[PROPOSAL][DRAFT] Use the Forum to Improve Governance Process

Changelog

  • 2021-11-26: revised based on initial feedback
  • 2021-11-02: initial draft

Authors and Credit

Our deep thanks to Maria Gomez, Sam Hart, and Gavin Birch for their thoughtful feedback and guidance.

Proposal

We propose changing off-chain governance to improve visibility and access to Cosmos Hub governance by transitioning completely to the Discourse forum for discussion and drafting of proposals instead of using GitHub and Telegram. This will make the forum an authoritative record of proposal discussions that voters can reference. By making a formal on-chain signalling proposal, we hope for wider visibility on the topic of improving governance and to legitimate the improvements proposed here.

Context

Previously we prepared a State of Cosmos Hub Governance report (2021-08-06) documenting on- and off-chain governance processes active within the Cosmos Hub. Although that report stopped short of recommendations, we identified potential future improvements that we’ve since discussed with members of the Cosmos Hub and ICF teams.

In addition to voting on-chain, Cosmos Hub uses both fast-paced (e.g., Zoom calls, Discord, Telegram) and slower moving (e.g., Discourse forum, GitHub issues) coordination channels for governance. Key dynamics we observed:

  • Core teams actively engage in decision-making through civil and thoughtful discourse.
  • Existing documentation on best practices and norms (now in gaia github repo) is robust, yet isn’t always followed (e.g., drafting stage before voting, sharing proposals in all places). It’s unclear if this documentation has been seen by everyone.
  • There is no short and clear description on what good governance looks like for the Hub that is widely shared and agreed upon by all.
  • Governance conversations are fragmented across all the channels mentioned above.

This fragmentation and lack of following existing norms has downsides we want to address:

  • Lack of shared understanding of governance creates confusion and misalignment.
  • Finding the channels where relevant discussion happens can be difficult.
  • Fragmented conversations also happen in private channels to address the need to move fast in a rapidly evolving ecosystem. The need for private channels and informal spaces is clear, but the lack of a single shared public venue for conversations and review of governance ideas from drafting → voting means there is no record of discussion that voters (especially validators) can confidently refer to.

Without addressing the fragmentation there is a risk that governance decisions will be delegitimized for some stakeholders.

Governance Improvements

Many small improvements have already been made in 2021:

  • Merged governance and gaia github repos after discussion to reduce attention costs for existing contributors as well as increase discoverability for new members.
  • At same time, rendered governance documentation on hub.cosmos.network to include governance details alongside existing Cosmos Hub documentation.
  • Updated some out of date documentation and archived old proposals in governance documentation.

New Proposal Process using the Forum

Transition completely to the Discourse forum for discussion and drafting of governance proposals instead of using GitHub and Telegram

Currently, the process asks proposers to use GitHub to share governance proposals after an idea has been discussed (on Discourse, the GWG telegram and in other communications channels). Others review and comment on drafts using Github’s review features. In particular they have been valuable for reviewing on-chain proposals to ensure valid json syntax. This approach has merits, however we propose moving away from GitHub and instead having feedback and review on the forum to address the following drawbacks:

  • GitHub is another (centralized) surface with its own identity management system.
  • GitHub adds another step in the process, and another place to watch for proposals, that doesn’t seem necessary if reviews already happen on the forum.
  • GitHub adds an additional barrier for those not familiar or comfortable with it and we argue ultimately decreases governance activity.

