Meet The Atrium

The Atrium is a blockchain-based collaboration tool where the UN community can plant and grow ideas

UNICEF Innovation
Meet the Atrium
UNICEF Innovation

21 May 2020

When you think of an atrium, you likely think of a greenhouse where vegetables grow, protected from external elements; or of the glass lobby of a building, where you’re greeted and welcomed when entering a new environment. This is all similar to the concept of The Atrium, an interagency platform that allows any UN entity to learn and experiment with blockchain in a sheltered environment.

What is The Atrium?  

The Atrium is an interagency blockchain-based collaboration tool designed to both enable collaboration and reduce the friction related to innovating across UN agencies who are interested in blockchain. 

The Atrium, at a high level, is comprised of three components, built on a blockchain: 

  1. A curated list of learning resources to kick off your blockchain journey 
  2. A list of blockchain-based applications built within the UN, including project overviews, team contact information and access to details, such as code  
  3. A community forum to engage with your fellow UN innovators, ask questions and share your ideas 

The Atrium is a UN platform that allows you to learn about digital public goods that have been created across the UN.

UNIN Practical Guide to Blockchain
UNICEF Innovation

The UN Innovation Network's Practical Guide to Blockchain within the United Nations  

One tool you’ll find on The Atrium, which is available to all, is the recently launched Practical Guide to Blockchain. This paper explains the basics of blockchain, walks through the general use cases where blockchain could be used, provides tools to determine which blockchain suits the challenge at hand, and finally showcases efforts underway within the UN around blockchain.   

Why do we need The Atrium? 

There are thousands of innovators across the UN. The UN Innovation Network — an informal group of UN personnel interested in innovation — has nearly 2000 members. We’ve heard from colleagues a desire to learn about new technologies like blockchain, and likewise, from experts within the UN who are willing to share and collaborate with others.  

Collaboration at the first-ever UNIN bootcamp for UN entities
UNICEF Innovation/Christina Lomazzo
Collaboration at the first-ever UNIN bootcamp for UN entities

For many, innovation is a passion and not part of people’s day to day work, so the barrier to learn needs to be low. For others, they don’t know where to start when it comes to a new technology and could use some guidance. We’ve also heard of so many great projects and innovations happening across the UN, but it’s often hard to know who to reach out to. Alternatively, perhaps you’ve heard of a project that could be applied to your work, so why start from scratch? All of these reasons are why we started building The Atrium for the UN community who are interested in blockchain:; a one-stop shop to learn about blockchain, share projects, and ask questions you might have about blockchain, how to launch a project within your organisation, or to look for collaborators! 

Side note: Why are there fungi and plants all over?  

Building on the theme of an atrium where you can grow plants, in many forests, fungi and mycelium are vast underground networks that are critical to plants’ survival but are often never seen. We used this as a metaphor for blockchain networks because we think that some of the same attributes are shared between fungi and mycelial networks, and blockchain as a technology. Both networks do not exist for just one purpose but serve many different opportunities. They are both decentralised, lacking a single point of authority and rather work to balance out the environment around them. Like how fungi networks allow for the exchange of information, blockchains operate as a network of computers which work together to maintain information securely, without central coordination. 

UNICEF Innovation Blockchain Lead, Christina Lomazzo
UNICEF Innovation

How did this all start? 

The Atrium quietly started at the UN Innovation Network’s first-ever bootcamp for UN entities in May 2019. Since the original idea and conception, the teams at UNDP, UNICEF and WFP have worked with our designers, strategists and technical teams to design a blockchain-based platform that responds to a growing need to systematically approach innovation across the UN.  

How to get started  

Sign up today at https://atrium.uninnovation.network to explore resources, projects and to connect with fellow innovators!  

If you are interested in running a node and having your agency be part of the core infrastructure of The Atrium, please email blockchain@uninnovation.network.