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Decentralized Blockchain-based Organizations for Bootstrapping the Collaborative Economy

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - P2PMODELS (Decentralized Blockchain-based Organizations for Bootstrapping the Collaborative Economy)

Reporting period: 2019-07-01 to 2020-12-31

The Collaborative Economy (CE) is rapidly expanding through new forms of Internet labor and commerce, from Wikipedia to Kickstarter and Airbnb. However, it suffers from 3 main challenges: (1) Infrastructure: centralized surveillance that the central hubs of information exercise over their users, (2) Governance: disempowered communities which do not have any decision-making influence over the platform, and (3) Economy: concentration of profits in a few major players who do not proportionally redistribute them to the community contributors.

How can online platforms be implemented for solving these challenges? P2P Models is exploring a new way of building software for online platforms powered by blockchain: an emerging technology that enables autonomous agent-mediated organizations, in order to (1) provide a software framework to build decentralized infrastructure for Collaborative Economy organizations that do not depend on central authorities, (2) enable democratic-by-design models of governance for communities, by encoding rules directly into the software platform, and (3) enable fairer value distribution models, thus improving the economic sustainability of both contributors and organizations.

Together, these three objectives will bootstrap the emergence of a new generation of self-governed and more economically sustainable peer-to-peer CE communities. The interdisciplinary nature of P2P Models is opening a new research field around agent-mediated organizations for collaborative communities and their self-enforcing rules for automatic governance and distribution of value.

In practice, the project is currently working with two case study communities: the largest European co-op Smart Coop (http://smart.coop) with a current focus on the Spanish federated node (Smart Iberica); and the largest community for peer production of subtitles, Amara (http://amara.org). Through our multidisciplinary approach, we are working with these communities studying them with social research, doing co-creation workshops, co-design and development of software prototypes, and performing experiments with them. We hope to validate hypotheses and improve their processes, while setting the foundations for a new, more fair and democratic Collaborative Economy.

Complementarily, the project has launched “Decentralized Science” (https://decentralized.science) a new sub-project we established focused on increasing the transparency, decentralization and democratization of the scientific process, currently dominated by a small oligopoly. This initiative has received broad attention until becoming its own spin-off enterprise, successful in attracting more than 300,000€ in independent funding.
During this period, P2P Models started setting up all the initial requirements by recruiting the most adequate team and establishing the most efficient workflow and internal communications tools. The major milestones achieved to date have been:

A) Social research area:

- Two community case studies were chosen after an extensive exploration of several case studies. In particular, the largest European co-op Smart Coop (http://smart.coop) with a current focus on the Spanish federated node (Smart Iberica); and the largest community for peer production of subtitles, Amara (http://amara.org ). This process was carried out in collaboration with professor Yochai Benkler from Berkman Klein Center at Harvard University. Note a third community case study is represented in Decentralized Science, explained below, which has spin-off from the project. Thus, sometimes we refer as 2 case studies since the third one is now this spin-off with independent funding.

- Social research has been conducted on the Smart Iberica cooperative, through participant observation, digital ethnography, interviews, surveys and meetings. Up to the date of this report, the collected and generated data comprises 14 semi-structured interviews, 16 months of fieldwork and documentary analysis, and 2 co-design workshops.

- Social research has been conducted on the Amara community. Up to the date of this report, two large data collection and iterations have been carried out, comprising 26 semi-structured interviews, 16 months of fieldwork and documentary analysis, and an online focus group.

- The data analysis has informed the development of several prototypes for both case studies (details in the Project Achievements section)

- Theoretical and experimental contributions to the literature on the potentials, applications and limitations on the use of blockchain-based tools to support the governance and distribution of value in collaborative communities (see Publications and Project Achievements section).

B) Design area:

Design research on the communities of the two case studies, applying lean and agile methodologies to find and validate the community needs and conducting design thinking and co-design workshops. Several needs were validated, and interventions have already been agreed to start pilots.

C) Computer Science area:

- Adoption and adaption of agile development.

- Comparative study of blockchain technologies and frameworks, especially those concerning Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs), such as Aragon (https://aragon.org) DAOstack (https://daostack.org ) and Colony (https://colony.io ).

- Implementation of software prototypes based on the Aragon DAO platform. This includes (1) a wiki collaborative tool to experiment with the possibilities of collaborative features in a DAO environment; (2) the “Committees” app focusing on DAO governance aspects, and in particular designed to delegate certain DAO operations on a subgroup of members in order to speed operations and decision-making; (3) the “Conviction Voting” app, which models a novel governance mechanism developed by 1Hive, and with whom we collaborated to build this app - it is designed to allocate funds on proposals based on the conviction an entire organization has on them, using token staking on proposals and a delayed activation to ensure conviction.

- Implementation of software prototypes associated with the two selected case studies aimed at testing and validating the blockchain approach in collaborative economy organizations. This includes Amara’s task allocation prototype, and Smart’s SmartCoopChain prototype.

