Shade Governance Norms: A Social Agreement

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.

Core Principles:

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.

Social Practices:

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.

For Discussion:

  • 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?

  • Other thoughts?


I’m very impressed with this writeup and I think it’s perfect timing to discuss these topics. I agree with all of your numbered topics especially “open & selective about feedback” not all feedback is created equal. I’ll leave some additional thoughts to your discussion topics below.

  • Do these two core principles and three social practices feel like a sturdy foundation to build on?
    IMO, 100% this sets a sturdy foundation

  • How should we handle antagonistic actors who don’t honor these shared principles and practices
    This was my biggest worry/question as it’s human nature to “pick sides” so it’s natural one side will see a bad actor while the other side will think that actor is great. I strongly believe that there needs to be an anonymous way to report “bad actors” and some structure that will follow up on it politely. This ability to report bad actors, poor contributors, etc seems to lack in much of the crypto ecosystem and is even harder when decentralized. I hope this anonymous reporting structure will be implemented in shade early as it will set the tone for all parties who enter later

  • Could you, personally, have a high degree of ownership for each of these? Why or why not?
    Not sure if you can hold someone accountable other than seeing how they hold themselves accountable over time. If they don’t then the reporting structure above would solve the removal of this actor. As @CarterWoetzel frequently says, “hire for character”. I think this comes down to character of the individual and the responsiblity of the community to report/remove someone who doesn’t maintain that character.

  • What is missing from this framework? Is there an ingredient essential to healthy governance that has been overlooked?
    I think you covered all components. In addition, the social agreement should be very visible and agreed upon, in an informal manner, to anyone who joins the community. This sets expectations, provides guidance and makes sure nobody misses it. (I imagine every shade warrior would see a communication when they join)

Everyone has heavily jumped into the “culture” forum post but I think this “social agreement” sets the foundation for Shade culture and more people should be active here.

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Wow, your second bullet is absolutely clutch. Anonymous “report” and then some kind of follow-up structure with that. That seems like a pivotal and logical next step in making something like this become “alive” and functional.

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Yeah I do also like that option of reporting. Another thing, which I think was talked about in the spaces today, would be having an assembly responsible for looking into bad actors. I think this would also be a good idea, and it reminds me of Congress and the Senate, which I believe both have their own “Ethics” or conduct committees which handle issues like this.

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Wow this deserves far more time than i have at this moment. I will revisit this.

But for now. Any assembly is only as good as the people in that group.

We need to lay the foundation with checks and balances. For example, any assembly decision should be executable. But general governance, or a set number of assemblies should have the ability to nullify an execution.

I think anonymous reporting and follow up is a good thought. But only if the checks are there. Like anything, it can be used for good or bad.

I think generally if people are public, the will go with what’s popular. But if they can be anonymous, they will be more honest to their own morals.

In the same token. There are negative ways to manipulate such a set up.

Just my 2 cents off the cuff. I’ll cover more ground later.