Introducing Govbase: an open database for governance models

Hi everyone!

We wanted to start a conversation here about Govbase, an open database of projects, tools, and case studies in online governance. Many of the details about it can be found in the Medium article “Introducing Govbase.” Currently, it is designed for researchers in governance and blockchains, but anyone can access and use it here:
(Airtable - Govbase).

In this post, we wanted to share a bit about our plans over the next few months, explore a few possible use-cases for Govbase in industry and research, and discuss a few of the open questions we’ve been thinking about. This post is the first in a series; we’ll be posting updates and thoughts in this thread+forum over the next few months. We would love to hear your comments!

Over the next few months, we will:

1. Collect data and begin work on a front-end website
2. Release a public “standard” following the Metagov format and present our new entity-decision data model
3. Draft an anthropology paper, “Ethnography of Governance Models in Blockchain,” that will implement Govbase’s data sets to construct analysis
4. Publish a front-end website and begin a marketing campaign
5. Plan a presentation describing a publication pipeline that communities and practitioners can use to publish their governance systems to Govbase
6. Report on results of marketing campaign

Exploring some use-cases:

Govbase is a data warehouse that contains many subsidiary data sets. Different projects (e.g. Cryptogov, Metaethnography, Governance Archaeology, and soon the anthropology paper described above) will use it for different purposes.

One example: Ethnographers can use Govbase to conduct a cross-comparative analysis between Web2 and Web3 governance models and infrastructures by examining the tools and projects different organizations use for governance. Another use-case: Govbase also serves as a historical reference for cataloging and understanding trends in online governance, or for understanding the history of a particular community you are interested in studying or joining. The ​​Cases table of Govbase, for example, catalogs significant events in the history of online governance by capturing qualitative and quantitative data on a wide range of events that have had implications for community governance.

You can also use some of Govbase’s datasets to analyze the extent to which structures in Web3 are decentralized and how they can be applied to facilitate greater trust in Web3. Govbase is also designed to enable researchers to share and cross compare ethnographic data on various online communities, thus allowing contributions to the canon of data on decentralized governance and enabling stronger, collective research efforts to better understand this field.

On the technical side, Govbase can help developers interested in token engineering and DAOs (but who may lack the technical skills) to be able to perform the kind of computational modelling workflows that are usually dominant in algorithm design. It can also provide an efficient mechanism for members to contribute to the governance design and documentation of an organization or a commons.

Open questions

Govbase is a work in progress, and we’re actively developing it in order to make it more useful to people in the wider community. Here are some key questions we’re considering as we work on it:

  • What is the best way of representing governance in online communities?
  • What do we gain from better data and better representations of governance?
  • How can we make Govbase more accessible to researchers in industry and academia?
  • How do we make it easier for projects to contribute data to Govbase?
  • What data sets do we need to wrangle in order to build a good decentralization metric?
  • Is a better metric even necessary, or is Are We Decentralized Yet enough?

Do you an idea about how to use Govbase, or do you want to use it for a specific research project? Let us know how we can help.

Cheers,

Ann and Josh

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@Anthropunk Welcome to SCRF!, Ann and Josh

I’m excited to see this come together and very curious to read about an “Ethnography of Governance Models in Blockchain.” Have you seen any interesting governance trends developing around some of the curatorial DAOs that have been proliferating recently? I’m really curious to see how cultural institutions might change when fiduciary control belongs to creators.

Glancing at your open questions, I’m going to tag @Sami_B and @Fizzymidas who have been working on a taxonomy of decentralization metrics.

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Hi Ann, Josh,

First of all, I find your work very interesting and I think that the ecosystem really needs such tools. Your Medium article does a good job of making sense of data that may seem complex at first glance on Airtable. As you mentioned, a front-end would clearly be helpful for ease of use. Your approach to study online communities in general (and not specifically blockchains/DAOs) also brings a lot.

