Defining healthy norms for governance processes within DAOs might feel like an unknown frontier. This is accurate to a degree since the marriage of decentralization and blockchains is only a decade old.
But throughout human history, many cultures have governed themselves via decentralization with resiliency. The Shade community has the ability to consider the past even as we look to the future and establish what will be “normal” in this community.
Whether it is explicit or implicit, intentional or haphazard - every community has norms that shape how people communicate and interact. And it is essential to any decentralized group that this DNA lives within every member and is easily understood and multiplied.
Perhaps the most critical space for us to articulate and practice our preferred social norms is the sphere of governance.
What if we had a lightweight social agreement in place to keep in mind as we approach significant protocol decisions? Could we establish a shared mental foundation to help us navigate decision making together so that - regardless of our preferred outcomes - the health of the community is upheld?
Quite simply, I would suggest that we need rules to play by as governance emerges. While there are many things that would be ‘good’ to have included here, I believe these are the lowest common denominators - the essentials.
1) All people are equal and valuable.
We recognize that interacting primarily on digital mediums behind tiny icons and pseudonyms is like living at the edge of a cliff. If we do not tread thoughtfully, we will become desensitized to the inherent dangers of our location. Namely: dehumanization. Sometimes things are said that would never be said face-to-face or from an in-person stage.
Those who participate in governance exercise caution related to this proven risk and each of us assumes personal responsibility to ensure that we treat all people in a way that communicates respect, equity, and value.
2) We must consider the value of each voice in a conversation.
To be clear, historically, decentralized groups do have leaders. Everyone has a vote. Everyone has a voice.
But with no appointed leaders - the nuance of a decentralized group is that each person must choose who they will listen to and why.
In any particular group conversation there are expert voices and beginner voices.
It is likely that you are an expert in some area. But, even still, you need the voice of beginners to sharpen your ideas and assumptions because sometimes… our expertise is wrong.
Conversely, you are a beginner in other areas. Part of being a beginner is knowing when to defer to the voices of experts in that area (e.g. hunting, smart contract development, supply chain management)
This deference isn’t blind. And it doesn’t mean you don’t have a voice in the conversation. We need both beginners and experts in every conversation because sometimes beginners see something an expert can’t see due to over-familiarity.
But the core principle here is that it is vitally important for each of us to evaluate the voices at play in any given leadership decision. Everyone has a voice. But we must decide how much weight to ascribe to any given voice or opinion in a particular conversation.
1) We see conflict as unrealized potential.
Conflicting views don’t mean something is wrong. But it is common for many of us to have mental alarms go off when we are challenged or encounter strong alternative perspectives.
In governance passionate discourse is inevitable and necessary in order to make meaningful decisions and progress towards our shared future as it unfolds.
2) We communicate fairly.
It is much easier to work towards solutions in a group when there isn’t name-calling, attacking, gossip, manipulation, gaslighting, or any number of other devaluing social behaviors.
These damaging communication patterns can quickly infect a community if they aren’t named and redirected. Sometimes this means confronting yourself and issuing an apology. Other times it may mean initiating a conversation with someone who needs perspective on the impact of their behavior. It’s always more comfortable to let it slide, but that is how a community slides down the toilet.
3) We are both open and selective about feedback.
Not all feedback is created equal. So much could be said here but maybe a couple pieces…
Offering solutions is better than swimming in the problem. If you are the first to name and identify the problem, that is a valuable role. If it is a well-known issue - ideate solutions.
One variable is to consider how much feedback is actually needed for a particular decision. What are the risks, need for community ownership and consensus, and the value of transparency in a particular decision? How fast do we need to go and how slow? Leading well in a decentralized environment is all about grasping the context and nuance around decisions.
The source of feedback is important. But sometimes it is not… In a highly anticipated NFT mint earlier this year, I saw a community member reach out to the Mod on the TG to notify them that they found an error in the smart contract. These concerns were dismissed and not escalated. During the mint, everyone purchased their NFTs for millionths of a cent.
When we share our ideas, there is an element of vulnerability. When that idea receives critical feedback it can feel as if our personhood is in question or our very soul is canceled.
The trick is to realize that you are not your idea. This allows us to ‘depersonalize’ feedback about proposals, decisions, governance dialogue. Ask yourself, “Am I being personally attacked or do I just need to separate myself from this idea a bit?”
Handling Antagonistic Actors:
As much as we might aspire to these ideals, there are always shortcomings. But what about individuals who consistently antagonize these practices?
The truth is, the best communities are both inclusive and exclusive. Inclusive and welcoming to all. But exclusive to those who - intentionally or unintentionally - are causing harm to others.
Most of the time, a good approach is initiating a private conversation/chat with the individual, sharing what you have observed, holding up these ideals, and asking some open-ended questions about their take on what you witnessed. This should provide a sense about their intentions and whether or not they hope to engage the community in a more helpful way moving forward.
In some extreme, rare cases, someone may need to be banned from socials (as our Mods have had to do on occasion I’m sure).
Perhaps a more frequent and typical consequence of antagonistic or immature engagement is that the individual slowly loses their voice. Without any blocking or banning, the community begins to consider them invisible and looks past their unhelpful engagement.
These are just my thoughts though and I certainly welcome feedback from your own experience in order to consider how this should be (and currently is) handled.
Do these two core principles and three social practices feel like a sturdy foundation to build on?
How should we handle antagonistic actors who don’t honor these shared principles and practices?
Could you, personally, have a high degree of ownership for each of these? Why or why not?
What is missing from this framework? Is there an ingredient essential to healthy governance that has been overlooked?