In this week’s Public Goods Student Association discussion, we had Ataberk from the Proposal Inverter team and Martin from Lateral join the call to talk about funding public goods. I was excited for this conversation as the Inverter tool can provide new technical mechanisms for funding public goods while Lateral could be used for sense making of what to fund in a research context in the first place.
We started with some intro’s and got to hear an overview of each project.
At it’s core, the app that we discussed as part of Inverter (they’re building a protocol and a number of apps so we focused on the funding mechanism specifically) is meant to provide a way to coordinate amongst multiple funders and a single, milestone based project that needs funding. The need for that coordination is definitely present as there is currently little coordination between web3 granting organizations, which unintentionally creates more overhead for the researchers. It can also be challenging for the funder to get the desired level of accountability, especially for newer granting organizations that may not have robust reporting structures in place. Outside of web3, many foundations and other large scale funders have solved that problem by linking additional funding milestones to reporting that is very onerous. The idea here is to use smart contracts to automate some of that accountability and transparency, which can both make reporting easier for those getting funded and can provide more real-time accountability to funders.
In terms of Lateral, Martin mentioned, “essentially, what we what we’re really aiming to help facilitate is being able to map these complex problem spaces extremely efficiently, so that you can make informed decisions of how to allocate funding.” So while the Inverter team is building the technical architecture to facilitate the funding, the Lateral team is focused on building a tool to help people make sense of complex problems. One potential use of that is to more easily and efficiently create research roadmaps within a single domain to better understand the landscape of open research questions and challenges.
AI & Roadmapping Research
It was also interesting to chat with Martin about how large language models can help automate the process of drafting an initial roadmap. We’ve been discussing the idea of how to collaborate on a governance research roadmap and an initial blocker was getting the right experts together to put together a draft that more folks could interact with and update. It will be very interesting to see how the use of GPT4 type tools could make that process lighter in terms of not needing to gather a group of experts for the first step, instead pulling all of the relevant research and proposing a roadmap that experts could then contribute to / fork.
Ataberk also brought up the idea of the importance of circularity when it comes to thinking about funding and impact. He specifically mentioned A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo as a text that helped him advance some of his own thinking of importance of circularity more broadly (which made me think of Donut Economics by Kate Raworth). While the value from grants that have been funded by web3 grant programs may be real and tangible in many cases, there is no full cycle of circularity there. Given the pressures and incentives for many grant programs the last few years, there has been more pressure to get grants out the door / to optimize around expediting overall ecosystem growth, there has been less opportunity for focusing on how to maximize the full lifecycle of value that could exist from and around the grants. It will be interesting to see how a mix of upfront funding and retroactive funding will play out, especially as better tools and mechanisms for measuring impact will arise. That also made me think of some literature on impact bonds.
A question that came up from one of our attendees, Vimal, was around how to stop bad actors and we got on the topic of sybil attacks more general as well as the Gitcoin Passport specifically. From my understanding, the main angle of sybil attacks that Gitcoin was protecting against was in regards to someone creating a lot of accounts and contributing (say) $1 from 100 accounts as opposed to $100 from a single account. Given Gitcoin’s quadratic funding model, that kind of sybil attack would allow someone to game how many matching funds a single project receives, which would give that project an unfair advantage relative to honest actors.
Ataberk mentioned that the Inverter team hopes to enable that negotiation medium via dynamic and customizable agreements, making funding more transparent. Martin mentioned that as we develop more granular mechanisms for DID (decentralized identity) and contribution tracking more broadly, it will be easier to see who contributed what in a given project. The use of zero knowledge proofs (non-technical explanation, technical explanation) can be an exciting addition in this context, as it would give the opportunity to verify specific credentials or contributions without requiring a full disclosure where doing so may be disadvantageous.
If you want to learn more about the PGSA, check out the overview here. Next week, we will have a contributor from Athena DAO joining us to discuss health and public goods.