Announcing Aragon Labs

February 7, 2018

Where research meets development

Participants committed to leveraging decentralized governance

Co-Author of this post — Tatu Kärki

Ever since the early days of the Aragon project we've known that there will be obstacles that we'll need to solve. Concepts that exist, but require research before we can begin implementing these ideas. But there's no single solution in governance that works for each and every one. What might work well for a global aid organization likely doesn't fit the needs of a neighbourhood lending ecosystem.

We want to make the creation and maintenance of organizational structures as easy and secure as possible. We're not quite there yet, and we have to take things one step at a time. The project started with an app designed to make company structures more efficient. As the project matured from those first stages, we knew that a lot of research would be needed to achieve a more general platform. A platform that would be able to serve a much broader audience than corporation type organizational structure. We needed someone dedicated full-time on this crucial element of development.

We didn't need to look far. There was already someone within our community that was a perfect fit for this role. And luckily for us, he was interested and able to join the team! Luis and Jorge were immediately struck by how well our thoughts aligned with Luke and he felt right at home.

We started focusing our initial efforts into serving a user group that felt very natural to us; open source blockchain projects. These projects usually already have an existing token structure. They generally have people working remotely in their organization. And they often are looking to solve similar obstacles as we are.

With the conclusion that we want to better serve the needs of these projects, Luke laid out some concepts that should be useful to many users. And in the beginning of November 2017 we started reaching out to people in order to gather feedback on their needs.

Thus, Aragon Labs was born.

Our approach to experimental research and development

At the core of our development is governance.

Our goal is to enable individuals to organize freely, securely, and transparently. We want to provide a decentralized digital jurisdiction for blockchain-first organizations. A way for them to trade and interact across artificial borders. With less friction and fewer dependencies on legacy institutions.

Governance, and smart-contract enabled on-chain governance in particular, is incredibly powerful. Making sure that it's safe and secure is a responsibility that we do not take lightly. When these solutions are implemented and running live on Mainnet, they will be handling real value. Value in the form of funds that belong to other people.

For that reason it is imperative that we have processes for testing and evaluating ideas. And that we examine these processes and implementations thoroughly. All this needs to happen before entrusting these new mechanisms to govern critical functionality.

The goal of Aragon Labs is to enable experimental research and development efforts that move fast and some times break (minor) things. Running these experiments allows us to learn from these experiences. And we can re-iterate and run these experiments for as long as we need. Until we are confident that our tools and products have become stable and mature. That their development has reached a point that signifies them ready to secure valuable ecosystems such as the Aragon Network itself.

Experimentation via controlled incentivization

A good experiment effectively emulates a realistic scenario in a controlled environment. In the case of governance and social sciences in general there's certain challenges. It's difficult to run a controlled experiment and to isolate specific variables during testing. What we can control is the value at stake and then extrapolate the results from the material.

Let's take this exemplary scenario where we're interested in understanding how a governance mechanism might respond to a certain condition. In this case, we will create an experiment for a smart-contract enabled conditional bribe as follows:

  1. A reward is established for all participants if they vote for A
  2. A public conditional bribe is made encouraging voters to vote for B

This is a simple example, but variations on this same experiment could be introduced for further research. We could introduce information asymmetry between participants, varying rewards, non-binary choices, and so on, just to name a few. These experiments would all expand our understanding of the impact of conditional bribes. And we can then apply these results on various on-chain governance mechanisms.

Academic researchers often perform similar experiments in soft sciences. And some of that applies to our work. Yet, things like smart-contract enabled bribery present context specific challenges. Challenges that we must consider.

Experimentation via limited scope deployment

In some cases there are use cases with high utility that are inherently low-risk. These use cases are perfect for initial deployments and experimentation. Unlike the practical experiments above, we do not need to emulate possible incentives within a community. With these we can observe how different mechanism perform in practice.

A good example of this is governance over a registry. Which happens to be one of our first efforts under the Aragon Labs umbrella. The registry as a whole can be very valuable if the cumulative results of many small decisions adds up to a coherent set. Yet, each individual decision only has marginal impact. And in the event that a decision is compromised, it can be reverted relatively quickly. This creates a great opportunity to test governance processes. There is a potential high upside but limited downside in the event that the mechanism becomes compromised.

Registries as a general data structure have broad utility. We see them having tremendous potential across the entire Ethereum ecosystem.

Our communities are our greatest assets

This effort that is Aragon Labs is dependant on the community around it. The more active members we have in our community, the better results we can get. And the same applies to other projects in the blockchain space that are aspiring toward the goal that is community governance. The communities of these organizations will play a critical role in research, development, and especially the validation of the efforts of Aragon Labs.

We have created a repository in GitHub for the community to organize and discuss Aragon Labs. And we want to encourage everyone in the community to get involved. We also recognize that more structured efforts are important. To that end, we have begun by organizing two working groups to kickstart the Aragon Labs initiative.

These working groups will help refine and shape the proposals for Labs. They will also take part in validating and testing governance mechanisms within their own communities.

Working Groups

Modular Token Curated Registries Working Group

As mentioned above, one of our initial efforts will be to experiment with registries due to their broad utility and low-risk.

The initial goal is to port the functionality of a open source Token Curated Registry to be natively compatible with aragonOS. This specific TCR design was pioneered by the Adchain team and maintained by Consensys' Mike Goldin. This process will make the initial design more modular. It will also enable users to use any voting application designed for aragonOS to work with the registry.

There's a number of applications for registries within a digital jurisdiction. From a list of dispute resolution categories to the court system. It could be applied to Aragon Package Manager for managing applications and their versions. As well as a registry of all the organizations powered by Aragon. These use cases do not necessarily fit the same mold and pattern of the AdChain registry design. But with the help of the community, we are looking forward to validating various configurations and registry governance processes.

Joining us in this working group are our friends at 0x, District0x, Ethfinex, and Status. These projects plan to deploy Token Curated Registries within their platforms as an initial step towards community governance.

Liquid Democracy Working Group

In the Aragon whitepaper, we mention liquid democracy as the governance mechanism for the Aragon Network. Direct voting and representative structures are already possible with Aragon. It is due to its theoretical advantages over these, that we see it as a natural next step for experimentation.

Unlike the TCR design pattern, there's no standard implementation for liquid democracy. There is not even an widely agreed upon set of requirements for what liquid democracy entails. So the goal of this working group is to define, as well as develop and test a liquid democracy implementation. Community feedback and discussion is most encouraged! Check out the issues with the delegative label on the Aragon Labs repository. Or hop on the #governance channel at Aragon Chat.

We are happy to have Democracy Earth, Giveth, Status, Decentraland and 0x involved in this project. While it is still early in the research phase, we are all excited about where things are heading.

A look ahead...

As these initial working groups progress, we will be looking for opportunities to deploy what we learn to the community. We will be designing well thought out experiments to confirm these models. This is our path into launching the Aragon Network with a strong governance mechanism.

We will be at the ETHDenver hackathon to spread the word about the importance of governance. We'll be hosting two workshops on governance at the event. Come learn more and take the opportunity to hack on a new governance solution!