Crypto VC Firm Assesses the 'State of Blockchain Governance'

Greenfield One, an early-stage venture capital firm, just published a comprehensive new resource on the topic of blockchain governance.

AccessTimeIconAug 13, 2020 at 2:00 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 9:43 a.m. UTC

Everyone in crypto has been talking about decentralized finance (DeFi) since bankless lending started to boom in June. But, looked at another way, it's really a governance boom.

Into this environment has stepped Greenfield One, an early-stage venture capital firm that just published a comprehensive new resource on the topic of blockchain governance.

Take, for example, COMP. DeFi has been hot ever since Compound started distributing its COMP governance token on June 15. COMP didn't introduce new features to the product, it just gave users a means to voice how the $777 million lending protocol should evolve. 

The report from the Berlin-based Greenfield One looks at this and every notable spin on blockchain governance leading up to the birth of yield farming following COMP's debut.

"The [Compound] community uses a variant of liquid democracy," the report states.

But despite crypto founders' best intentions, the Greenfield One team found blockchain governance schemes tend to get put together fast and then treated with reverence. At times that faith is misplaced. 

"I'm not saying that teams aren't taking governance seriously, but it always feels like something that they build on the side," Jascha Samadi, a Greenfield One partner, told CoinDesk in a phone call.

The venture firm often starts working with portfolio companies well before mainnet launch, Samadi said, coaxing them to consider various governance models as early as possible. 

Therefore, Greenfield One thought it would be helpful to have an overview of what different groups have tried so far. Since such a guide didn't already exist, the group decided to make one.

"This is such an important topic that we really just need to raise awareness," Samadi said.

The report covers Bitcoin, Ethereum, Decred, Tezos, Cosmos, Polkadot, several DAO frameworks, MakerDAO, Nexus Mutual and Compound.

It also deals with describing the roles of stakeholders seen across blockchains such as miners, validators, users, full-node operators and companies. It deals with strategies for off-chain governance as well as the various questions that can be dealt with on-chain.

Larger story

The cryptocurrency industry has a tendency to function as if the world began on Halloween 2008, when Satoshi Nakamoto released the Bitcoin white paper, but Greenfield One realized there is a larger literature of organizational theory that applies to cryptocurrencies. 

"Traditionally, scholars have been focused on the firm as the unit of analysis in organizational design, which has become less and less congruent with the emerging patterns of organizing in peer-to-peer networks and on platforms," they write.

The report opens its discussion by grounding decentralized technology in a larger conversation about how humans get things done together, such as through firms or nations.

"From an institutional perspective, blockchains can be viewed as a new coordination technology competing with firms, markets and national economies as institutional alternatives organizing the economic actions of groups of people," the report states.

This alternative first manifested with Bitcoin.

But not everything Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency networks need can be sorted out on-chain. "By far not all activities are reliably traceable and automatically verifiable on public blockchains (especially human labor, where some subjectivity in quality is involved)," the authors write. Thus the need for "residual control," that is human-powered governance.

"The deeper we dug we realized that it's such a broad and vast topic," Samadi told CoinDesk. "Before we dive into how to best or most effectively govern we need to understand what blockchains are in a broader sense of organizational theory."

Cryptocurrency may be moving Earth toward the singularity, but humans are still key to the project for the foreseeable future. As the writers note in their conclusion:

"In the end, social consensus is what defines a cryptonetwork."

Read the full report below:


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