- DAOs have become a popular concept, albeit with divergent and often conflicting definitions.
- To address this concern, the authors reviewed the pre-history and early history of DAOs to frame central themes in understanding DAOs. We then identified five conceptual lenses that allow us to conceptualise the telos of DAOs;
- conducted a study with 155 participants to identify the key ‘qualities’ associated with DAOs;
- and arrived at a definition of DAOs that satisfies our research purposes.
How can we conceptualise DAOs to map the common paths towards becoming a DAO and the problems that block that progress?
Ospina, D. and Bohle Carbonell, K. (2022). What is a DAO? Conceptual Foundations. Mirror. What is a DAO? Conceptual Foundations — Danielo
- DAOs have become a meme, one used to describe everything and nothing. We focus our research on elucidating the telos of DAOs
- Multiple ideas associated with DAOs have been present in narratives that preceded them.
- DAOs were originally conceived as non-humane organisations, but influential definitions of the early 2010s included a human element and emphasised censorship resistance. The definition has continued to evolve and diverge since.
- Across different definitions, DAOs have come to be associated with a broader exploration of coordination between (autonomous) agents who seek to satisfy certain needs and aspirations.
- Fluid boundaries mean DAOs fit poorly within the definition of Organisations, but a newer concept, Organisationality, proves more appropriate. Organisationality frames three key criteria: characterised by interconnected instances of decision-making, these instances of decision-making are attributed to a collective entity or actor, and collective identity is accomplished through speech acts that aim to delineate what the entity or actor is or does.
- There’s a set of ideas and values that further qualify DAOs; we’ll refer to these as the Ethos of DAOs.
- DAOs exist both as entities at a specific point in time and as a constant process of change. DAO are both entity and process.
- This dual nature (entity and process) poses a complication to conceptualising DAOs.
- By framing DAOs as Communication, we can study the patterns of communication in a collective and elucidate both the entity and process dimensions.
- DAOs, as communication networks, are subject to the principles of complex systems. Ethos directly shapes the emergent patterns and structures that we see in DAOs.
- A Pol.is survey resulted in 4 statements about what characterises DAOs (Ethos of DAOs) with 64% or more participants agreeing:
- Decentralised power: no single source of authority.
- Autonomous: self-sovereign, not bound to an external coercive force.
- A common goal, vision or set of values that are (being) worked towards.
- A shared treasury controlled by a decentralised voting mechanism.
- We conclude that DAOs are collectives that exhibit organisationality, expressed and evolved through communication events and processes, and shaped by an Ethos that highlights the 4 qualities mentioned above.
We conducted a literature review, facilitated workshops with 15 participants (including inviting 4 professors to input into the conceptual development), and conducted a Pol.is Survey.
The survey was distributed through our networks on Twitter and LinkedIn as well as 20 other DAO-related communities. 155 participants provided 31 statements and cast 1,829 votes to the question "What makes a DAO a DAO?”.
A majority grouping (97 participants) converged on 5 key statements with 64% or more agreement (2 of said statements we identified as permutations of the same concept and condensed into 1).
See Pol.is report here
We conclude that while DAOs are not organisations (in a traditional sense), they are collectives exhibiting some degree of organisationality, enacted through communication events and processes.
In addition to organisationality, we frame DAOs a both static entities while simultaneously evolving and striving to uphold certain values (an Ethos). Conceptualising DAOs as communication networks enables us to resolve the tension between the current entity and its evolution (between what is and what is yet to be).
Finally, we identified a generally shared Ethos of DAOs that highlights decentralisation of power, autonomy, a common goals, vision or set of values that are (being) worked towards, and a shared treasury controlled by a decentralised mechanism.
This study provides a conceptual foundation to discuss DAOs and bridge previous research on organisational studies and related fields.
Further work is needed to delineate the limitations of the proposed conceptualisation of DAOs when it comes to applying insights from previous research that didn’t take into account the conceptual foundations (and distinctions) hereby identified.
This work is currently being applied to create a tool to map, assess, and plan DAOs. Additionally, this research is being referenced to conceptualise and develop assessments of DAO Community Health.
Other applications are yet to be explored, and we’re happy to engage and collaborate on their development (contact us through @rndao__)