Acknowledging that review and revisions management on Discourse are not as sophisticated as GitHub, we’re proposing conventions and templates for using the forum, following the current Cosmos SDK ADR process and inline with better practices from SushiSwap, MakerDao, Compound, and others:

  1. Use a specific format for forum titles (e.g. [Proposal ##][STAGE] {Title of proposal})
  2. Have one post that is updated with revisions and a changelog as a post moves through the process
  3. Have a “status” section at the top of forum posts where a moderator adds important metadata (e.g., link to blockviewer if submitted on chain, link to IPFS of proposal)
  4. Add a “Last Call” Stage after a draft has been shared on the forum and edits made in order to make it easier to know when a proposal is ready to move to the chain
  5. Have someone officially take on the role of moderating the governance proposal section of the forum

Here is an appendix with more details on templates and examples from other projects:
https://cloudflare-ipfs.com/ipfs/QmTdBL1yX7CFGBcbAL33BCdLEGmRY6xPDK5m6ypmcTXRmY

or

Additionally, we will update permissions for the Telegram “Cosmos Hub Governance Working Group” to turn it into an announcement channel in order to focus proposal-specific conversation to the Discourse forum. Of course informal conversations can and should continue to take place in smaller and semi-/private spaces, but the aim is to have relevant governance proposal conversations in the forum.

Alternatives

There are other approaches that address the fragmentation across governance channels. We believe an incremental improvement by investing in a better forum experience is a great place to start. Moving to the forum now doesn’t preclude us from new tooling in the future.

1. Remove the Discourse forum and do not replace it. We could redirect forum activities to existing spaces (reddit, discord, telegram for non-governance forum discussion, and github and on-chain for proposals). This would still reduce the number of governance places

DRAWBACKS

  • Removes accessible space for slower moving conversations
  • Doesn’t solve the discoverability problem of having a single place to reference

2. Remove the forum and migrate to an off-the-shelf tool (e.g. https://commonwealth.im/). This would allow us to create new governance processes that map to the aspirational governance goals. As above, we could redirect non-governance discussions to existing spaces (reddit, discord, telegram) and have governance discussions in one place

DRAWBACKS

  • Unclear time investment/tradeoff is (seems like a lot of work to get right)
  • Off-the-shelf providers commit us to specific features. With new governance capabilities being deployed to Cosmos Hub (e.g., the upcoming groups module), does the choice of using a third party solution cut off other and distinctively cosmos-style governance pathways?
  • Unclear when/how alternatives will be decentralized

3. Develop entirely new tooling: a modular backend layer for governance data and discussions, which allows for multiple frontends or applications. This aligns with the cosmos approach and key ecosystem values. It provides the most flexibility for experimenting and refining how people engage with governance processes

DRAWBACKS

  • This is a difficult to scope and large-scale project. Will be a while before current pain points are addressed.
  • Poses big design questions: where does data source for the “off chain” live? What are existing patterns that do this? Can we draw from federated models like activitypub or Metagov modular governance?

Governance Votes

The following items summarize the voting options and what it means for this proposal.

  • YES: You approve the text proposal signaling you agree with the proposal to transition completely to the Discourse forum for off-chain governance discussions.
  • NO: You disapprove of the proposal in its current form. The NO vote is a request for improvements or adjustments, please indicate them in the Cosmos forum. You agree that this proposal’s motivation is valuable and that the team should create a follow-up proposal once the amendments are included.
  • NO (VETO): You veto the entire motivation for the proposal, are strongly opposed to this change, and will exit the network if passed. The proposers will not create a follow-up proposal.
  • ABSTAIN: You are impartial to the outcome of the proposal.

Conclusion: Looking ahead to governing a port city

If Cosmos Hub is a port city, one that supports those it connects with and collectively determines the best way to live and grow together, it is time to activate these themes in the concrete processes we create for governance. Drawing from Ethan Buchman and Sam Hart’s provocation, we should launch into imagining the future form of how to engage in good governance:

  • What kind of place are we trying to create together?
  • And what culture can the Hub bring about?

We look forward to creating these inclusive practices and processes together!

12 Likes

I am really happy to see the proposal about Governance process.

I am preparing related proposal such as

and

I totally agree that we need to elaborate our proposal process.
It is very important for avoiding political apathy, technocracy and plutocracy (moneyocracy).

I will suggest further feedback soon!

