We're Going to Fix DAO Governance, Because We Have To

DAO voting, as it exists today, is mostly broken. If it doesn't lead to explicit exploits, it's still mostly theater, where votes are called on the same topic until founders or whales get the result they want.

We're Going to Fix DAO Governance, Because We Have To

(Re-Public and its related projects are looking for public goods funding on Gitcoin.  Please consider donating if you're energized by our mission.)

The Re-Public vision has always been to create an open, user-owned, user-controlled platform. Which sounds nice, but has one giant problem to overcome: In an open, member-owned organization, how are decisions made?

This is a foundational problem with human coordination. It turns out we still don't have very good systems for accurately expressing the will of large groups of people. You likely don't feel like you have much agency in most of the systems you're a part of.

But we have to start with what we have, so Re-Public was initially planned as a co-op. Then we moved to a DAO 'structure' as it seemed like a better fit for the goal. A DAO still makes the most sense, in my opinion, but it doesn't in itself solve the decision-making issue.

DAO voting, as it exists today, is mostly broken. If it doesn't lead to explicit exploits, it's still mostly theater, where votes are called on the same topic until founders or whales get the result they want. Perhaps most damaging, governance tokens today are also tradeable and speculative, so governance incentives are heavily driven by profit motive rather than mission/vision.

The Re-Public Voting App

I'm an amateur in the field of governance and voting, but I have been thinking and researching governance mechanisms for over 15 years. I've tried to find people actually building and using some of the best ideas I've come across, and have come up short. Lots of excellent experiments and prototypes, but nothing quite ambitious or elegant enough, in my opinion.

So I've decided to build an open source voting app under the Re-Public name and ecosystem. I'm piloting the concept with JournoDAO, Factland DAO, and Re-Public itself. Many others have expressed interest as well as it becomes more polished and accessible.

Problems and Solutions

There are a few key concepts to understand for the app, which are best introduced by what problems they solve.

Low member participation
How can we say that a vote reflects the will of the people if not everyone participated? I would argue we can't. Re-Public's solution to this is 100% delegation.

Your voting tokens are not given to you until you've delegated their balance entirely. If you take no other action for the rest of time, your will is expressed in this initial delegation.

I also believe that allowing people to change their delegations easily will give them an increased sense that their actions matter. Because they do. And this feeling will increase participation across the board.

Pay to play
The idea behind making governance tokens tradeable was that people with a financial stake in the tokens would vote in ways that would increase their value, which would inherently align with the org's mission. This has not played out as intended. Once governance becomes a speculative asset, it gets sucked into way more powerful games than what's best for the org or its initial mission. Everyone's time and energy is pulled by the force of the token's price, no matter how noble or pure each individual may be. Alignment with the org's mission is almost accidental.

Re-Public's solution to this is non-transferable (soulbound) tokens. You can never trade away your tokens so no one can buy them or speculate on them. Get ready for this to be a big trend in the coming months and years. We didn't invent this concept, but we're hoping to be among the first to demonstrate its profound utility.

Charisma over expertise
The leaders that emerge in orgs tend to be more extroverted, likeable people. Old models empower these people to have more decision power even though charisma is often uncorrelated with competence.

Re-Public's solution is delegation by subject matter. Proposals that members vote on are categorized by subject matter, and so are members' delegations. So I can give my voting power to Bob if we're voting on a Marketing proposal, and I can give my voting power to Alice if we're voting on a proposal that pertains to Software Development..

This is more reflective of real life where the person you consult on a problem has to do with the nature of the problem itself. I trust one friend to make the best recommendations about restaurants and a different friend to tell me what movies I should watch.

This delegation solution has the potential to solve the following problem as well ...

Everyone's input on every decision
One of the selling points for DAOs is that they are more nimble and can adapt more quickly to changing circumstances than traditional orgs. This is not the case with mature DAOs that try to put important decisions up for discussion and vote. Votes take a long time to close and are hindered by the cacophony of the DAO's many voices.

Re-Public's delegation system allows small working groups to form that have autonomy in their area of expertise. If everyone delegates their votes for Software Development to the DAO's four software developers, for example, those four people can reach a quorum on their own proposals without consulting the rest of the DAO.

Those delegations can be removed at any time by the rest of the DAO, which should help keep these autonomous working groups from going rogue. There are ways this can go wrong, obviously, but we're confident that iterating on this path will yield a better framework than what we currently have.

Wen App?

We're starting to test these concepts in the app with the first few DAOs, and expand to larger DAOs in the coming weeks. Optimistically we could have a public beta by the end of summer. Conservatively, by the end of the year.

If you'd like to help test the prototype and have input on its development, please tweet to us @republicdao or email us at [email protected]

Also, Re-Public is entirely grant-funded, so please consider donating to it and its adjacent projects on Gitcoin. Even a single dollar contribution can lead to $100 or $1000 in matching. Every bit counts.

Cover image by Element5 Digital on Unsplash