The Philosophy of Ethereum Governance
Forking, Voting, and Governance Complexities: Field notes for Ethereum community
We’ll be summarizing some of the great events we’re attending, in the new series we’ve launched called Field Notes. This is Vol. 2. Enjoy!
Some of the pre-eminent thinkers in the Ethereum space gathered in Toronto during Edcon for EIP0 Summit and The Philosophy of Ethereum Governance event hosted by The Fellowship of Ethereum Magicians to discuss “the philosophy of Ethereum governance.”
Governance is one of the most contentious topics in the blockchain realm, especially since the DAO hack threw the entire concept of crowd-based governance into question.
Sharing their thoughts on Ethereum governance, below:
- Jutta Steiner, CEO and co-founder of Parity
- Hudson Jameson, Ethereum Foundation, EIP editor / core dev calls
- Griff Green, founder of Giveth
- Alison Alexis, CryptoChicks core team and Founder at Varro Technologies
- Luke Duncan, Researcher at Aragon
- Mitch Johnson, Ethereum Foundation, core dev / EIP editor
On Ethereum: DAO, Forks and Governance
The speakers all agree that one of the principal challenges of governance is defining the scope and interests of a given community. A system’s architecture needs to provide mechanisms to gauge their interests and values. Griff Green, founder of Giveth: “We always have this idea on how we can ‘DAO something’ and it’ll be cool — but you have to design the actual governance within a DAO. Signalling is such a low hanging fruit, and that’d be a good easy first step: define the stakeholders and figure out what they think. Designing a deterministic voting system is difficult, and probably not a good idea. But informing every individual person running a node, who can make decisions for themselves, [is a good idea] — if they have accurate information. If we can get that info to them we’ll be a lot better off.”
Hudson Jameson of the Ethereum Foundation emphasizes the complexities offered by governance: “Things are very hard to define and organize…As far as technical governance goes, we need to try to represent user interests and measure user sentiments, but it’s hard to quantify that and not be biased, and end up with an actionable result. If you don’t have a good way to measure what the community wants, you end up in gridlock. How can we start measuring these key things and implement legitimate processes?”
For her part, Jutta Steiner of Parity thinks there may simply be a need for some aspects of community-building and problem-solving to take place off-chain. ”It’s good to find ways to talk to people face to face. Online chatrooms and social media; talk to people who talk to other people. I have miners on Skype, and I ask them, what do you feel about this? I ask individual miners and also pools, I talk to trolls on reddit to see what bad people think, I go on Twitter, Reddit, the EIP repository. People also reach out when they feel strongly about something. Lots of crypto information can be found on twitter. What we’re trying to solve with governance are human issues, and many orgs around the world have already come up with solutions, so we need to learn from others.”
On Improving Governance
A few broad ideas for improving governance as a whole are outlined:
- Understanding and documenting current processes.
- Improving EIP process, rules, stakeholders, what dev core meetings mean.
- Building a simple website that goes and finds stakeholders: mining pools, devs, businesses, exchanges, and whatever you can do algorithmically, grab that and put it into one simple place so that people know what the opinions are.
- Coin holder signalling — these are key demographics we aren’t utilizing, and participation is low. Making it a more common part of the process, improving usability and making key stakeholders groups that aren’t represented part of the process would be a win
Another difficulty of governance is determining the values of a given community, and how those values should be reflected in the system’s decisions. This question ends up cutting to the heart of what governance is and means. “If we could articulate our values and get on the same page about them, what should be included? I think that just about any value variable, you’ll get people with extreme options and it’ll be extremely difficult to nail it down. We can find things we can agree on, but it’s hard to define what we want. We know we don’t want: corruption and other issues, but as we give more voice to different stakeholders, maybe the alignment will happen. We don’t have to wait for any official community consensus; can we make something and see what sticks? But it’s hard to suggest improvements, because there are thousand important things and needs. If you don’t create something, people will try to fill that vacuum but if you create something, you’ll get angry people who don’t like what you’ve done,” said Griff Green, founder of Giveth. “Decentralization goes a bit against human nature. A common value statement isn’t the most optimal thing for ethereum to have. I’d be curious to hear from various stakeholders about their manifestos, and find commonalities between them, but creating manifestos disenfranchised people who don’t follow it. Should Ethereum be a politically neutral platform? Perhaps we can experiment but I predict failure. Whether you define it or you don’t define it, there are no politically neutral communities.”
Forking is How Systems Adapt
There is some discussion about the effectiveness of forking as a way to solve issues of governance — determining what sorts of problems forks are suited to solving. “Forking is how systems adapt, but if you will have hundreds of forks every year, that’s not practical. You don’t get the very best of what you want, but you avoid the worst. It’s not realistic to think there are no tradeoffs. Forking frequently could be one of the means of making forks less dire. It becomes an issue when it splits the community, but without forks, it’d be a sad world.”
Some issues arise not only with the effect that forks can have on a community, but in the social perception of forking itself: “Forks help with social coordination, and makes governance to some degree easier, because you can exit and go your own way. If you’re a community and you’re splitting, that’s sad. If we start to think about forks as different layers of decisions we opt into and isolate consensus issues that split people up, maybe forking should remain as a last-resort option. Whenever a fork is happening, even if it’s a simple upgrade, people freak out. Forks are necessary, but they should be boring most of the time.”
On Ethereum Community
If Ethereum itself will grow to become a project that encompasses and replaces some of society’s legacy processes, these questions will be paramount. The panel is asked: “What part of the blockchain will meet real-world laws and jurisdictions? Is conflict inevitable?” Here, things take a profoundly speculative turn.
“Some form of conflict is inevitable. The traditional world won’t ignore cryptos forever. On both sides, there will be adaptability required. Some things don’t mesh so well with blockchain. On the other hand, blockchain community can’t just ignore traditional ways and expect regulators to leave them alone. If you use blockchains to solve some of these global coordination problems and provide certainty, you give people a viable option and alternative. This forces established processes to get better, whether everything becomes blockchainified or not. If we could build a second system that fulfills a lot of services our current governance provides us with, maybe in a decentralized voluntary way, we could collaborate without using force. Perhaps there’s a hybrid opportunity. Can we automate some of the bureaucracy away? What if you didn’t need to file tax returns every year, and we had a common automated mechanism to track government spending? But it’s a power struggle, and decentralization, blockchain’s main attribute, is about taking power away from powerful individuals,” said Green.
There are reasons for regulations and it’s not about holding people down to create the power on the top — there’s been thousands of years of history. As Frederick Douglass said, power concedes nothing without a demand — it never did and never will. If things go towards disruption, there will be lots more clashes.
In the end, the panelists agree, it’s all about collaboration, talent, and vision. “People who care should go to the appropriate channels and have their voices heard. Everyone who is part of the community needs to get involved; the problems won’t solve themselves.”
Alison Alexis of CryptoChicks highlights the need for a more diverse set of developers and people with a different set of skillsets to get involved with developing these new systems, since “it’s just too niche right now.” Jutta agrees: “It’s important for non-devs to get involved, and it’s pretty easy in the Ethereum community. People who want to help and push and do new things. I’d hope people for who don’t know that much [about Ethereum], that there are other things you know that you can bring to the table.”
Live Stream and Event Archives:
- Overview of Current Ethereum Governance Processes with Hudson and Nick: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJ3r52T7HV8
- Summarizing thoughts of Day 1 breakout sessions
- Ethereum Governance AMA at the #EIP0 workshop Toronto:
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