SCRF Interviews | Culture and Incentivization - Ellie Rennie and Zach Anderson (Ep. 3)

The third episode of our “Culture and Incentivization’’ mini-series featured a conversation between Ellie Rennie, a Professor and Future Fellow at RMIT University, and Coordinape’s Zach Anderson, moderated by SCRF’s Head of Operations, Eugene Leventhal.


Audio - Spreaker (player, download), Apple


At issue:

  • How do you compensate early-stage contributors?
  • What kind of mechanisms can help teams find ways of compensating individuals that are more representative of their contributions?
  • How to help people understand how to get paid and what the processes are for work?
  • Reputation as a form of compensation

Takeaways from the discussion:

  • Coordinape, SourceCred, and other organizations are developing tokenized compensation tooling for DAOs and other Web3 organizations.
  • These tools create conversations about compensation, allowing an organization to better allocate resources and reward contributors.
  • This enables experimentation with compensation models, such as guaranteed basic income and retroactive rewards, which can contribute to a culture of gratitude, psychological comfort and entrepreneurship.

“When you leave a traditional organization, all you’re left with are LinkedIn connections,” says Prof. Ellie Rennie. “There are very different cultural dynamics at play in a decentralized autonomous organization, such as how do you ensure people are compensated for their work and how do you break down the formalities that traditional workplaces impose?”

Rennie studies SourceCred, a Web3 company which describes itself as a tool for communities, typically DAOs, to measure and reward value creation. Zach Anderson is tackling a similar problem with Coordinape. “Coordinape is a system that decentralizes decisions about compensation,” he says, “allowing people to pay each other based on their perceived value.”

SourceCred and Coordinape use community voting and distributions of cryptocurrency tokens to allocate compensation. These allocations spark vigorous debate within communities and it’s these conversations which both Rennie and Anderson have observed create the most value for an organization.

“The conversations that come out of allocation are more valuable than the allocations themselves,” says Anderson. Over time, these community discussions tend to surface high-performers and find hidden reservoirs of value creation.

“In traditional companies there’s safety in obscurity,” says Rennie. “At SourceCred, there was security in transparency.” She wonders whether or not collective allocations can devolve into a popularity contest.

“We’ve seen all kinds of dynamics at play,” Anderson says. “There are people who give to everyone with the expectation that they’ll get more, there are people who post all day in the Discord about how much work they’re doing while other people are too busy to tout their work, but over time these dynamics get exposed.”

When they function well, communities using these tools develop a culture that is less about self-interest and an employee pitting themselves against a company than it is about shared interest and stewardship.

As communities grow larger, it can be difficult for everyone to understand what everyone else is doing. There are various strategies that groups can use to work around this: smaller allocation circles can allow teams to better understand one another within larger organizations, universal basic income can supplement allocations or rewards can be granted retroactively.

“These communities are very temporary,” Rennie says. “People are constantly moving on or even consciously stepping aside, but if someone creates a core piece of code and it’s suddenly getting a lot of use that person could still be recognized long after they’d left. This could also be a form of institutional memory.“

“To me it also brings up an equity lens,” Anderson says. “Historically men have taken all of the credit. That’s one of the hopes of Web3, that we can rethink these systems and hopefully dismantle larger patterns of oppression and patriarchy.”

To kick off a discussion in Smart Contract Research Forum: a question for the community – how do you think implementing complete pay transparency might change the dynamics of your workplace / favorite internet communities? Are there better methods of incentivizing participation you can think of?


I find the incentivization tooling and discussions about payment a little unnerving, although much less so if it’s only a small fraction of total compensation. To me it seems like a resentment generator in any circumstance other than one in which people are already friendly and at a relatively equal level. But I’m eager to see how SCRF’s experiments turn out, the idea of openly and honestly discussing value does seem compelling (although wouldn’t it end up like any other discussion with a few loud voices drowning everyone else out?) What do you think?

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My perspective as a relatively young undergraduate student majoring in computer science is that it is very important for me to develop a circle of mentors or reciprocal individuals who hold me accountable for my personal and technical growth. There are many things that I cannot learn in the classroom nor in professional on-the-job settings. This is especially true when I’m alone in a foreign country being constantly hammered with foreign world views and customs.

I have joined many such meetups and communities and I have made a reputation of myself being able to access these “experts” from different walks of life to pave my own career path forward. Asking for help with data structures and algorithms homework, asking for design architecture or best practices for an application, asking for help with my calculus course etc… to something as simple as to how to navigate a banking system in a foreign company are some of the little things that enabled me to achieve more than I could have ever imagined. As far as compensation goes, I have always somehow managed to extract very genuine and interesting value that has opened a lot of doors for me in the long run. A lot of these times, these “experts” know quite well that I am there to exploit their wisdom but nevertheless succumb to my persistence and eagerness to reap their knowledge. For me, monetary compensation can only be good until the point where I realize I am no longer growing or am seeing my future monetary compensation growing.