- The development of “Decentralized Science” (https://decentralized.science ), a series of prototypes and pilots whose focus community are the scientific peer reviewers. This sub-project started as a bottom-up community case study exploring the scientific process and its reliance on online platforms as part of the current Collaborative Economy, and as a potential space for the application of P2P Models approach. Thus, Decentralized Science aims to form a blockchain-enabled distributed Open Science publication system, with Open Access infrastructure, a reviewer reputation network, and transparent peer reviews. On top of several prototypes and scientific publications developed concerning this research line, this sub-project has been successful in attracting additional funding as a spin-off enterprise from P2P Models. Thus, the spin-off prototype was selected among a pool of 291 applicants as one of the winners of the European Commission Builder Programme (Ledger, https://ledgerproject.eu) receiving first 150,000 € of funding, and later an extra 50,000 € for being selected among the best 8 projects of the Programme. In addition, it has just received another $100,000 in funding form the Grant for the Web program (http://grantfortheweb.org) yet to be publicly announced (this is a programme aimed to “boost open, fair, and inclusive standards and innovation in Web Monetization”, enabled my Mozilla, Creative Commons and the blockchain company Coil).

- The development of a set of software tools to study the DAO ecosystem quantitatively, including scripts for data retrieval, API communication, and a dashboard to visualize graphs showing the DAOs metrics and evolution (DAO Analyzer: http://www.dao-analyzer.science ). This has especially focused on governance aspects of DAOs, including metrics on reputation holders, voting activities, staking activities, proposals and their rate of approval.

- The expansion of an already developed dashboard to analyze collaborative communities (http://wikichron.science) in order to compare traditional centralized online communities with DAO communities (see above).

- Systematic review of the literature related to the integration of ontologies into the smart contracts and DAOs development process. The evaluation and analysis of the primary studies included in this review reveal that ontologies can be applied across several interrelated blockchain-based decentralized software systems knowledge areas that could be extrapolated to DAOs in a seamless manner.

D) Communication area:

- Ongoing dissemination and communication efforts, which included a blog (https://p2pmodels.eu/publications/ ) and a Twitter account (1100+ followers, in https://twitter.com/p2pmod ), both regularly updated. Complementarily, the project has been presented in major venues in Paris, Rome, London, Amsterdam, Madrid, Sydney, Berlin, Boston, New York and others.
Methods:

The P2P Models follows a highly multi-disciplinary mixed-methods vision, beyond the purely technological (and techno-deterministic) approach typical in the blockchain ecosystem. The project’s novel approach combines:

- Lean UX and Design Thinking methods, widely used in the industry but rarely in Academia. This approach, heavily user-driven (and in our case community-driven), guides social research and software development.

- In-depth exploration of case study communities through ethnographic methods, which facilitate finding points of intervention and experimentation which guide software development of prototypes. This facilitates considering the real needs, socio-cultural context, and social practices of the case studies' practitioners.

- Experimentation of software prototypes concerning collaboration and governance features which are central to community functioning

- Agile software development of prototypes, created in response to the communities needs, and expected to be regularly modified and improved in subsequent iterations.

- Quantitative analysis of existing DAOs to validate DAO features before proposing them to communities

- In the following stage of the project, quantitative data from the communities will also be considered, in order to triangulate qualitative and quantitative data to evaluate the interventions’ impact with the aforementioned blockchain-based tools developed for these case studies.


Social Research:

- To provide empirical and theoretical contributions to the literature on the emerging field of blockchain-based forms of governance, by approaching it through a commons-based perspective which is, at the same time, critical with the hegemonic techno-determinist perspectives, but aware of the potentials of blockchain technologies to support and foster cooperative practices in these communities. This approach has been having a clear influence in the blockchain field, both in the literature (widely cited) and in the industry (legitimizing projects like blockchain-enabled Commons Stack which regularly cites our work).

- To provide empirical and theoretical contributions concerning the potentials, limitations and risks in the development and adoption of blockchain-based technologies for collaborative communities.

- Exploring blockchain tools through a gender perspective, which considers forms of labor that have traditionally remained invisibilized. We plan to deepen this approach, analyzing both the positive and negative potentials of blockchain technologies to facilitate (or hinder) inclusive and democratizing intersectional approaches.

- To employ mixed-methods, combining quantitative and qualitative methodologies, to identify the organizational tensions in collaborative communities and to measure the impact of the interventions with blockchain-based tools. The aim is to identify and explore a provision of indicators that measure and aggregate less visible forms of value, as well as how to experiment on how to incorporate them in the tools to support collaboration. This will lead to experimentation with the development of open and transparent indicators expressing the different dimensions of value in collaborative communities, including those which have remained less visible, and how their impact could lead to the emergence of innovative ways for practitioners to coordinate, scale up their collaborative practices or share these forms of value among themselves in interoperable ways.

