SCRF Interviews | Culture and Onboarding - Livia Deschermayer and Seth Frey (Ep. 2)

The second episode of our “Culture and Incentivization’’ mini-series featured a conversation between Head of Soft Governance at The Token Engineering Commons Livia Deschermayer and University of California Davis Assistant Professor Seth Frey, moderated by SCRF’s Head of Operations, Eugene Leventhal.

You can watch, listen, or read this week’s episode via:

Video on YouTube

Audio on Spreaker (player, download), Apple, or wherever you listen to podcasts


At issue:

  • What role does culture-building play in creating communities, particularly in decentralized organizations?
  • How much of a community’s culture can be predetermined by its founders and how much comes organically?
  • How should an organization onboard new members into an existing culture and when do new members begin to play a role in shaping that culture?

Takeaways from the discussion:

  • Think of onboarding as a form of curation and iteration: new members need to be introduced and to take an active role in shaping an organization’s mission, vision, and values.
  • Constant iteration should be a daily practice, in other words, making lots of small mistakes and innovating from the lessons learned is the best way to build an organic organizational culture.
  • Off-boarding and ritual can be important tools for building a community, creating opportunities for new interpersonal dynamics and more interpersonal connections.
  • A healthy decentralized organization’s culture more closely resembles an organism than it does an organization.

Culture is “the secret sauce” that holds a community together around a shared mission or group of resources, according to Seth Frey and Livia Deschermayer. Creating and maintaining it takes time, effort, and resources from skilled individuals. It’s hard work.

“Onboarding can almost be thought of as a process of curation,” Deschermayer says. “You need guidance to enter the universe. Mission, vision, and values need to be shared from the very beginning.” She advocates for paying attention to emerging rituals and nourishing them.

“We come from such a wounded society,” Livia Deschermayer says. “A lot of shared values and communication styles that should be basic seem not to be. Even though a functional culture seems like a prerequisite for creating any lasting economic value.”

Joy is a powerful motivator for communities and daily rituals. So is grief. Her organization uses off-boarding ceremonies to acknowledge the work people have done, and members know they won’t be harmed when they exit a community.

“If you’re leaning on just one type of tool, you’re restricting your community to a very small part of cultural space,” Seth Frey says. “The more you invest into day-to-day caring [about new rituals and ways of connecting], the more the potential space of possible cultures opens up to you.”

Frey uses large-scale data analysis to extrapolate cultural insights from online communities, including the influence of “exits”.

“You can think of culture as an input or an output in these communities,” Frey says. “Do decisions about governance come first, or are communities formed as a result of attrition, people rage-quitting when the rules don’t suit them any longer?”

To answer the question, he ran a study on a group of Minecraft servers, analyzing which governance plugins had been installed and when. “It turned out that governance had an order of magnitude larger effect on the people remaining than exit did,” he says.

Frey and Deschermayer both agree that culture-building should be iterative. Deschermayer compares it to an organic process.

“A good organizational culture is more like an organism than an organization, it’s all about creating feedback loops and an intentional shared collaborative process.”

Making small mistakes and learning from them is probably the only way for a community to deliberately develop a culture.

“Systematic broad observation won’t give you an effective list of rules,” Frey says. “The best we can do in terms of learning is making small mistakes and developing tiny, constant iteration as a daily practice until it becomes like emotional intelligence, a sort of reading the room and changing as we go.”

To kick off a discussion in Smart Contract Research Forum: a question for the community–at what points during the onboarding process did you feel like you joined the community here? How would you define SCRF’s unique culture?


To sum SCRF up, I’d say “there’s something for everyone if you’re willing to find a place”. Coming from a non-technical background with interest in smart legal contract research, I was a little unsure of my place in SCRF but the community at SCRF quickly adopted me and I have been able to find new interest areas. I think I started to feel like a member of SCRF during the mentorship program.
Particularly, I love ‘community passport’ because it is a very relaxed place to learn about other cultures and discover our similarities and differences. Basically, I find SCRF very engaging and there’s always something new to learn.


@Tolulope thank you so much for your comment! I’m really interested to hear other opinions about SCRF’s community or other communities that you belong to. For me, most of the online communities I dabble in are really difficult to navigate, there’s a constant blur of activity and information and it seems daunting trying to nudge my way in. I guess it felt that way a bit at SCRF, in the beginning, I was also really unsure of what my position was, particularly given how ambiguous some of the terms in web3 can be, and the paucity of my blockchain knowledge next to some of the galaxy brains here. One thing our ops team did well was to immediately get me involved in several projects and we also had a weekly one-on-one call once I was more or less on board. It’s funny to compare onboarding at a web3 with a traditional organization, I’m not sure I felt fully integrated at my last position (a state bureaucracy) for at least a few months – about the same as it took at SCRF!

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Apologies for the double post. @Twan @Jerry_Ho I’d be eager to hear about how onboarding went from your perspectives, particularly given our community call the other night.

Incentivization across different countries has some pretty interesting implications.

@Tolulope, I love reading “there is something for everyone if you’re willing to find a place”. I do believe that the goal of SCRF is to create a space where every one who interacts with the community can have a sense of being. If you enjoy research, there is a space; want to talk cryptocurrencies hop on the #general channel and someone will pipe in. I particularly appreciate the mention of the Community Passport, created with the goal of sharing culture and ensuring we bring humanity to our community. All of these efforts ensure we are creating a culture we can get behind here at SCRF.


1. At what points during the onboarding process did you feel like you joined the community here?

The onboarding process was very thorough when I joined the community almost a year ago. After communicating @eleventh and @jmcgirk I felt welcomed, having certain inquiries answered on how to use GitHub and additionally joining community calls when I could, going through presentations and videos created to better participate in the SCRF ecosystem, the final badge was being a trusted member for engaging more with the forum itself - which has been quite an educational and enjoyable process.

2. How would you define SCRF’s unique culture?

SCRF has many interesting channels, it’s a platform that brings people with varied experiences into one space, the culture has a sense of consistency and clarity is provided when needed. As a South African scholar, I have had the opportunity to learn about projects in other regions, projects I wouldn’t have been exposed to before. I’m grateful that I was able to be the first recipient of the Pan African research grant after seeing a LinkedIn post from @Fizzymidas and later going through the program with @Larry_Bates who was very patient in explaining all the processes to participate in the SCRF culture and to provide feedback on my experiences. @Twan has also been patient in explaining new research templates and how I can better my next research summary. My experience is very specific but I’m grateful for the unique culture and ecosystem that is being built at SCRF.