In recent years, with the rapid development of digital technologies such as blockchain, cloud computing, big data, and artificial intelligence, as well as their deep integration with various industries, the digital economy has penetrated all aspects of economic and social development, becoming a new engine for future economic growth and a new path for industrial transformation [1
]. In 2019, the Chinese government stated their aim to “focus on promoting high-quality development and vigorously develop the digital economy” as the basic task and to “take blockchain as a breakthrough in independent innovation of core technology and accelerate the development of blockchain technology and industrial innovation”, which sets the direction for the transformation of China’s economic growth model [2
]. Considering the important role played by the digital economy in the transformation of dynamic energy, promoting economic growth, and demonstrating national competitiveness, improving the quality of the digital economy is becoming a focal point for achieving high-quality economic development [3
]. However, as a new economic form with digital knowledge and information as the key production factors, data privacy, and data security have become key to the high-quality development of the digital economy [5
]. Based on its decentralization, distributed storage, asymmetric encryption, smart contracts, peer-to-peer information transmission, traceability, and other characteristics, blockchain technology is suited to the digital economy in terms of solutions to privacy and data security issues and is becoming an important technical foundation for the development of the digital economy [6
]. Therefore, it is of great practical significance to explore the synergy between blockchain technology and the high-quality development of the digital economy.
The digital economy, as of the next stage of techno-economic paradigm change, is an advanced economic form based on a new generation of information technology and oriented to the optimal allocation of resources, emphasizing the mutual relationship between technology and the economy [7
]. From the technical perspective, most existing studies focus on the exploration of the mechanism of digital technology for promoting the high-quality development of the digital economy, including the study of the mechanism of the role of digital technology in promoting digital industrialization [8
], industrial digitization [9
], and digital governance [10
]. For blockchain technology, existing research mostly focuses on the application of blockchain technology in digital financial services [11
], digital financial regulation [12
], food safety traceability [13
], digital cryptocurrency [14
], etc. It is widely believed that blockchain technology is essentially a distributed database system and a new generation of Internet protocols involving various nodes that can automatically track all digital actions thereby creating a decentralized database to verify identity and disrupt traditional governance models with lower cost and higher efficiency [15
]. At the logical level of equipping blockchain technology to improve the quality of the digital economy, Zutshi (2021) argues that blockchain technology can strengthen the resource allocation potential of the digital economy [16
]. Based on the theoretical analysis framework of “macro-meso-micro”, Kuang and Peng (2020) analyzed the theoretical logic of blockchain technology in promoting the development of the digital economy in terms of economic operation efficiency improvement, and industrial transformation and improvements, and enterprise business model innovation [17
]. Relevant mechanistic research results lay the foundation for the application of blockchain technology in the digital economy.
However, from the perspective of the current analysis, the diffusion of innovation theory (DOI) shows that the diffusion of new technology undergoes three stages of “intention-adoption-programming” [18
]. Previous studies related to blockchain technology mainly focus on the first stage (intention stage), and the few studies involving the perspective of blockchain technology adoption fail to address the issue of government attention and fund allocation in the process of blockchain technology adoption. Moreover, in terms of research methods, previous researchers mainly used traditional analysis methods, such as Wamba (2020), who empirically investigated the diffusion process of blockchain technology in supply chain management from the perspective of technology adoption using statistical regression [19
Moreover, according to the theory of the Technology-Organization-Environment (TOE) framework, the adoption of blockchain technology is jointly influenced by multiple factors such as technology, organization, and environment, and different combinations of factors may produce the same results. It is necessary to systematically consider the synergistic effects of multiple factors in the process of blockchain technology adoption on the development of the digital economy. With regard to methods, traditional analysis methods focus on the net effect of a single factor and do not show good applicability in terms of exploring the synergistic effects of multiple factors, meaning that traditional analysis methods act in isolation or are only partially related and focus on a single causal relationship. The qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) method based on the configurational perspective can help to overcome the limitations of traditional methods by using set theory and Boolean operations to uncover the “configurational effects” of multiple factors and to explore the different ways to achieve the same effect and the relationship between each path.
In summary, based on the TOE framework theory, this study further extends its application in analyzing the combination of multiple factor relationships and reveals the complex mechanism of multiple factors linking to influence output. We propose an integrated analytical framework for analyzing the impact of blockchain technology adoption on the high-quality development of the urban digital economy from the perspective of blockchain technology adoption and introduce configuration thinking into the study of digital economy quality at the city level. This study takes 43 representative cities in China as samples and applies the fuzzy set qualitative comparative analysis (fs/QCA) method to extend the application area of the QCA method by analyzing the relationship between the set of elements involved in blockchain technology adoption at the technical, organizational and environmental levels in the studied cities and the set of digital economy quality, and uncovering the complex causal mechanism of multiple factors concurrently affecting the high-quality development of the urban digital economy. The key questions to be addressed in this study are as follows: which paths in the blockchain technology adoption process can lead to the generation of a high urban digital economy quality? Which paths in the blockchain adoption process inhibit the generation of a high digital urban economy quality? Do the necessary conditions exist for blockchain technology adoption to lead to a high urban digital economy quality?
