Harper was notably let go from the organisation in December amidst a pivot by the foundation to focus solely on core development.

Harper told CoinDesk:

"People have left good jobs to come to the foundation, people have moved to London to join the foundation, and the foundation didn’t keep them on. As with a bitcoin business, this thing has to be well run so it doesn't do damage."

Harper indicated he has yet to see the organisation's financials, but that he believes it needs to first stabilize in order to ensure a strong, committed team.

"I think it’s going to be a rebuilding year for the Bitcoin Foundation," he said.

Methodology candidate

Harper's not short on ideas for how the foundation might change, though he cautions that as a single board member his influence is limited. One effort that will not come back as a result of his return is a public policy initiative.

"Some people thought that Jim was the policy candidate, in fact, I’m the methodology candidate, and that may give way to policy, but that’s not a given," Harper said, adding that ultimately the organisation should be subject to the wishes of its constituency.

What Harper means by methodology, is that he believes research will be key to helping the foundation grow and use its resources more wisely. He pointed to a 2014 study he was commissioned to conduct, which sought to determine the biggest threats to bitcoin as an example of the kind of initiatives he'd like to see the organisation embrace.

"That was a good study, and I think it’s a good methodology for deciding how to guide us," Harper said. "The foundation didn’t really use the study, which was disappointing, but I think that kind of thing could have done a better job of bringing the membership of the foundation into the process so that their knowledge can help animate the focus of the foundation."

Harper indicated that he'd like to repeat this study as a board member, adding that while he "can't guarantee" it will happen, he doesn't foresee any roadblocks.

"Running a non-profit on a methodology is hard to do, but I think it’s possible, and I’d like the foundation to do it," he said.

Public resources from the foundation election suggest that this platform resonated with voters.

No return

Harper also distanced himself from certain comments made during the campaign, particularly statements that seemingly spoke out against the foundation's pivot as a return to form.

While he still believes in a broad vision for the foundation that includes "core development, education and public policy", he voiced his concern that returning to past initiatives might harm progress.

"I was pretty clear about that, I don’t think the foundation can go back into the role. It’s more important to make sure all the stuff that’s in place is well done rather than going back to public policy," he continued, adding:

"Going back can be worse than nothing. I don’t think that’s in the near-term cards."

He also retracted statements that seemed to suggest the foundation should continue to help educate lawmakers, characterizing them as more academic. Still, he recognizes that both his and Janssens' election to the board can be read as "non-endorsements of the pivot".

"We were two candidates that weren’t supportive of that, so take that as you will, that’s more political than interesting," he said. "But, I think the most important thing is the foundation has to develop validity and stability so people know what is, know what it does and even people internally have a sense of direction."

Member focus

Rather, Harper suggested the foundation needs to work more to empower its members, who he described as incentivized to work toward its goals.

Calling the membership the foundation's best "untapped resource", he suggested he may seek to encourage the organisation to use its influence with its 1,523 members to counter its own diminished resources.

"The foundation hasn’t really asked them to do very much," Harper said. "They’re not there to sit back and watch, they're here to help build this vertical."

Harper also intends to increase communications with his constituency, a task he'd previously indicated was among his campaign promises.

"I think that [the board] sounds receptive so far, Olivier also has his own thoughts in that area, so we’ll figure out what works for everyone," Harper said. "I’m pretty confident the transparency of the board is going to improve quickly."

Visible presence

Harper also addressed the question of how visible he aims to be in the community, especially given the relative public silence from Lee and Pierce on matters relating to the foundation.

For example, Harper indicated that Lee and Pierce are more focused on interacting with corporate members, and that the nature of his position, as well as that of Janssens' would naturally lead to more frequent visibility.

"We’re both individual members and we’ll be naturally suited toward communicating with the broader membership," Harper said.

Above all, however, Harper sought to caution that foundation members shouldn't expect the organisation to change overnight as a result of the new board members.

Ending on a pragmatic note, he concluded:

"A board membership is not a presidency, so neither one of us can implement our vision. We have to work with the other members and people shouldn’t be surprised that we don’t get all that we tried to achieve, that’s the nature of the board."

Rebuilding visualization via Shutterstock

Bitcoin FoundationJim Harper

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