Regarding your open questions, the SCRF forum contains some posts that might be of interest to you:

SCRF plans to publish more posts as part of a long term project to study decentralization in the context of blockchains. Govbase could certainly be used as a data source in this research.

To give my opinion on what data and metrics to use for decentralization, I think it is necessary to maximize their number to capture all aspects of the network. Using only a few metrics can obscure important concepts and lead to misinterpretations of the results (e.g. Blockchain A can be more decentralized than Blockchain B according to metric X but not metric Y).

The use of different data samples can allow to study specific granularity, as the time periods over which the metrics are involved can influence the results (e.g. Bitcoin mining is less centralized today than in 2009). Different granularity can also allow to monitor/study the evolution of a metric through time.

I didn’t know about the “are we decentralized yet” website, thanks for the reference. I think it’s a good base but it lacks metrics regarding project governance and they only focus on smart contracts platforms/Layer 1, leaving out some DAOs that you might be interested in.

P.-S. : I also find your “Agreement Engine” idea really cool!

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Hi @Anthropunk and welcome to SCRF!
Thanks for sharing this. It’s great to be aware of different resources available to d-gov researchers, and the qualitative questions you have posed are thought-provoking.

It could be useful to collate some broader resources on online community governance on SCRF (e.g. modular politics, etc)

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Hi @Anthropunk (and Josh). I agree with the other commenters that your work is fascinating and much-needed in this space.

One specific (and probably difficult to answer) question from me…

This passage describes something that seems almost like a magic trick: A person with no technical knowledge will be able to perform “computational modeling workflows.” I’m very curious to know what this would look like in practice.

Thanks!

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The idea here is to build formal but interpretable models that you can manipulate without having to code anything. This will definitely take additional work though—not something that’s going to happen this phase of the project / in the next 4 months.

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Hi Ann and Josh, thanks for the post and the updates that are going to come.

I am finding a topic for my new data analysis project, and this looks like an interesting source to go with.

Although I cannot claim any expertise in governance, I can echo that putting together a portfolio of meaningful metrics is challenging work.

Hopefully, if the data is made accessible, then it would be easier for data scientists, product managers, and basically anyone interested to play around and see what makes sense.

Just out of curiosity -

1.How do you plan to collect the data, guarantee its integrity, and update it consistently?
2.Is Govbase going to be fully an open-source project, or will it be accompanied by a for-profit org?

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Hi Twan,

Thanks for your positive feedback on Govbase. To answer your questions:

The database you currently see has been filled out with tools and communities we know of, but the Internet is a big place and we intend to keep adding and evolving the data model to make sure it includes and represents all the differences we want to capture in relation to institutional patterns of governance. Some of the data mapped in the table has also been gathered from publicly available sources online. We have also contacted/interviewed people from different projects and organizations directly to capture some of this data.

Our goal is to make this table as publicly available as possible, so that it can benefit from crowdsourced knowledge to keep the dataset as accurate and updated as possible. One of Govbase’s broader goals is to help researchers produce more legal/ethnographic analysis on governance and online communities.

Hope this answers your questions!

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Hi Ann, Josh,
Thank you so much for sharing your work. As a legal researcher and a DAO enthusiast, I’m so happy to know about this meaningful and interesting database. According to 2009 Nobel Economic Laureates Oliver E. Williamson, the analysis of organization should be the science of contract, the structure of contract analysis should be applied to the analysis of organization so that we can explain why an organization exists, “transaction” is the analysis fundamental unit and “governance” is the objective of analysis. The characteristics of transactions affect the cost of transactions, which consequently results in the arrangement of organizations (i.e. the choice of organization types). As you mentioned in Introducing Govbase, “Most projects and platforms in online governance don’t correspond to or implement a specific governance structure”, may I imagine these projects could be presented as spectrums in many facets categorized by characteristics of organizations? Do you think it is a good way to take characteristics of transactions into one of the metrics to analyze their governance?

Reference
Oliver E. Williamson, Why Law, Economics, and Organization? (2000). UC Berkeley Public Law Research Paper No. 37.

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