Toward Equitable Ownership and Governance in the Digital Public Sphere

  • Connor Spelliscy
  • Nathan Schneider
  • Samuel Vance-Law
| June 08, 2023

Executive Summary

We Have a Big (Tech) Problem

The harms of dominant technology platforms are manifold and include the exploitation of data and the mental health and safety of minors, the explosion of misinformation, and the negative impact on political institutions and behavior. Big Tech and especially social media companies have therefore become objects of public scrutiny and criticism. However, internal company efforts and external bipartisan attempts to rein in these harms have largely failed.

Potential Solution: Increase Competition by Enhancing Cooperatives with DAO Tooling

Cooperatives (co-ops) are organizational structures that are, unlike Big Tech companies, owned and governed by their users. Co-ops have the potential to provide equitably owned and governed alternatives to Big Tech but have been held back by issues which limit them from scaling effectively, including a lack of organizational transparency, effective governance systems, and member accountability.

However, the tooling recently created by and for Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) may help co-ops reach their potential. DAO tooling enables new forms of transparent and immutable co-ownership and governance, and technical and operational pathways for online platforms to organize around principles of equity at scale.

This paper explores how newly developed DAO tooling could help co-ops compete in the online economy. Specifically, we outline how DAO tooling could provide co-ops with:

  • Effective Voting—DAOs test novel and varied governance systems that appear to offer some unique benefits not available to legacy organizations. These include systems such as reputation-weighted voting, holographic consensus, conviction voting, and quadratic voting.
  • Increased Member Engagement—DAO tooling allows organizations to gamify milestones for their members, autonomously tracking the progress of members toward their goals, and rewarding them based on behavior. This encourages members to stay on task both for short-term gain and to develop a strong reputation in the long term.
  • Predictable Compensation/Patronage—DAO tooling can offer insight into the contributions of community members and the payment systems that are directly linked to those contributions. Co-ops could use these tools to make patronage more predictable, transparent, and equitable.
  • Organizational Transparency—Traditional co-ops, especially at scale, usually become less transparent to their members as they grow. In contrast, on-chain DAO activity like token voting, treasury management, and the payment of salaries and subsidies for public goods can be recorded on an immutable public ledger viewable by anyone with an internet connection.
  • Member Accountability—It is often hard to identify rule-breakers and enforce accountability as a co-op grows. In a DAO using on-chain reputation, a user’s reputation can automatically change based on the quality and quantity of contributions to a community. Reputation can be non-transferable, tied to a particular individual or organization, and recorded on an immutable public record.
  • Improved Capital Formation—Co-ops are at a significant disadvantage to corporations when raising the funds necessary to scale and compete. DAOs have started experimenting with alternative forms of funding that could ultimately be relevant to co-ops.

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For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Hubbard, Sarah, Connor Spelliscy, Nathan Schneider and Samuel Vance-Law. “Toward Equitable Ownership and Governance in the Digital Public Sphere.” , June 8, 2023.

The Authors