CommunityRule: What should an interface for designing governance do?

The user experience for most organizational governance is pretty lousy. In meatspace, it generally consists of impenetrable legal prose that, in order to be precise, loses meaning for most people who have to use it. Even fairly simple bylaws are, at best, boring.

In crypto, the problem is different but related. Interfaces like those of Snapshot and Aragon make governance seem like a deceptively simple token vote, without disclosing the layers of process occurring off-chain in chat threads, forums, and DMs.

Beginning in 2020, I and a few others have been working on CommunityRule, a Web app experimenting with what a better governance interface might look like. The goal is to explore how designing community governance might actually be fun, accessible, and transparent. As with open-source software, designers should be able to share their designs with others and fork the work of other designers, adapting it to new contexts. As a result, a design commons might emerge that allows more rapid exploration, iteration, and knowledge sharing. As more and more governance occurs through software, also, interfaces should also be capable of outputting usable code.

With the support of SCRF, and in partnership with SQGLZ, we are now developing a new chapter in this work, which we will be reporting on here at SCRF. Our goal is to develop a third iteration of CommunityRule.

The first iteration was a text-based tool that asked users a set of questions and invited answers in prose. This was simple to develop, and it attracted some interest, but it was only a modest step beyond the interface of standard textual bylaws, and the questions could be constraining.

The second iteration replaced the questions with drag-and-drop modules. Users can now choose modules from menus, add them to their rule, and specify their contextual meaning in text. Modules can be inserted into other modules. This presents a more visual authoring and reading experience. But many users seem to have had difficulty understanding the modules, finding the right ones, and customizing them. User adoption remains quite slow.

The protoype works, but it has massive limitations. There are no user accounts; published rules can only be deleted by an administrator. There is no real data model (other than raw HTML!), so the rules are not very portable. We have put off such niceties until the core experience is creating the kinds of user response we’re hoping for: playful authoring, sharing, and building on others’ work.

I don’t know if we’ll get there in this third iteration, but I hope we can get closer. Here are some possible goals to work toward, now or later—and I would love to hear feedback on what seems most urgent or useful.

  • Reorient the design from a structure-based approach to a more subjective one based on actions and choices and agreements
  • Introduce gamification and interactivity to make authoring a more playful experience
  • Create more space for culture and other elements of governance outside of rules and structures
  • Rethink the layout to make it easier to find and choose modules
  • Replace the linear structure of the authoring space with something more 2D, enabling more relational representations
  • Enable diverse, custom module sets for specific applications (eg, a certain organization might present a certain limited set of modules to its chapters)
  • Integration with PolicyKit, enabling rules to translate into working code for governance in popular online platforms, or integration with a DAO governance platform like Boardroom or Aragon

What do you think? What else should we be exploring?

We are developing the code here, and we invite more collaborators. The app is based on Jekyll and JavaScript, with a Google Sheet for a database. If you would like to get involved, please reach out.

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@ntnsndr thank you for sharing this with us. @kelsienabben I figured this tool might be something you’d be interested in (as I’m sure @stephaniev you would as well, particularly from a UX/user interface perspective or @Fizzymidas or @Astrid_CH, from a legal perspective).

My question is a little silly – is there an optimal amount of time that an average citizen or user should spend thinking about governance? In the project management world, I’ve heard the rule of thumb is that more than ten percent of time spent on organization and planning is usually a waste… Is there an equivalent for governance? (Maybe this is an argument for occasionally using some of the less democratic templates in your arsenal.)

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I love that question about optimal time. I can’t imagine that there would be. But I’m intrigued by the question of what a personal governance dashboard would look like, where one can see one’s various communities and make choices about how best to channel one’s limited attention. There are projects like Tally and Snapshot that offer something like that, or a more social version like Ethereum.world. What do you think?

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I like that. A portfolio tracker but for all the DAOs you belong to. The more social option is particularly interesting. I’m talking to an artist friend about creating a self-portrait DAO. One of our proposed rules is that every new piece of work has to be unanimously approved, so we need to figure out how to run a portfolio review/showing for the community. I think Ethereum.world could work. Of course, when I think of interacting with DAOs, I can’t help but imagine something a little sinister and uncanny like Bruce Sterling’s Maneki Neko.

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Thanks for the tag! It wasn’t until I saw CommunityRule in practice that I realised its utility.

