Before your start: What type of DAO do you want to be?
If you and your group are starting a new DAO, take some time to think about what type of organization you would like to create.
Like all groups, DAOs have an “organizational culture”, which can be intentionally shaped. Of course, the choice to be a DAO in the first place and the technical protocol will heavily determine the organizational culture, the so-called “Hard Governance”. But that does not mean that off-chain group culture, which can also be referred to as “Soft Governance”, is irrelevant. Even before you start your DAO on-chain, you will want to ensure you have sufficient alignment in your group off-chain. There is a huge spectrum of possible DAO cultures, even within these predetermined technical constraints, so when starting a new DAO, do not miss the opportunity to be intentional about your group culture.
The impetus behind DAOs is to provide interfaces, technology and processes to prevent the centralization of power and resources and the abuse of it. Because of this, there is often a resistance to any named positions or structures because it seems like we’re going back to the old system. However, power always exists in any social grouping and it is necessary to name structures, otherwise shadow hierarchies can emerge. The “Hard Governance” of the Dapps your DAO uses will make some of the structures explicit. It is up to each DAO to decide how to name their implicit processes and structures. We recommend reading the watershed 1970s text by Jo Freeman the “The Tyranny of Structurelessness" for more insights on the dangers of shadow hierarchies that emerge when structures aren't named.
In smaller DAOs (150 people and under) people tend to be naturally engaged in their work and it is relatively easy to utilise the benefits of operating in a decentralized way by building culture, However, in a larger organization you have to be more intentional. When people have autonomy to create culture, process and structures themselves the very act of doing this is engaging, rather than consuming something that has been predefined. However, if group dynamics are unnamed and implicit then newcomers find it hard to become truly “in” the group.
- Create spaces for interaction. People find meaning in social interaction and it keeps them engaged. If there are strong ties between people and a consistent rhythm for people to meet and exchange ideas, have discussions and connect, you have the basic cadence for your culture to be built on. There are a vast number of online tools that can facilitate this, such as Discord, Kialo, Discourse, Telegram and Slack.
- Encourage divergent thinking. Differing opinions and robust debate is a natural part of collaboration and it can be transformative. The group needs to create implicit and even explicit norms for how divergent conversation, debate or disagreements will take place. There also needs to be a social contract about what kind of communication is welcome and where the line is. Having a named role (i.e. a moderator or community builder) ensures someone is thinking about “the (or a) line” and when it is crossed.
- Moderate for quieter voices. Asynchronous, online spaces where lots of debate ensues are fun for some and intimidating for others. If you’re going to create infrastructure useable by many you need to make space for voices and perspectives than are not typically made welcome in a-synch, online spaces. This can be done by creating a separate channel for spirited debate.
Thinking about your DAO culture is not only important at the beginning of your DAO, but as your DAO scales and many new faces join, you need to consider how culture and “Soft Governance” scale. For some groups Soft Governance may be less important, for others it will be essential. To make this more concrete, let’s look at two examples of DAOs, one in which Soft Governance plays a more important role, and another which relies mainly on Hard Governance.
There are many organizations who have been practising participatory, bossless governance and decision making in the off-chain world, from the approaches of self-management and concepts such as “teal organizations”. Communities like Enspiral, Ouishare, the Occupy movement, and the Open Source movement and many others offer resources to help people collaborating without centralized command and control functions.
Let’s be honest, if you’re interested in starting a DAO you’re probably going to be a fan of autonomy. The people joining you will likely be as well. This doesn’t always mean the people joining will have had experience working in an environment of autonomy. Most of our organizations and institutions in society are still run in a centralized and hierarchical way. The open source development community operates according to open, flat principles and many of them are involved in the early stage blockchain movement. We can learn a lot from their principles.
Adopting an experimental mindset is important. Borrow from methodologies like Agile, Lean and Design Thinking and move away from bureaucracy. The principle "safe enough to try” means that if no harm will occur from an action, just do it.
The developmental psychologist Robert Kegan tells us that becoming an adult isn’t about learning new things but about changing how we know and understand the world. In traditional, hierarchical organizations we have been conditioned into unconsciously adopting parent or child roles in terms of how we relate to each other. Working in decentralized organizations requires us to be adults and take personal responsibility for how we are and what we do. In a DAO with an adult-to-adult culture, an example might be a person losing reputation in Alchemy for failing to deliver on a proposal.
Now that you have given thought to your group culture and what type of DAO you want to be, it’s time to get started! Over the next pages, we sketch out 5 basic steps that you can follow (and adapt!) to running your first funding round.