A Deeper Understanding of Implementing Guardianship

April 22, 2021

Sovrin releases two new Guardianship Credentials papers at Internet Identity Workshop #32

In December 2019 the Sovrin Guardianship Task Force released a whitepaper titled, “On Guardianship in Self-Sovereign Identity.” This groundbreaking paper explored guardianship in the context of SSI, and provided two use cases: one for a refugee, Mya, and one for an elderly living with dementia, Jamie. (Watch the video illustration of these two use cases at the end of this article.)

Recognising the need to develop the work beyond the whitepaper, the Sovrin Foundation chartered a Sovrin Guardianship Working Group (SGWG) in December 2019. Two key documents were identified as outputs for the working group: a Technical Requirements for Guardianship and Implementation Guidelines. After more than a year of hard work, the two papers were completed and will be publicly presented and released at the Sovrin’s breakout session at the Internet Identity Workshop (IIW) #32 during April 20-22, 2021.

“When we started the work on defining technical requirements for guardianship in early 2020, we viewed the task as relatively simple. ‘All’ we had to do was extract the guardianship requirements from the use cases in the previous whitepaper… It turned out that this view was optimistic,” said John Phillips, one of the authors and Chairs of SGWG in Asia Pacific. “We found that the gap between the two use cases in the whitepaper and technical requirements was too broad. So we realised we needed to revisit our thinking. We needed a conceptual bridge, a ‘mental model’ to understand Guardianship broadly so we could write appropriately narrow technical requirements. The lesson we have (re)learnt in our journey is that, before you can describe something in simple terms, you need to make sure you have a broad and deep enough understanding of the topic.”

The first paper is called the Guardianship Credentials Implementation Guidelines and its purpose is to provide readers with the background they need to implement IT systems that support various kinds of guardianship. In particular, it focuses on what they need to know when using Verifiable Credentials and Decentralised Identifiers, the building blocks of a SSI framework within the frameworks of Sovrin Governance and Trust Over IP (ToIP). 

This paper is intended for all people interested in the design, build and operation of a Guardianship implementation using an SSI framework. It outlines the conceptual framework for Guardianship and provides implementation guidelines. The document introduces and uses a mental model to help understand the interplay and relationships of the key entities and actors involved in the establishment, running and ending of a Guardianship Arrangement.

While this document provides background explanations of the thinking that led to the technical requirements guidelines, it does not mandate or warrant specific rules for the implementation of Guardianship as these should be Jurisdiction specific, which is defined by the mental model in this document. 

The second paper is called Guardianship Credentials Technical Requirements which was developed by the technical requirements working group within the SGWG. The purpose of this document is twofold: i) provide principles under which guardianship scenario designs and requirements are considered and defined; and ii) provide technical requirements for SSI solutions that offer the capability of guardianship. 

The intended audience for this document includes: i) individuals looking to understand how guardianship should be implemented for their use case; ii) SSI solution designers that require guardianship to support the use of VCs in their specific use case; iii) readers who want to understand how Guardianship can work in an SSI context. 

The requirements described in this paper, together with other SSI standardization, describe when an SSI solution offers the capability of guardianship. In this case, the requirements are mainly for the technical building blocks that live in the bottom three layers of the Technical “Stack” of the Sovrin/ToIP framework. The mental model however is also relevant for the top layer (ecosystem), as guardianship is intricately linked to what we will be defining as Jurisdictions, and this enables human governance to be applied to the first three layers. 

This document should be read in conjunction with the Sovrin Guardianship Credentials Implementation Guidelines mentioned above. In particular, readers who are looking to understand the thinking behind these requirements are encouraged to refer to the Implementation Guidelines.

These two papers are the first public release of implementation guidelines and technical requirements for guardianship in the context of SSI. There are sections at the end of the documents that propose areas of future work, and it is expected that these two documents will be updated as technology evolves and open discussion and decision areas are resolved. 

Download the two papers here.

Sovrin Guardianship Use Case #1 – Mya (a refugee girl)

Sovrin Guardianship Use Case #2 – Jamie (an elderly living with dementia)

Video credit: John Phillips

This all-volunteer Sovrin Guardianship Working Group is open to anyone with a genuine interest in and willingness to contribute to digital guardianship. For more information, please see its webpage for details.

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