On 11 May, we had the third of an ongoing round of discussions about how to think about and design Decentralized Autonomous Organizations. If you like to follow in order, last week’s discussion is summarized here.

Design Brief for Week 3

There has been a proposal that this week we turn more to decisions and governance. How should a DAO take decisions? How much consensus is too much consensus? How do we balance efficiency of single node action taking against ideas that participants should have a voice within the organization? These are tough questions, and if you’d be interested in joining us please do.

Also, there will be a short presentation and Q&A for an ongoing DAO architecture project which is currently deployable to the Ethereum testnet.

The Discussion

If I’m honest, this week was a challenge for me. The difficulty when attempting to tackle questions of governance is that for the most part the problems cannot be solved. This week’s discussion reinforced that perspective. As humans we have been worrying and arguing about collective decision making since we’ve been civilized (whenever the hell that was).

There are two competing sets of interests. On the one hand you have the tyranny of the few. On the other hand you have the tyranny of the masses. Any system one designs is probably going to be subjected to a tendency toward either of those extremes.

One participant mentioned during the discussion the idea of bubble up law making. The idea behind this is well known to legal reform and advocates, but for those who are not aware it works like this. Someone has an idea. That person then tells his friends. His friends think it is a good idea, they tell their friends. And so on. Over the course of the outward growth from the originating node the original idea must struggle with another of the paradigmatic human difficulties: allegiance to the original idea v. the necessity of compromise in order to widen the agreement. When ideas are formed, those ideas have layers to them and over the course of building a consensus between humans we often have to peel the layers off of ideas to get at their core in order to find the agreement. This is what bubbling up law making seeks to do by using web 2.0 theories of social networks, iterative discussions, reputational mechanics, and modularity. The mechanics of this are difficult because there are a lot of moving pieces. Indeed, participants variously noted a few attempts to do this – most of which have yet to really hit their stride. One such project which does seem to be hitting its stride is the Madison Project. At least it has one actual government using it.

Another idea which was broached during the discussion was the idea of interest driven voting. The idea behind interest driven voting is that if humans were to govern themselves where more decisions were given to a greater range of the polity that people would not bother to vote on everything but rather would mainly vote on issues which were important to them. Thereby time and interest act as a filtering mechanism. This is an interesting concept in a DAO setting where we can quantify (to some degree) the gradations of someone’s interest based on their past interactions. If one were to think of Stack Overflows many forums as a meta-DAO with each indvidual forum (Q&A site) acting as a filter for one interest, then you can start to see the outlines of this. In the Stack model my reputation points from one site do not carry over. But my reputation on one site (which is tied to my positive participation), does give me a bundle of “rights and privileges” within that site. So the idea behind interest based voting (when matched with a reputation system) is that where I spend my time determines not only where I am gaining reputation but also where I’m demonstrating my expertise, it is here where I should be voting on things that matter to this community.

We spent roughly half the time discussing this general topic and then one participant gave an overview of one of his projects which is an early DAO prototype.

Next Week

There has been a proposal to look more directly at decision taking. Last week was supposed to be about taking decisions but ended up being more general in nature. So Jasper and I have attempted to provide some bounding in order to facilitate discussion. As the current proposal stands we are going to break the discussion of decision making into three parts: Part 1 will be for critical decisions (like to turn off the DAO and other very critical decisions), Part 2 will be for non-critical decisions which would impact the whole DAO (like do we participate in X business venture), Part 3 will be for non-critical decisions which impact only a small portion of the DAO (perhaps a project team deciding what do we work on today). For each of these three parts we will try to ask three questions: (1) How will these be taken? (2) What are the pros and cons of restricting the voting pool for these decisions? (3) What are the pros and cons of having wide voting pool but requiring a high degree of consensus (assume, > 80%) for these decisions? These are tough questions, but if you are interested in decentralized decision making or if you are just curious what this whole DAO thing is about please do join us next week.

Happy Contracting!

~ # ~