Summary

$50,000 to fund an ecosystem collaboration to improve validator governance through community organizing, as part of a co-funding round led by many validators and proof-of-stake blockchains.

What we’re building

The Validator Commons is a coalition of aligned validators and allies. We believe that governance matters. This grant will help support three concrete activities of the Commons:

  1. Policy Research. Focused on generating discrete proposals to improve governance within specific PoS chains, including two fully-developed proposals specific to each participating chain,
  2. Community Organizing. Intended to increase the quality and quantity of validator participation in governance, including
    1. proposal juries to save validators time, enable validator specialization, and improve proposal quality
    2. a peer review system to evaluate the governance participation of validators within the Commons
    3. a tooling co-op to support sharing of in-house tools and research developed by Commons members, and
  3. In-Person Workshops. To build community, educate validators, and explore the future of PoS governance.

Why did we decide to build it?

In short: effective governance and effective decentralization.

Foundations and core teams on most chains exert outsized influence—not only through the voting power they wield, but in their expertise and their capacity for action. In proof-of-stake, validators are incentivized to provide infrastructure services, but they are also expected to serve the chains they run as the final authority for chain-level decision-making. In practice though, validators rarely set chain priorities, ceding that role to centralized and often opaque core teams. Many chains are effectively single-party systems run by a foundation or core team. This effective centralization is a threat not only to good governance but to the underlying business model of the chains we all support—plain assertions of a core team’s authority often lead to backlash and community breakdowns, e.g. as happened recently in Kava Proposal 96. Many foundations and core teams don’t like the current situation, but right now there’s no else in these ecosystems who has the comparable capacity, expertise, or incentives to lead.

Validators and other delegates need to provide a viable leadership alternative to core teams and foundations. But to lead, we first need to build more capacity, more expertise, and more effective decision-making processes. To lead, validators need to organize. That’s why we’re building the Validator Commons, and that’s why we think the Commons—or something like it—is critical to the evolution of blockchain governance.

What we have already done

The Validator Commons began as an effort by representatives from validators and non-profit organizations like Metagov to define technical standards and best-practices in proof-of-stake governance. We started in March 2022, identified a bunch of problems, worked through some standards, and were getting ready to publish… before we realized that the best way to make progress on those problems was not to push out a supposedly-universal standard but to agree on some values, put together some proposals, and then actually implement the change we want—in other words, to start a political party.

Since March, we’ve (1) created a shared vision in the Commons declaration, (2) developed several versions of a governance participation assessment for validators, (3) organized well-attended validator workshops at Consensus, Nebular, and Cosmoverse, and (4) piloted new validator-support systems including proposal juries, validator peer review, and a tooling/research pool. Our member entities have also produced several pieces of research related to PoS governance, ranging from groundwork toward a Juno constitution to decision frameworks for evaluating proposals to studies of belief and ideology in crypto.

Are we decentralizing or centralizing?

The Validator Commons is a political party of validators, but we’ve found that the phrase “political party” tends to ruffle some feathers. In particular, some people believe that any coordination between validators amounts to a form of collusion and thus a form of centralization. We disagree: