FOSS Governance and Blockchain Networks

The Meaning and Stages of FOSS Governance

  1. Ownership and management of assets (incl. intellectual property)
  2. Documentation outlining the project’s vision and policies
  3. Software development and upgrade process
  4. Community management and social control/norms
  5. Conflict resolution and the creation/changing of rules
  6. Tools and methods of communication and organization

Types of FOSS Governance

Best Practices in FOSS Governance

FOSS Governance in Blockchain Networks

  1. As cryptographically secured and openly verifiable data structures, blockchains are often used to store financial values or transactional logic that require strong settlement or execution guarantees, even in adversarial computing environments. As a result, both legitimate software upgrades and malicious cyberattacks may affect the issuance, distribution, or safety of network-specific digital assets (tokens), which means that users of the blockchain (who hold the private keys for controlling these assets) have very explicit financial interests tied to how the network evolves.
  2. Many blockchain communities aspire to build systems that are public, permissionless, user-owned, and user-operated. The source code is generally open for everyone to inspect and improve upon. Network participants are free to either run the published software or not and, in case of major disagreements, launch a competing network by forking either the code, data, or both. To reduce the need for transparent social coordination, some communities avoid formal governance and try to make as few major changes to the core protocol as possible. [10] Others argue that blockchain systems must evolve over time, creating a need for transparent and legitimate means to make and implement decisions with minimal disruption in the services provided by the network. This has led to various experiments in decentralized governance, including careful curation of public discourse, formation of elected expert or technical committees, and attaching formal governance rights to network- or dapp-specific tokens held by different stakeholders, which usually means voting to ratify proposed software upgrades, tweak various system parameters, or allocate common pools of resources. [11] [12]
  3. The most fundamental value proposition of blockchain networks and dapps has to do with decentralization, or not having to rely on centralized intermediaries that have the ability to censor transactions or unilaterally change the rules of the system. Therefore, any governance mechanism that re-introduces central points of control and failure may undermine the core purpose of using a blockchain instead of a more centralized solution. Importantly, this includes technical centralization, which can be avoided by ensuring the availability of multiple software implementations developed in different programming languages. Public blockchain communities are thus faced with a very difficult challenge of reconciling the ethos of decentralization with the need for effective and legitimate governance.

Footnotes

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Mario Laul

Mario Laul

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