A group of MetaGov colleagues and I were figuring out management of a common resource (a multisig wallet) and were brainstorming the rules of how we might spend funds for a grant program, and what kind of consensus we needed amongst the group. It was actually Nathan who whipped up the discussion into a CommunityRule framework that I understood how handy it is as a tool and framework. I recommend playing with it to describe an existing system or apply it to a new situation

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I wanted to post some of my work relative to Decentralized Conglomerates to give some background as to why people like myself saw inherent problems with the DAO theory from the very beginning:
Bitland Global: Updates on South Africa, Mauritius, Nigeria, Uganda, Ethereum Compatibility — Steemit

"Institutional memory becomes an imperative when it comes to keeping a unified organizational evolution moving. An example of institutional memory would be “Congress” or the “Supreme Court” in the United States government. The idea was that instead of having agnostic principles that were to have authority over a specific set of rules or actions, democracy would be applied to congress to decide a group of elected officials that would attempt to balance the desires of the people against the knowledge of the institutional memory of congress.

In the case of the Supreme Court, the idea is that a group of officials that are appointed by an elected official to represent balanced views of the country will also retain the institutional memory necessary to make informed decisions about establishing new rules and laws. In this context, having institutional memory reduces the necessity of retreading debates and theoretically is an attempt to move debate forward with the knowledge of everything that has occurred previously.

When DAO theory was emerging, the concept of Digital Leadership had not quite been articulated, and the theoretical foundation of the DAO was ultimately rooted in a Mandate of Heaven that created a leaderless system where organizations were to function based around goals and objectives that were agreed upon, rather than the decision of a specific individual or group. Many attempts at creating DAOs have been attempted, with the recent Slockit DAO being the largest on record. While the Slockit DAO was the largest, the success of the project is debatable depending on what metric of “success” is being discussed."
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Thanks for posting this! It looks like a great conceptual framework and definitely needed in the governance space, especially as people who haven’t been a part of teams or have any experience of governance really figure out how to do it. And good interfaces can give them the bumper rails to do so…

I would consider modern management frameworks as well. There’s a difference between governance (voting) and actually getting work done. The DAO has to accomplish both. Maybe that’s an integration with git’s PM flow or other PM applications, but a dashboard that connects those two facets puts governance in context.

I’m interested in the cultural component you have listed. Culture is really important to create and what makes each of these DAOs unique. I actually think this should be the biggest component of a interface for DAOs. Culture tells a user how to engage here, what’s allowed and how, what we believe in, and overall what it means to be a part of this community. What are you @ntnsndr thinking about how to create a user experience for culture?

I would think the culture component could include:

  • Language (What will we communicate in? What language might we exclude?)
  • Values
  • Relationships (How do we not want to engage with each other? Do we need to define how we do?)
  • Mindsets (How are you asked to show up to this space?)
  • Rituals (What are our regular engagements?)
  • Ceremonies (How will we celebrate? What does success look like here? How do we know we’ve achieved it?)
  • Hygiene (How do we take care of this space together?)
  • Crisis/Risk (What do we define as a threat and how do we manage it when it happens?)
  • Metrics/Dashboard (What is the makeup of this DAO [dependent on what personal data people provide]: Where are people from, average length involved, could also include protected classes like gender/age/race…I think you need these things to ground people. Though it may be in conflict with web3’s values of psuedo-anonymity/anonymity.)

Would love to know if I’m off on this or if this is the kind of input you’re looking for.

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@valeriespina that was a really wonderful reply, I’m really curious to read @ntnsndr reply. You also made me think of de-onboarding people from communities… how do you remove people from certain responsibilities or roles they once inhabited without rupturing all of those carefully created social ties. Can we automate our way around etiquette? And what happens to the rest of the community, do they grieve a lost DAO member?

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Thanks so much for this—really interesting ideas.

First, the distinction at the start is something I’ve been thinking about a lot; you frame it as voting vs. work, I’ve thought of it as decision vs. action. Compare, for instance, Aragon (decision/voting) and Colony (action/reputation) as examples of this. I am interested in the relationships among them, as well as the underlying assumptions of these approaches.

Your culture suggestions are really great. We already had modules for Values and Rituals under culture (see the list at communityrule.info/modules/), and I think several of the things you suggest can fit under those. Friendship is also there, which might include Relationships. Perhaps friendship should be replaced with relationship. Language might fit under Norms?

I’m just trying to be careful about not veering into module bloat, as I already feel the list is overwhelming for some users.

@jmcgirk There is also a module under “process” for Exclusion, which is meant to cover removal.

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Thank you so much for your reply, I’ll take a look at the exclusion module. Given your earlier post about Cryptoeconomics as a limitation on governance, I’m curious whether CommunityRule might eventually include tools for designing tokenomics too. It would be really interesting to have access to pre-built designs and how they might reinforce or modulate existing structures.

Potentially. Though unlike the related Token Engineering Commons project, and in keeping with the spirit of the paper, CR is taking an approach that focuses on political governance more than tokenomics.

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