Monkey See, Monkey DAO

DAO decisions are fundamental to collective progress. Snapshot adding shielded voting creates more questions than it answers as we try to streamline Web3 decision-making.

The 2016 Brexit referendum was a sobering experience in governance for anyone to the right of the Atlantic.

To many younger voters, ticking ‘Remain’ felt like a no-brainer, driven by media sentiment of Euro unity - don’t upset the status quo, etc. So much so that the official decision to leave the EU was felt with shockwaves by many.

But amidst the analysis and voting trends, a clear correlation emerged between those who chose ‘Leave’ and higher age.

This was a segment of the population with weak representation on social media. So no real community-facing presence, but with equal power in the voting booths.

Silent Voices

The decision by Snapshot to introduce shielded voting, where the ongoing vote tally is hidden until it closes, is something that’s been mulled over here at The Tinkering Society. Especially as we continue to develop, our aggregator for hotly-contested DAO decisions.

On paper, shielding is an admiral approach. Locking off all the ongoing signals within a vote brings a number of benefits:

  • Privacy for voters. An important consideration especially for those with bigger money at stake.

  • A blank slate for each vote. Voters can act while being unswayed by any votes that have already been registered.

  • No early indication of a landslide result. Possibly offering greater impetus for smaller DAO members to vote through to the later stages.

But, a core discussion point for us is whether - and this goes against Snapshot’s perspective - transparency and influence should actually be part of the governance process.

In Defence of Not Shielding

The vast majority of DAOs, even the ones with sizable treasuries and experience, are still outlining their governance process. A lens into each element of that process should only really be a benefit.

Having an open voting system means that influencers can rise and lead the way, offering a fast track to making DAO decisions. Those community members that sit on the passive end of the scale, which is usually a solid amount, can lump their vote behind an individual with a bigger balance, and likely more at stake. This is essentially the delegate system in play.

Open DAO votes enable a conversation to develop around ongoing decisions, which is why Snapshot is seeing more and more temp check-type proposals. DAO communities dip their collective toes into an idea and, often, the pushback or critical analysis only really begins when members are provoked to act and vote. There are suddenly tangible consequences to consider, after all.

Having this barometer for the swing of each vote is likely a better strategy for encouraging ongoing conversation where members feel obliged to share their opinions. If something isn’t right with the proposal, or an iteration is offered, there is a clear enough picture to be proactive about remedying it.

There is an expectation, from our perspective at least, that shuttering is just another step in a process of untangling and reordering the DAO voting process. Community members need better tools to glean early insights into the decisions that they are being asked to make.

Initial example ideas could be:

  • Voter bubble maps to help discover like-for-like members that are making an impact on voting.

  • Delegate voting history to show community members what positions influencers take and whether they align with their forum and social perspectives.

  • Participation-over-time metrics to enable communities to judge if their DAO is growing or declining, and iterate on their process if necessary.

DAO or Die

DAO voting is complex and messy. Shielding votes until a decision is made begins to edge closer to territory where manipulation and malicious behavior becomes a consideration.

With token distributions in mind, DAO voting already has the potential to be skewed. The founding team and investors tend to hold chunks of tokens that outright call into question the viability of fair governance. Concealing the process isn’t going to make it any more equal.

We’re building protocols with trust and transparency at their foundations. Extend this to the voting process and the opportunity for meaningful, constructive discussions is realized.

From there, follows greater understanding. And from there, greater progress.