Aragon wants to offer a neutral, decentralized digital jurisdiction for DAOs. As it stands, it appears plenty of folks are hungry to build organizations on Aragon’s stack, but there is less interest in participating in the governance of the network. If decentralization is to be achieved, that needs to change.
On January 17, the Aragon Network will hold its first community-wide vote using the Aragon Governance Proposal (AGP) process established in November by community vote. This marks an important step in the long slog toward community governance of the Aragon Network, but to complete the journey, much more active community participation is necessary.
In November, the Aragon Network held a community vote to approve AGP-1, the Aragon Governance Proposal (AGP) process. AGP-1 established the framework for the Aragon community to make changes “to the management, allocation, or use of shared resources owned or directly influenced by the Aragon Network.” Put in comparative terms, AGP-1 is to Aragon what EIP-1 is to Ethereum – though there are some significant differences, perhaps most notably that holders of ANT (the Aragon network’s token) vote on whether to approve AGPs.
While Aragon’s governance process is arguably more democratic – and more transparent – because of the ability of network participants to vote on proposals, AGP-1 is supposed to be only the first step in the evolution toward a fully community-governed network. The Aragon Association is explicit about the level of centralized control currently involved in the proposal process, and what needs to happen for that to change.
How Things Stand: Permissioned Community Governance
Following with the protocol laid out in AGP-1, finalized proposals to be considered in the upcoming vote are due by January 3, two weeks ahead of the network vote. At that time, the Aragon Association (including Aragon founders Luis Cuende and Jorge Izquierdo) will review proposals for pre-approval. Only Association-approved proposals will be included in the ballot.
For a proposal to get even this far, it must meet certain criteria, as determined by the AGP editors, Aragon One researcher Luke Duncan and Aragon One community manager John Light. The proposal must fall under the umbrella of four established categories listed in AGP-1. Proposals may also be rejected before Association review if AGP editors deem them “too unfocused, too broad, [a] duplication of effort[s], … technically unsound, … [lacking in] proper motivation or [failing to] address… concerns by reviewers, or not in compliance with AGP-1.”
Ahead of the upcoming vote, on December 17, Luis Cuende, board member of the Aragon Association, CEO of Aragon One, and co-founder of Aragon, published a blog post with a list of proposals the Association would deny if submitted for vote – even if they were technically sound, focused, and fell under the umbrella of an established category.
What Needs Doing to Realize the Decentralized Dream
If that sounds more permissioned than embodying of the freedom-and-democracy-loving ethos laid out in the Aragon Manifesto, you’re not entirely wrong.
But it’s all a part of the process toward community governance, and that can’t happen over night. Cuende wrote in the blog post:
“The Aragon Association still has certain rights and liabilities related to the operations of the project. For that reason, it is important to have a blacklist of proposals that the Aragon Association won’t pre-approve for an AGP ballot. This is primarily to safeguard the Aragon Association until all governance power is fully transitioned into the Aragon Network.”
There are a number of factors that must come together before the Aragon Network will reach full community governance. Cuende told ETHNews that he expects this transition to continue over the next couple of years as the team works out how to transfer legal ownership and responsibility from the Association to a community-governed DAO. He also stated that Aragon’s governance model will need to be further refined through the AGP process, and technical developments are still needed to optimize for community governance.
In an Aragon One blog post published November 16 (before the AGP-1 vote), Duncan – who is in this context the cryptoeconomic researcher for Aragon One – stated: “It’s important to recognize that the tools and patterns that are currently available for governance tokens are still highly experimental and very much in their infancy.”
As a case-in-point, Duncan elucidated on the need for self-sovereignty and concurrent but conflicting difficulty of establishing systems of accountability to protect minority and passive stakeholders without being able to rely on the legal system. In other words, self-sovereignty requires moving away from traditional methods of identity verification (mostly government-issued), but doing so makes working within and benefiting from financial, legal, and democratic institutions difficult, if not completely unworkable.
