DAOs: Governance vs Coordination | 2212

21st century meme culture and real-time chat have combined in DAOs to create the rolling AGM as a novel participatory form

Full Show Notes: https://www.thejaymo.net/2022/03/26/301-2212-daos-governance-vs-coordination/

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DAOs: Governance vs Coordination

In January I watched the livestream Radical Friends: DAO Summit for Decentralisation of Power and Resources in the Artworld.

OG blockchain artist Rhea Myers’ spoke, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

She said that one of the best ways to think about DAOs is that they β€œmodel and incentivize human behaviour. They are a public, transparent and rigid – that is unyielding and inflexible – way of modelling how we believe people should behave and how we believe they should interact”.

DAOs are worlds, rigid code spaces made up of people and software. They are … total institutions. (See Episode 19-32).

Rhea talked about the various problems that arise from modelling a world with code and said:

β€œ[They] are well understood and well known by people who understand DAOs. There is no simple critique of naive crypto bros to be had. Plenty of people have come into the DAO space, tried something naive, discovered it doesn’t work and then had to read up on mechanism design. On organisational structures and on how you handle bad actors and economically irrational actors” etc.

Before I talk about the importance of DAO’s and governance as design space, a little history.

The first deep conversation I had about DAO’s was in Berlin, 2015. I was over there to run a workshop on Infrastructure Space at Transmediale festival.

Ethereum mainnet was still 6 months from launch.

Vitalik had written about DAOs in the white paper. Virtual entities he said, β€œThat [have] a certain set of members or shareholders which, perhaps with a 67% majority, have the right to spend the entity’s funds and modify its code.”

Vitalik also offered the term β€œdecentralised autonomous communities”. Let’s bracket the difference between Organisations and Communities for another day. For now though it is my opinion DAO’s have clear, shared collective goals. DAC’s are open ended, concerned with the collective flourishing of their participants.

That cold January we all sat around a huge kitchen table in an AirBnB. Dreaming about the possibilities of more advanced blockchains. What does incorporation look like on the Blockchain? How does voting work? Are DAOs lifeforms? Could they be? These were, and are still important questions.

Everyone there was involved in some way with the UnMonestary project. A place-based social laboratory. It explored methods and techniques of living and working together for the benefit of a community. That project opened my eyes to coordination as a design space.

Some people in that room went on to become custodians of the emerging planetary scale infrastructure that makes DAO’s possible today.

In 2015 if you said your interests were in governance, code spaces, organisation design and collective decision and meaning making mechanisms. People would think you mad.

DAOs are an opportunity to develop and explore new governance mechanisms. Someone invented the ballot box after all. But we should be careful with our definitions. Picking up on the theme of episode 21-12, we should make a distinction between governance, and the mechanisms of governance. Aka coordination.

  • Governance is decisions about the whole, by the whole, that affect the running of the whole.
  • Coordination is the successful running of the whole without affecting the whole’s running.

The most important essay of the last few years in my opinion is: Modular Politics: Toward a Governance Layer for Online Communities. It amazes me that loud DAO boosters with NFT PFPs on Twitter haven’t ever read it.

From the abstract.

classical governance typologies tend to present a choice among wholesale ideologies, such as democracy or oligarchy, Modular Politics would enable platform operators and their users to build bottom-up governance processes from computational components that are modular and composable, highly versatile in their expressiveness, portable from one context to another, and interoperable across platforms.

Let’s return to Vitalik’s example of voting to spend funds or modifying code. In this case is voting a governance mechanism? or is it a coordination mechanism? I’d say: If spending money, it’s coordination. If modifying code, governance.

Governance is building the machine.
Coordination is controlling it.*

*Big up ARB from movingcastles.world for this line.

Voting is simply a mechanism that enables either.

Imagine for a moment that you, I and others are working on a shared endeavour.

We are standing in the street trying to decide what to have for lunch. If we vote for sushi, is this an act of governance? Going further. Is voting sushi for lunch an important enough collective decision to enter into an unstoppable immutable public ledger? I don’t think so. It was simply a coordinative act that didn’t affect the whole project.

Governance is different from coordination. But coordinative mechanisms are required for governance.

Enthusiastic DAO participants often confuse the two. 21st century meme culture and real-time chat have combined in DAOs currently to create the rolling AGM as a model participatory form. Endless 24/7 discussion that gets transmuted into solemn sacrosanct votes on chain.

A hellish kind of technocratic LARP.

Think about the current mechanisms for governance and coordination in the workplace on a platform like Slack.

Perhaps a poll? Maybe a multi-vote emoji process. Beyond that there’s not much.

We need to be imagining swarm consensus architectures. Telegram channels with 10’s of thousands of people using real time tools to come to a decision.

What modular tools and techniques can be imagined and used elsewhere?

It’s Web3 that is going to develop these tools. As soon as new mechanisms exist – we, the public, are going to demand and expect them in all the virtual spaces we inhabit.

Until we have mature digital coordination mechanisms.
We won’t have mature digital collective governance.


The script above is the original script written for the episode. It may differ from what ended up in the edit.

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