Design:

- Overall, the blockchain ecosystem, and especially the DAO ecosystem, has serious deficiencies with respect to design and user experience. Thus, one of the project contributions is starting to create a Design Culture inside the blockchain/DAO community, contributing with Human Centered Design tools adapted to the technological ecosystem.

- From an User Experience point of view, many fields of contribution that have not yet been addressed. Blockchain tools have been mostly created by and for users with a high technological knowledge, with barriers to entry and accessible issues for the end user. Since one of the project aims is to reach common users (in Collaborative Economy communities) within its pilots, we aim to explore multiple aspects which are currently lacking in most blockchain and DAO tools, and that would facilitate adoption: (1) Onboarding: to provide a good explanation of processes and create specific tutorials for new users, making this process much clearer and as similar as possible to traditional services. (2) The project Co-creation Workshops have validated that the use of Metamask (a widespread browser wallet for Ethereum services) is a barrier to the adoption of technology, so exploration of alternatives will be explored. (3) Usability: Provide users clear interfaces with one functionality at time, using web standards and Usability Heuristic Principles (Jacob Nielsen).

Computer Science:

- The experimentation with real non-blockchain case study communities and their transition to adopting blockchain-enabled systems, which is a novel approach in the field. This involves (1) the use of the Aragon DAO development frameworks to create decentralized applications that can improve the communities’ workflow focusing on a fairer and more efficient task allocation process between their members. (2) To create better, lighter and intuitive frontend applications that average users can understand and use to interact with the DAOs by integrating smart contract functionalities using the new Aragon Connect API libraries. (3) To contribute to the Aragon app ecosystem by developing different functional modules that can be used to create and design new governance models. Following this approach, a series of prototypes are being developed to facilitate the work of our main case-study communities, Smart Coop and Amara. We expect to have a broad collection of lessons learned by the end of the project, through experimentation with non-techie end-users in collaborative communities, that may facilitate adoption in other collaborative communities.

- As mentioned above and following such approach, the project has already developed multiple novel software applications that go beyond the state of the art, including: (1) the first DAO wiki, which demonstrates the capabilities of Aragon DAO platform and IPFS for distributed online collaboration, similar to standard centralized wikis; (2) the Aragon app Committees, which experiments with new governance features beyond the basic voting mechanisms common in DAOs, enabling delegation of responsibilities and multiple roles. (3) the Aragon app Conviction Voting, which implements and facilitates experimentation of a novel blockchain-enabled governance model, guiding allocation of funds by the conviction of an organization users (see explanation above). Technical details are elaborated in the Github repositories of these projects (see Project Achievements section). More progress is planned in these lines, to explore further the potentials of DAOs concerning collaboration and governance aspects.

- The Decentralized Science sub-project has made several contributions beyond the state of the art, both in the literature (see publications) and as a spin-off startup in the industry. This has been additionally validated with its success attracting funding, as mentioned above. This research line is expected to continue, in both its research and practitioner approaches. The success of its spin-off is an impact measure for the project, since its business model depends on the validation of P2P Models hypotheses that blockchain-enabled distributed and democratic models would enhance collaborative communities.

-The validation of governance features within DAOs, using novel tools developed (DAO Analyzer explained above). The project has already successfully validated empirically the Holographic Consensus governance model used in the DAOStack DAO platform (see publications), measuring its success in communities of different sizes, and validating it does facilitate scalable decision-making in online communities. We plan to continue this research line through the study of DAOs quantitatively, testing their features against empirical data to validate their claims of facilitating online cooperation.

- Related to the previous point, the project has developed further an existing tool for the analysis of collaborative communities, Wikichron, since it plans to compare the internal processes of traditional centralized communities with those within DAO communities. In particular, we expect to focus on inequality, power dynamics, and governance aspects in both types of communities, in order to compare the influence of the underlying architecture in the internal processes of online communities. Meanwhile, several analyses of off-chain online communities have been performed using this tool for quantitative analysis (see Publications).

- The project is currently in the process of implementing a novel formalization of the knowledge associated with the DAO development process in terms of ontologies using the OWL language combined with a specific semantic web rule language, such a SWRL. This formalization provides the necessary mechanisms for managing interoperability and consistency checking to serve as a knowledge base for DAO-based implementations. This approach enables organizations to add semantics and constraints to the data associated with the different DAO development processes in order to share and reuse information in a homogeneous way.

- By using the proposed ontologies, we plan to generate high-level requirements models of the decentralized applications (DApps) needed to support the business logic of these organizations. This will facilitate the management and automatic generation of software specifications associated with the DApps that support them. The demonstration of this approach will be illustrated with a real case study of an organization that implemented a DAO as a first step to quality improvement in the delivery of their services.

- There have been several theoretical developments, such as proposing an agent-oriented framework for P2P applications and an analytical comparison of different DAO platforms.
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