Introducing the Commons Stack: Infrastructure for Scalable Community Collaboration
Solving the World’s Biggest Problems with Cyber-Physical Commons Management
Giveth and BlockScience are teaming up to build the Commons Stack, with the goal of forwarding the discipline of token engineering and creating a digital infrastructure for commons-based peer production. This project is born out of the research done by Dr. Michael Zargham on alternative funding and governance mechanisms, with POCs being built at ETHDenver, ETHParis, and the Odyssey hackathon through the spring of 2019. We aim to address the world’s biggest problems by building continuously funded digital economies based around community causes to bring about positive change in the world through cyber-physical commons management. Read more about why this is important to Giveth’s mission, and why we think ‘The Future of Giving is Crowdfunding the Commons’.
What is a ‘Commons’, and Why Such a Bold Claim?
A commons is any shared resource which cannot be easily regulated or denied to anybody, and thus falls prey to the free rider problem. Our planet’s atmosphere is a good example of a commons: it contains a ubiquitous resource for which it is difficult to penalize harmful behaviors like polluting. Thus we end up with a lot of ‘free riding’ corporations extracting additional profits through unsustainable business practices, which negatively affect the quality of the air we all breathe.
To address the free rider problem, we coordinate large scale human behavior around protecting common resources through markets (aka private ownership) and government regulation, but neither of these options seem sufficient to address humanity’s most urgent problems — climate change, resource depletion, etc. Lucky for us, there is a humble third way between these two leviathans that leverages the advantages and mitigates the disadvantages of both: self-regulation via commons stewardship.
You can think of a commons initiative like a cooperative, wholly owned & governed by its members towards a community goal of mutual benefit. Elinor Ostrom has done inspiring research into commons initiatives worldwide, and has identified 8 rules that form the basis for sustainable commons management. This is a great starting point, but scaling trust beyond Dunbar’s number remains a difficult issue in effective commons stewardship. Since some of Ostrom’s rules rely on our ability to recall the past behavior and our trust of other community members, it seemed that these rules fell prey to the free rider problem when applied to larger groups, and were less effective as coordination mechanisms outside of small communities.
Although there are many shining examples of cooperatives and commons initiatives that are thriving today, these groups are often at a disadvantage to for-profit corporations due to lack of access to the same capital markets. In essence, Commons Stack infrastructure would facilitate commons initiatives to act more like startups, seeking continuous funding through membership investment, and in return offering common ownership and shared decision making in the use of those funds for effective realization of community goals.
The Blockchain as an Economic Trust Machine
With new tools like the blockchain at our disposal, we can improve on existing commons efforts, and even create new financial incentives to allow them to thrive. By digitally augmenting physical commons initiatives, we are stepping into the realm of cyber-physical commons — and this is where it starts to get interesting.
Although the blockchain is not a substitute for trust, it can do a good job of piping it around a network, so we don’t need to meet face to face before we can trust each other. In this way, blockchain technology could provide immense scalability to existing commons efforts, ultimately uniting communities across the planet around shared goals. With new developments in cryptoeconomics (like Token Bonding Curves and TCRs) that could provide continuous funding and alternative investment models, we are on the cusp of creating new sustainable economic systems entirely.
The idea of using the blockchain as a digital infrastructure for the commons is picking up momentum — below are some excellent ideas on how we can bootstrap commons initiatives with this new technology:
- 8 Nobel-Prize Winning Rules for Governance Design — Wendy Xiao Schadek
- When Ostrom Meets Blockchain: Exploring the Potentials of Blockchain for Commons Governance — Hassan, Rozas, Tenorio-Fornés, Díaz-Molina
- Decentralized Sustainability — David Dao
- Crypto Commons — Mike Maples Jr.
- Decentralized Autonomous Cooperatives and the Rise of the New ‘Commons’ — Patrick Kershaw
So Where Do We Start, When Building Digital Commons Infrastructure?
Although we could go down the rabbit hole with a plethora of components for sustainable commons management, we can identify a few very important puzzle pieces we should start with:
- A community funding pool is the first step to getting things done for any group. Think of this like the money collected and spent by your government or condo board — except now you get a vote on where it goes.
