Introducing the Cosmos Governance Working Group

The Cosmos Hub 3 launched with enhanced governance functionality, but without guidance for creating or assessing proposals. We’re preparing to launch a proposal to improve Cosmos Hub governance, which you can read in full here. This proposal is intended to fund the development of the Cosmos Governance Working Group.

Quick Takes

Jan 14, 2019 update: we’ll track community participants by public spreadsheet to mitigate risks of a Telegram channel & forum.

Related: Cosmos Hub 3 has launched: voters are more powerful than ever


The Problem that GWG Proposes to Solve

If you want to propose a community-spend or a change to the Cosmos Hub, there are substantial barriers to overcome to pass a proposal. Proposers must author a convincing and detailed proposal, engage the community to seek support, and then risk deposit amounts of up to 512 ATOMs. I suspect that most of the risk comes from lack of voter participation.

My understanding is that the protocol will burn governance proposal deposits in only these cases:

  1. Failure to reach deposit minimum (512 ATOM) during the deposit period
  2. Failure to reach quorum in the voting period
  3. A no-with-veto vote of at least 33%

Perhaps the most difficult barrier to effective governance is that it demands one of our most valuable and scarce resources: our attention. Initially, proposals may be ignored or simply go unnoticed. Since there is a lot of value available in the community pool, there’s a strong incentive for entities that command a lot of attention to become intensely political in ways that determine whether or not the community engages with a proposal and how they make their voting decisions.

As discussed in this article, validators are currently the de facto governance decision-makers for the Cosmos Hub. This could make the Hub vulnerable in a few ways. We’re concerned that without establishing community standards, processes, and driving decentralized delegator-based participation, the Cosmos Hub governance mechanism could be co-opted by a centralized power.

As governance functionality develops, potential participants will need to understand the potential implications of governance in order to authentically represent their values and interests on-chain. That will mean understanding how to assess proposals (before and during the voting period) and knowing what to pay attention to.

Having a focused, diverse group that’s capable of assessing and synthesizing the key parts of a proposal should mean that the voting community can get a fair summary of what they need to know (and what information is missing) before voting.

Our Solution

Our solution is to initiate a Cosmos governance working group (Cosmos GWG) that develops decentralized community governance efforts alongside the Hub’s governance development. The Cosmos GWG will build governance participation capacity with Cosmos stakeholders. How? By developing and documenting governance practices and features, and by communicating these to the broader Cosmos community.

Here’s the full proposal, and here’s what we think that’s worth:

The Proposal

Our proposal is to spend 5,250 ATOMs from the community pool to pay for work over the course of Q1 2020 (ie. from January until the end of March 2020). This is the pdf of project pricing breakdown and this is the Google Sheets version. As of right now, the community pool contains over 250,000 ATOMs, with an estimated ~20k ATOMs being added each month.

What will 5,250 ATOMs secure?

Beginning in January 2020, we will commit to deliver these items over the next three months:

  • A governance working group community & charter (ie. open list of participants, forum, Telegram)
  • A template for community spend proposals
  • A best-practices document for community spend proposals
  • An educational wiki for the Cosmos Hub parameters
  • A best-practices document for parameter changes
  • Three governance working group community calls
  • Three GWG month-end articles
  • A Q2 2020 GWG recommendations article

What makes us think we’re qualified to deliver?

Our History ?️

If you’re not familiar with our work (or even if you are), I’ll run you through some of the governance-related deliverables that we have undertaken for the Cosmos Hub over the last eight months.

April 2019

July 2019

  • drafted the proposal to approve the Cosmos Hub’s high level upgrade changes here
  • pushed (the successful) Prop 13 on-chain
  • began a monthly network update articles series with communications about network changes here

August 2019

September 2019

October 2019

November 2019

  • pushed (the successful) Prop 19 on-chain
  • November network update communications article

December 2019

  • published the pre-launch ‘validator migration risks’ article
  • published the post-launch ‘power of Cosmos Hub 3 voters’ article

Behind the Scenes

Even though Blockchain 3.0™ promised us a futurarchy, we’re certainly not there. Governance activity is still a very messy and very human process.

If it isn’t apparent, there’s a decent amount of behind-the-scenes work that tends to involve elements of both perfectionism and dynamism. Something as simple as selecting an export block height for a network upgrade involves a number of variables and competing priorities.

Each draft proposal involves negotiation, Telegram- and forum-based communications work, blog article activity, Twitter, Reddit, and a bit of Riot communications. Feedback comes from the prior-mentioned channels publicly, semi-publicly as comments in Google Docs and designated Telegram channels, and privately as direct messages on Telegram and Twitter.

We’ve worked to establish relationships with stakeholders (primarily validator operators and protocol developers) to negotiate competing priorities across different-sized and different kinds of stakeholders with different values. The time spent varies greatly, depending on the potential impact of the change and how divided the stakeholders are about implementing the change.

The Future

What happens at the end of Q1? We’ll have published recommendations for the future of the Cosmos GWG, and ideally we’ll be prepared to submit a proposal based upon those recommendations for Q2 2020. We plan to continue our work in blockchain governance, regardless of whether the Hub passes our proposals.

We’re eager to get your feedback, particularly if something obviously useful is missing, or if you have ideas about how to improve Cosmos Hub governance.

If you’ve read this far, you may as well join us in Telegram: https://t.me/hubgov
Consider following along on Twitter: https://twitter.com/CosmosGov
Most of our activity will take place on All in Bits’ Cosmos Discourse forum. Look for [GWG] tag.

I’m on Twitter as well, and you can find me here.