  • I think implementing pay transparency in a workplace or community can allow for a clear understanding of contribution and value, it communicates that there’s a standard way of paying for specific roles and can display whether a workplace is treating participation fairly. Incentives for participation when done correctly are motivators. Methods vary as a community grows however experimentation is a great way to measure responses to specific incentives over time.

  • Found these questions about designing incentives quite interesting:

Designing incentives

What would we need to consider before designing your community incentives?

  • What is the goal of the incentive? Liquidy, higher engagement in the community, governance.
  • Who do we build the incentive for? Find your target group, define your ‘contributor persona’.
  • What kind of incentives should your community receive? Liquid tokens, NFTs, reward points.
  • What’s the structure of the incentive, how much supply? Vested periods based on membership tokens, tiered supply allocation.
  • What is enough vs what is deserved? airdrop distribution, incentives for contributors based on tasks/bounties, rewards for liquidity providers.
    (Designing incentives for web3 communities — David Tomu)

Thank you to Ellie and Zach for such an insightful episode. I’ve interacted with SourceCred and Coordinape and think both platforms point decentralized organizations in the right direction. It was interesting to hear Zach’s first-hand experiences with compensation and equitable pay in DAOs and the questions that arise from them. I’m excited about DAOs addressing gender and racial pay gaps; merit-based pay hasn’t been done well yet.

Another point that I agreed with was Ellie’s comment about what you take away from jobs other than LinkedIn connections. If you worked well with someone, you can get a recommendation from them on your profile. I feel this is LinkedIn’s effort to create more value from moving on from a workplace. Though, in my opinion, the best thing you can take away from a project is an addition to your portfolio. This is optimal for open source projects where you can show your code / contributions to anyone. Suboptimal for projects with NDAs. Portfolio displays are possible on LinkedIn, but far more tangible on a platform like GitHub or Medium/Mirror. Recommendations and portfolios are strong incentives to boost collaboration. Another one is reputation.

One of my favorite web3 projects is Unirep. Unirep uses zero-knowledge cryptography to enable a private reputation-based social network. Users can privately give others a reputation score and verify that their reputation is above a certain level. For example, if I see a post on Unirep that is very helpful, I may use my high reputation score to give reputation points to another user. The important part is that they won’t know who did it. This can be extremely helpful in settings where privacy is respected. I think privacy is a great way to encourage participation because it gives people a sense of trust and autonomy.

To answer the question that ended the post, I don’t believe complete pay transparency will help DAOs or encourage participation. However, I do believe that giving people free will over their information will help tremendously. By “free will,” I mean giving people the opportunity to be completely anonymous, doxxed and open (with pay transparency and everything else), or anything in between. If I am a junior smart contract developer and want to know how much a smart contract developer makes in the DAO, I should be able to ask to view someone’s salary / pay history. If they approve, then I can view it. Public salaries are good for verifying pay equity, but it is still data that many people would prefer to be private to the greater population.

The majority of the great work in DAOs will not come from extrinsic, but intrinsic motivation. This means a DAOs’ greatest responsibility is to clearly define what needs to get done and how much someone can earn from doing said task. This is easier said than done, which is why I propose an idea to get help from artificial intelligence. Trent McConaghy has already written about AI DAOs, but his papers were more about AI only DAOs. I am proposing an AI that acts as a universal project manager and doesn’t have a consensus vote.

We’ve seen the capabilities of models like ChatGPT and stable diffusion, but what if an AI could learn to be a project manager? Users can define goals with a roadmap and definite executables, propose it for the DAO’s approval, and the AI can handle the assignments, reassignments, bounty payouts, and verification of work. There would need to be lots of training data (perhaps extracted from Scrum / Kanban workflows), but over time an AI like this could end up managing the DAO to a level of complete privacy and autonomy. An employee of the DAO only knows what they do and the people they work directly with. Other parts of the work are abstracted until one sees the final product of whatever the DAO is doing. Here’s an example:

The same junior smart contract developer above gets assigned a role to build an ERC-1155 token contract for an upcoming DeFi feature with NFT positions. The smart contract is finished within the designated time, and after the AI reviews the code, it is automatically put through Slither and sent to auditors & reviewers. Any feedback goes back to the junior developer. A couple months later, a social media post (by the marketing team), write up (by the writing team), tutorial (by the design team), and bug bounty (sponsored by the developer team) are all posted on the DAO’s social media and blog pages. The junior developer had no idea what these tasks were or who did them, but when looking at the full project on Github, they saw their code with the appropriate @author tag giving them credit for their work. The developer only knew the other people working on the smart contracts. The other aspects of the project were handled completely separately because everyone was able to follow the project specifications through the AI.

Just a moonshot idea, but I get the feeling something like this would boost productivity in an insane way. The key to getting people to do more stuff is to give them the opportunity to do less and focus on one thing at a time. AI managers and zk worker identities can help with this; it’s just a matter of time until they exist.

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Is it possible to reward creators with NFT or token that gives them a subscription and peculiar access?

Instead of NFT, I will say DAI instead. The hype and value around NFT is gradually dying off

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