- Effective community decision making on how to allocate those funds via a proposal and governance system.
- Direct, verifiable allocation of funds and transparency in spending member contributions.
- Tracking and reporting on community operations to iterate on effective work done.
Introducing the Commons Stack
The product of the Commons Stack is a reference implementation of modular system components, a “tech stack for the commons”. Each of the initial components in our reference architecture** will address one of the 4 puzzle pieces required for building a digital commons mentioned above:
- Continuous funding mechanism: Augmented Bonding Curve
- Biomimetic community decision making: Conviction Voting
- Transparent, accountable fund escrow & allocation: Giveth Dapp
- Commons operational analytics: The Commons Dashboard
**Note: the scope of our reference architecture will be dependent on funds raised.
In other words, what is being built by the Commons Stack could be considered a commons blueprint, a library of various component templates that are useful for commons management — funding, decision making, accountability, analytics, etc. These component templates can be mixed and matched by any project looking to create a robustly designed community-driven economy. We aim to empower others to build their own ecosystems, with their own values, localized to their own context and needs.
Why Does the World Need the Commons Stack?
The Commons Stack has an ambitious goal, and to achieve it we are integrating decades of academic research in multi-agent coordination problems, behavioral economics, graph theory and more into our system design. Gone are the days where a developer has an idea for a new token economy and starts coding it up as soon as the whitepaper is written. We intend to approach the design of this complex system as engineers and to pave a trail of robust token engineering processes while we do it.
To that end, funding raised by the Commons Stack will be used to build our reference architecture — with its 4 components — by open sourcing and building out further education and development of the industry first simulator for complex adaptive systems, built and battle-tested by the renowned BlockScience team: cadCAD. This will be an invaluable tool for future projects as the blockchain industry matures towards more established design and engineering practices. The Commons Stack modules will be among the first cryptoeconomic components to be modeled, simulated and tested in cadCAD, and these will also be open sourced as generic templates for other projects to tweak and experiment with for their own purposes.
Using the modules produced by the Commons Stack, we plan to coordinate a community effort around implementing the Token Engineering Commons. We hope this genesis commons could serve as a sustainable community funding and coordination framework for otherwise independently working projects and researchers on the bleeding edge of cryptoeconomics and token engineering, many of whom are trying to solve the same problems. If we can coordinate around standardized tools and processes in complex system design, it becomes much easier to experiment in all directions as a continuously funded open organization, yet still contribute to a shared map of the landscape we are exploring, to the benefit of all involved.
Through the establishment of the token engineering discipline, we are introducing a new standard of design iteration to address potential failures early on in the system design process, as would be the case in any established engineering discipline. With cadCAD, we can now identify systemic failure modes in our design before the first line of code has even been written. The establishment of token engineering as a discipline with standardized tools, processes and best practices will catapult the reliability of these networks to new levels, and unlock immense value in the blockchain space.
How Can You Get Involved?
Are you a token engineer or governance expert who wants to help fund this collaboration, and contribute to standardized tools and adaptable components that would be an asset to the entire blockchain space? Do you want to participate in the governance and initialization of the first augmented bonding curve, and be a part of bootstrapping token engineering research?
The Commons Stack isn’t a single team — we are a collaborative effort between leading projects and researchers, trying to tackle the biggest problems facing humankind. If you’d like to help in any way, we would love to include more intrinsically motivated developers, storytellers, organizers and change makers on our mission to scale effective human collaboration.
With the intersection of blockchain technology and sustainable commons management, we are on the cusp of an entirely new form of human collaboration at scale, which could produce untold value by aligning communities around shared goals. The digital infrastructure being built by the Commons Stack will unlock new asset classes that take impact investment to previously unimagined places, while enabling emergent solutions to the world’s problems from the local to the global.
You may have questions that still remain to be explored: How do we ensure we make the right decisions as a collective? How do we allocate funds fairly? How do we avoid plutocracy in these new economic systems? These are all important issues which we will continue to address one by one, through the continued system design of the Commons Stack modules. Have any questions to add? Come chat with us!
More info coming soon ;)