What they tell you is that DAOs are decentralized autonomous organizations. Groups of humans organizing around a specific purpose, coordinating via an agreed-upon set of engagement rules enforced on a blockchain and sharing economic resources and/or protocol rules in the quest to fulfil said purpose.
What they don’t tell you in the brochure is that humans organizing around a purpose, sharing resources and coordinating via an ever evolving agreed-upon set of rules is HARD. Just like a butterfly transforming from a fleshy, ground bound caterpillar, new forms of human organization take their time to evolve from the hairy situation we’ve progressively calcified ourselves into.
The complexities of coordination, collaboration and co-creation are so multi-faceted, multi-layered and multi-coloured that they are as beautiful as they are infuriating. Evolving DAOs feels like building a house on quicksand. During an earthquake. In the rain. It's all about balance. It’s an extreme exercise in balance above everything else.
And balance is a hard thing to grasp for most of us. Because balance is not a static condition. It is a dynamic state made of ongoing adjustments and constant attunement. One must always be present and engaged to effect these actions. Yet, we’ve somehow come to erroneously search for an assumed staticity when we think of balance but the power is in engaged equilibrium.
It is this state of equilibrium that nature achieves…naturally…between diversity and efficiency, yet us humans have a very tricky time with it. It’s why I always look towards biomimicry when approaching governance and the workings of web3. Because the balance between diversity (resilience) and efficiency is precisely what we deal with in every dimension of coordination. In fact, it’s what every complex flow network deals with. And a DAO is a complex flow network. (The money system is also a complex flow network by the way…)
Part of my fascination with what a good chunk of us have been trying to do in this web3 space has to do with unlearning and undoing a lot of our reflexes and behaviours. Unlearning our urge to go to extremes, to choose a side and never ever be comfortable in the middle - in that window called the optimum window of viability in systemic biomimicry. We have been over indexing on extreme efficiency for generations and look how well we’re all doing out there in the “real world” because of it.
Deconstructing, redefining and redesigning what value is, how it flows, where, via whom and why, is no mean feat. We have the chance to really change the game here, really co-evolve ourselves to another dimension of coordination and we must not squander it by falling into comfortable patterns of organizational behaviour. We must break free from our chrysalis of confirmation bias if we want to spread our wings. Otherwise we’ll just devise new names for ways to keep those wings clipped…
And the way to break free from pre-existing patterns is to look at ourselves *and* each other to figure out a way to do it together. Discussion, debate and plurality of perspective are not only what will help us evolve but also ensure that what we build is strong, resilient and in that window of optimum viability so crucial in nature.
*All of this* to preface a lot of what we’ve worked on and achieved - one step at a time - in DAOs. Here are some of my key takeaways from Gitcoin DAO’s Season 14. They can be grouped around the following nuclei:
Standards: Creating clear and connected containers for the information circulating across and around a DAO is vital when working with decentralised decision making. Think of them as the arteries, the veins carrying information and value around the organism. Just as blood vessels map roughly the same across human bodies, recognisable patterns help us navigate and maintain healthy rhythms across different organisms. As I have said many times before, DAOs are all about the tension between attention and action. If your attention is paralyzed by an overwhelming and seemingly disorganised deluge of information, your actions will be too.
I am a lover of standards and this is exactly why. Creating templates and clear flows for budget proposals and implementing them in S13 was a clear step towards bringing a pattern into how information is shared and accessed in the decision making process. This is all designed to evolve, upgrade and update as we continue to discover more complexities and new behaviours. Standards aren’t static either.
The steward cards we brought in last year have been evolving to capture nuance better as well as the natural ebbs and flows in governance engagement. It’s great to see them already being forked by ENS for a better window into engagement. My aim is to also work on creating workstream cards in the same vein and deliver better access to transparent information across the DAO.
We also saw the emergence of personal decision making matrices (aka “guides”) that a few of the stewards created to explain the motivation behind their votes this season. Whilst this is of course a subjective interpretation of the information available, it is nonetheless a marker of applied engagement and I very much appreciated the time taken and the care given to their duties as stewards.
Standards can also be about creating sound habits - habits are the invisible infrastructure of daily life - they make change possible by freeing us from making a million micro decisions on minutiae. The brain turns a behaviour into a habit to save effort and give us more capacity to deal with complex, novel, or urgent matters. Habits mean we don’t strain ourselves to make decisions, weigh choices, dole out rewards, or have to force ourselves/(others) into action.
Engagement: Holding space for safe, considerate and constructive engagement is incredibly important. Just because we are in a decentralized, online environment does not mean social engagement rules are no longer observed. It is paramount to be mindful and always remember to never dehumanise DAOs or the people within. It’s the humans that make this space, it’s the humans that maintain it and will evolve it. And the tools we build should be empowering those humans to make better choices, build mindfully and maintain a sound community.
The Gitcoin forum has been a hive of activity in the past three weeks with spirited discussions around the workstream budgets in the context of the DAO’s purpose but it is the mindfulness and genuine desire to collectively push things forward that shone through for me. In everything we amended and debated, in every against vote and every Twitter thread, a common motif emerged: engagement and the desire to make this DAO and other impactful ones like it a stream that can irrigate common good for years to come in its quest to reach its purpose.
Equilibrium: That all important balance between extremes and beyond binary choices. The conversations and discussions happening over the past few weeks have been a genuine collective exercise in balance. In hearing eachother out and trying to find solutions together.
It isn’t perfect nor is it ever a done deal. It is a living, breathing, ever adapting state. But if we manage to support it through the tooling built, through our engaged participation, through all perspectives coming together in conversation, I believe we can really crack this whole thing and boldly go where we didn’t see possibility before.
Responsibility: And finally, with all of the elements above comes great responsibility. As mentioned, it’s important to easily understand how active and engaged a steward or a DAO contributor is. Creating flows that seed that request for responsibility (ROR) early on is essential to building better governance and collaboration habits.
I will aim to incorporate this at every turn of the steward flow I am working on so a clear path prime for participation emerges. Any metrics or reputation based progression will and should be constantly refined so they are not gameable nor too simplistic so that true responsibility for valuable contributions and meaningful decision making can be developed.
In closing, yes - it’s taking a minute. But if this past DAO season has shown me anything, it is that we are making progress and if we stick together, we might just reach that window of optimum viability. Naturally.