2 Likes

Obviously very much in favor of this idea! I have some feedback on the text itself:

  1. Although useful information, the deliberations in the “Alternatives” section creates doubt about the proposal itself. I would suggest presenting a proposal with much stronger conviction. Possibly even removing the entire section altogether.
  2. The proposal is too long and complexly worded. Would suggest considering a shorter, easier to understand rewrite with a focus on the target group we’re trying to convince (validators, delegators & proposers) and carefully weighing the pros and cons of keeping all this extra context in this proposal.

I’m also happy to hear and discuss more on the topic of enforcement.

1 Like

Agreed on focusing governance communication on the Discourse and establishing it as the place for validators and their respective protocol specialist teams to engage with. Not just on Cosmos, but on many other PoS chains that we at stakefish have been validating and engaging on, there has been a difficult non-standard governance communication process with many different venues to get eyes-on opinions. I agree that moving away from telegram would be a good approach because the fluid and stream of consciousness chat there is not effective for scaling discussions and having high signal conversations.

This falls firmly in line with a lot of the conversations that were brought up when we met to discuss issues around governance in Lisbon as well (https://twitter.com/stakefish/status/1457444981782765568, https://twitter.com/StableNode/status/1457437949327552522).

Thank you for putting this together!

I believe there are also conversations to have discourse champions to moderate adherence to proposal draft formats as well. Looking forward to getting this shaped up!

1 Like

Thank you all for the feedback! I’ve also received input from other channels and 1:1 convos. Summarising what I’ve heard below:

Merits of this proposal

  • A single venue for deliberation increases engagement and accessibility. It allows both ecosystem newcomers (who won’t otherwise know where to look) and busy validator teams (who aren’t in a position to track multiple venues) to engage in these discussions. Participation in governance engages the community and builds culture such that people are excited to stick around long term. In a sense you can think of it as a complement to marketing: marketing attracts, governance retains.

  • Committing to standards around the proposal discussions unlocks the possibility of new governance tooling to exist that’s broadly beneficial to the community.

  • It has opened the door for discussion around meta-governance and the scope of the on-chain governance itself. It has surfaced questions like: How are governance processes changed? Who decides? What kinds of decisions need to be made on-chain? These are important questions to answer as the Cosmos Hub grows.

Criticisms

  • The idea in its current form (a signalling proposal) is unenforceable. Asking the community to vote on-chain about a communication standard off-chain doesn’t guarantee follow through.

  • Establishing the forum as the primary governance venue will require cat herding and maintenance of this space. This proposal doesn’t lay out how that will be achieved.

  • Signalling proposals are a burden for validators and builders focused on shipping. There is also a legitimate security concern: validators want to limit the number of proposals they vote on as each one requires them to sign the tx with high security keys, exposing them to risk.

  • It’s too late to formalise a single governance venue for Cosmos Hub. There’s too much fragmentation already.

  • The proposal is long and complexly worded with details that detract from the core ask.

Taking this feedback, we think the best course of action is to not move this idea forward as a signalling proposal. What seems to be resonating with folks is making a community spend proposal to fund work around stewarding the forum (keeping it clean and up to date with proposals, formatting, tagging/categorising, record-keeping, moderation, etc.). This takes the burden away from those focused on shipping but still provides a space that is accessible and standardised enough for those seeking consistency. Spending money on individuals who are able to steward/champion the forum also allows for sustainability of this initiative and a level of accountability.

We’re currently drafting out what this might look like as a community spend proposal more concretely.

2 Likes

Thanks a lot for putting this proposal together!

I’m in favor. Cosmos really needs to organize communications better, especially for governance. Of course we can’t enforce anyone on following this signaling proposal even if it passes, but it’s a great way to shout out the intention.

I don’t think setting up Commonwealth will require too much extra effort (a lot of new chains are going for it without many issues), so I’m fine with either using this forum or Commonwealth as main point of discussions.

2 Likes

Looking forward to the follow-up proposal. I think having a paid governance moderator would be a good idea, as long as the job of the moderator is to use soft-power to enforce the location and structure of governance discussions and not the content of those discussions.

2 Likes

Yes agree. Part of the work should include documenting a transparent moderation guide/framework that’s being followed

1 Like