Community Governance

The Governance and Politics Behind a Blockchain

  • Governance is one of the most important aspects of emerging blockchain communities.
  • Vlad Zamfir recently wrote a series of articles on the importance of governance.
  • Empowering yourself by partaking in the decision-making process of blockchain networks is an essential component of decentralization.

When it comes to blockchain, our attention is primarily directed at decentralized applications (dApps), blockchain networks, and potential technological shifts. Underlying those dApps, networks, and technologies—including how you interact with and use them—is governance. Similar to any governance system, politics are involved. Ethereum’s Vlad Zamfir, who is also on RChain’s Board of Directors, recently took to medium to express his sentiments toward blockchain governance, how it affects your life, and why you should care.

What is blockchain governance?

Before we get to the heart of blockchain governance, we need to understand the basics of governance in general. Although Vlad does not give a bonafide definition of governance, he says,

Generally, governance is about decisions that ultimately affect people (people called “stakeholders”). It’s about the processes that participants in governance use to make decisions. It’s also about how they coordinate around decisions and decision-making processes. It includes the establishment, maintenance, and revocation of the legitimacy of decisions, decision-making processes, norms, and other mechanisms for coordination.

Just like your local, state, and federal political systems, governance involves garnering support for ideas people want to see implemented into society, followed by the decision-making process that implements those ideas. After his generalization, Vlad mentions that out of all the phrases he cites, we must emphasize the “legitimacy of decisions.”
For any decision that is to “count” within society, it is imperative that the decision is legitimate. Vlad believes this to be the case when there is common knowledge regarding the decision being made:

If a group of people has “common knowledge” of something then they act as if it’s a known fact (within the group), and they act like they know that it’s a known fact, and also act like they know that they know that it’s a known fact, and so on.

If such common knowledge is present, people will justifiably act as if others in society agree with the decisions being proposed and implemented. It is unlikely, however, that every person will support the ideas being proposed, which is where it gets political. Opposing parties will inevitably appear. They will fight to be the voice with the most support—the party with the best chance of governing.


Politics is unavoidable

It is rare that everyone is on the same page. Opposing ideas are natural; consider the current fracturing of parties in the American government. To find their beliefs legitimately realized and implemented, parties garner support for their ideologies through voting (or some other decision-making process).
Vlad argues that the way a blockchain is governed is a direct result of the politics behind the blockchain. Just as you support a political candidate, you should care about the underlying ideologies of the individuals fighting for their ideas to be implemented on blockchain. The mechanisms are the same. In one circumstance, you’re voting on an individual representative of the policies that will define society; in the other, you’re voting to support the code that will govern how that network operates.

You must make sure your voice is heard

If you don’t make your voice heard—via voting—you should not be upset when the government is installed, even if they do not represent your ideas. After all, you made no attempt to hinder them. We all need to go out and vote.
In some cultures, it’s common knowledge that politics is not necessarily something you should be vocal about. Politics is inherently argumentive; not everyone argues well. In this light, it may be surprising that Vlad encourages individuals to be vocal when signaling their positions.

Learn about the politics of your peers, ask them to clarify their positions, and encourage them to publicly signal their political preferences if they haven’t already. Try to convince people to become aligned with your preferred vision of our shared blockchain governance future. You should do this in public and in private, and you should do it strategically, knowing your political opponents and their tactics. By doing this you can shape the political environment of the blockchain space.

When you consider blockchain networks, it may not be so surprising. Blockchain governance is not like the politics we’re accustomed to. The individuals that implement and remove ideas from a network are core developers; node operators optimize the effects of these ideologies; individuals who might feel the effects of these decisions are dApp developers, blockchain users, currency speculators, and even passive observers.
Interestingly, most opinions and ideas are vocalized at conferences and on social media before the decision-making process takes place. As with modern politics, charismatic figures in blockchain who make strong arguments stand the best chance at governing. In a recent New Yorker cover story, Vlad says

Our governance is inherently social, People who are more connected in the community have more power, a kind of soft power.

Thus it makes sense to be vocal about your position as well as to be aware of other positions. By being vocal and dialoguing with those in the space you will get noticed by the “people who are more connected in the community.” Otherwise, connected people are not going to gain enough support to have their ideas implemented, especially when an opposing idea gathers more support.

Become Active

Taking all of this into account, you should use this information to the best of your ability to create a better tomorrow. Study various blockchain networks to discover which best represent your ideas. Learn more about the most connected people in those communities. Discover the best way to vocalize your ideas. The more you understand the decision-making processes on blockchain, the bigger your influence on that network’s governance. Don’t just be a passive observer. Blockchain empowers us to have a voice in how the network we partake in operates. That’s an opportunity we should all seize.