AGP Proposal Reveals Aragon One’s Decentralization Efforts
Aragon One submitted an AGP to be considered in the January vote that sheds further light on the technical developments Cuende and the Association see as necessary for governance optimization. The proposal requests $4 million and 1.675 million ANT in funding for Aragon One through Flock, a program to fund teams developing the Aragon stack.
The proposal provides a succinct overview of the team’s research and development goals for 2019. The AGP lists new voting architecture as a priority, including the “research and develop[ment] of new voting mechanisms,” and plans to “run a pilot with 0x Use case – AGP-1 + Representative Council(s).” Dispute resolution – an essential aspect of governance – is also an area of focus for 2019, including the development of an “Agreements app,” which will allow for formalized Aragon Network agreements that will be enforceable through the Aragon Court – a decentralized arbitration system also listed as a deliverable in the Flock proposal.
Other Efforts to Decentralize Governance, Mostly Led by Aragon One
One dApp already in development by Aragon would enable liquid democracy, which enables voters to choose whether to participate in a ballot or delegate their vote to another address. However, development of this dApp appears to have slowed in the face of technical challenges.
Another dApp already in development by Space Decentral, funded through Aragon’s Nest program, will allow for range voting, or the ability to “vote on the percentage of an allocation that distinct tasks, projects, or people should receive.”
Duncan has also prompted discussion on the Aragon forum about the potential use of quadratic voting in Aragon organizations. Quadratic voting is an idea offered by Glen Weyl and Eric Posner in their recent book, “Radical Markets,” that does away with the “one person, one vote” paradigm. Instead, quadratic voting allows voters to signal the degree of their preferences by allotting each individual a prescribed number of “voice credits,” to be distributed as they desire across whatever issues are important to them – with the caveat that each credit “spent” on an issue is progressively less powerful than the last. While Duncan’s post prompted some discussion, and one commenter linked to their own research on the matter, ultimately the idea hasn’t gone anywhere.
Aragon One isn’t the only team working on cryptoeconomics and governance, though. For example, Level K, a team dedicated to building and auditing dApps, received an Aragon Nest grant in October to develop a Futarchy app for the Network. Futarchy is a form of governance in which, as described by Vitalik Buterin in a 2014 blog post, “individuals would vote not on whether or not to implement particular policies, but rather on a metric to determine how well their country (or charity or company) is doing, and then prediction markets would be used to pick the policies that best optimize the metric.”
More Participation Necessary
There appears to be no shortage of interest in Aragon’s stack. As it stands, there are more than 200 DAOs built on Aragon (MetaMask required), more than 150 of which are using the voting dApp offered through it. And, since the genesis of Aragon’s Nest funding program, more than 10 teams have received funding. While the number of organizations that are using Aragon to run their businesses (or receiving grant funding through Nest) is significant and ever-growing, so far, the AGP process has yet to yield much participation. The November vote to approve AGP-1 saw participation by only 44 accounts. That’s only 0.22 percent of ANT holders. The proposal passed with 99.97 percent in favor.
There was speculation that perhaps the low turnout was due to complacency – the proposal was sufficiently uncontroversial that it did not rouse a sense of urgency on either side. Perhaps, it was assumed, if the proposal had been more disputed, then more voters would have participated.
Still, as Yalda Mousavinia, founder of Space Decentral, pointed out on the Aragon forum – low voter turnout makes it easy to buy a vote in either direction (all hail plutocracy!), and so is not good for decentralization. In response, she pitched the creation of a cooperative model that would allow those building on the Aragon stack more of a voice in the AGP process than other ANT holders. Following this post, she and Duncan co-wrote a more comprehensive proposal detailing how an Aragon community cooperative could be used to generate more AGPs, and potentially to introduce delegative voting (though the challenges with creating a liquid democracy dApp show that this may present challenges).
Whether or not the community cooperative model will move forward is yet to be seen, but for now, participation in network-wide governance is still lagging. Despite Cuende’s wish list of AGP proposals, no one other than Aragon One has submitted any (as of December 28), none have been posted for discussion on the Aragon forum or chat, and time is running out.