The remainder of the paper is organized as follows. Section 2
provides a brief theoretical analysis. Section 3
briefly describes the research methods and data sources used in this study. Section 4
presents the empirical results and discussion. Section 5
reports some conclusions and provides further policy implications.
5. Conclusions and Future Work
This study explored the synergistic influence mechanism of six factors from three dimensions based on the TOE framework theory with the fuzzy set QCA method: technology, organization, and environment, namely, blockchain service capability, blockchain knowledge accumulation, government attention allocation, government funding support, the industry carrying capacity and blockchain technology R&D environment, on the quality of the urban digital economy. The main findings are as follows: (1) the absence of government funding support is a necessary condition for the absence of high urban digital economy quality, indicating that weaker government funding support has stronger explanatory power for the absence of high urban digital economy quality; (2) there are three configurations for high urban digital economy quality, which are as follows: the knowledge-industry-driven path with sufficient blockchain knowledge accumulation and perfect industrial carrying capacity construction; the government-service-driven path with sufficient government attention and strong technical service capability; and the R&D-service-driven path with good blockchain technology R&D environment and strong technical service capability; (3) there is one configuration of the absence of high urban digital economy quality, namely the knowledge-R&D-funding inhibiting path that consists of a lower blockchain technology knowledge reserve, poorer blockchain technology R&D environment, and less government funding support.
This study enriched the theories related to digital economy quality and proposed a comprehensive analytical framework for the urban digital economy quality from the perspective of blockchain technology adoption. Compared with existing studies that focus on single-level causality [19
], this study incorporated multiple factors into the same analytical framework and proposed an integrative analytical framework under the perspective of blockchain technology adoption, which lays a theoretical foundation for multiple factors to synergistically affect the urban digital economy quality.
This study extended the applicability of the TOE framework theory through a configurational perspective and extended its application to explain the complexity of causal relationships. Previous studies on the TOE framework theory have been less concerned with the configurational effects between multiple factors [22
]. This study empirically discussed the synergistic effects of six elements affecting the quality of the urban digital economy in three dimensions as emphasized by the TOE framework theory, with the help of the configuration perspective, extending the scope of application of the TOE framework theory to a certain extent.
This study extends the applicability of the QCA approach to the study of digital economy quality at the city level and deepens the understanding of the complex causal mechanisms by which multiple factors influence the quality of the urban digital economy. At present, the QCA approach in digital economy research is mostly limited to the enterprise level [60
], but this study extended the QCA approach to the city level, which not only identified the equivalent driving paths of high digital economy quality, but also explored the driving mechanisms of the absence of high digital economy quality from the perspective of causal asymmetry, and also broadened the application area of the QCA approach.
The findings of this study provide two policy implications for local governments to promote the high-quality development of the digital economy with the help of blockchain technology.
On the one hand, the government should combine the regional resource endowment and focus on the development of key core elements. The impact of blockchain technology adoption on the quality of the urban digital economy is influenced by the synergistic effects of various factors such as blockchain technology technical service capability, blockchain knowledge accumulation, government attention allocation, government funding support, industry carrying capacity, and the technology R&D environment. Moreover, there exist multiple paths for blockchain technology adoption to improve the quality of the urban high digital economy. Therefore, in the process of promoting digital economy development, the government should reasonably consider differences in regional resource endowments, combine the region’s advantages, choose the driving paths that adapt to local development endowments, use configuration thinking to formulate targeted education, finance, industry, and public policies, take advantage of policy combinations, concentrate strong regional resources and develop key core elements.
On the other hand, the government should strengthen the available financial support for the blockchain industry. The absence of government funding support for the blockchain industry is a necessary condition that leads to the absence of high urban digital economy quality, indicating that the absence of government funding support for the blockchain industry inevitably leads to the absence of a high urban digital economy quality. Therefore, in terms of increasing the source of funds, the government should strengthen the financial support for the blockchain industry in various ways, such as by establishing a special fund for the blockchain industry, providing subsidies for blockchain technology innovation, and formulating tax incentives for the blockchain industry. In terms of reducing the cost of enterprises, the government should encourage the use of the technical license of national research institutions and the production support role of state-owned enterprises to reduce the cost of enterprises so as to mitigate the absence of a high digital economy quality.
5.4. Limitations and Future Work
There are some limitations in this study that need to be improved in future research. First, although this study analyzed the synergistic influence mechanism of blockchain technology service capacity, Blockchain knowledge accumulation, government attention allocation, government funding support, blockchain industry carrying capacity construction, and the blockchain technology R&D environment on the high-quality development of the urban digital economy from the perspective of blockchain technology adoption based on the TOE framework theory, the urban digital economy as a complex system is also influenced by factors such as blockchain technology management capacity, citizens’ external demand and technology imitation in the process of blockchain technology adoption. Second, the empirical analysis of this study mainly explored the cross-sectional data among the 43 cases and did not consider the longitudinal data on the evolution of the sample over time. Subsequent studies can be conducted on the time vertical dimension for typical cases to examine the dynamic trends of the high-quality development of the urban digital economy over time. Third, in this study, in terms of variable measurement, the specific data were not precisely characterized for each variable due to the limitation of data availability, and follow-up studies should further strengthen the data integrity to improve the comprehensive and in-depth analysis of the impact mechanism on the high-quality development of the urban digital economy.