As a security-minded guy, I’ve been thinking about decentralized governance a lot, particularly the social edge-cases that can lead to disaster. DAOs are fairly new, but many other types of open-source projects have been struggling with the same problem for quite a while, and I think there’s a lot we can learn.
Of all the nuggets of governance insight I’ve come across, one from the Rust team sticks with me as one of the most pithy and important:
No New Rationale : decisions must be made only on the basis of rationale already debated in public (to a steady state).
The full story behind this idea is documented in an excellent blog post on listening and trust. To summarize, a core group of Rust contributors made a decision between two technical approaches. Many members of the community felt strongly on both sides, but the core group made a decision on the basis of a rationale that had only been discussed amongst themselves, thereby making other community members (rightly) feel powerless and disenfranchised.
This happens surprisingly often, even though the problem and its solution is not often documented as well. For example, the same phenomenon can be seen in action in the story of Uniswap’s recent woes, which were enabled in no small part because of the disillusionment and apathy of minority-stake community members who felt excluded from the governance process. (And another instance of a violation of this rule disillusioned me for years about contributing to the Mozilla community, though I had no idea what was happening at the time.)
Because this is one of the most common – and deadly – failure modes of the sort of emergent, self-organizing social order that is so essential to open-source projects, I’d like to suggest that we all internalize the “No New Rationale” rule as one of our social norms, that we all keep it in mind and hold ourselves and others to its standard. It is by its nature a social rule, and so it must be enforced informally, but any DAO proposal which attempts to flout it should expect to receive no community support.