Governance for better futures Insights from conversation #3: 'New and Old'

SuperBenefit DAO has convened a series of conversations to explore how the nature of governance is evolving and its role in accelerating transitions to better futures. We’re specifically interested in how web3 technologies are enabling new thinking and ways of doing, and their potential to combine with existing practices, perspectives, and wisdom.

The first conversation we hosted was on ‘meta-governance’. The second was on ‘DAO2DAO cooperation’. This final conversation explored what web3 can learn from and contribute to existing governance perspectives and practices.

The contributors

The discussion

The text below is an attempt to capture key themes and insights from the discussion. While we have attributed some points, our summary misses the nuance provided by the contributors and the depth of overall conversation. As a result, we encourage you to listen to a recording of the session here.


@ml_baldwin set the scene by referencing that it was Canada Day, and how the meaning of this day was one in flux - moving from the celebration of a colonial legacy to an acknowledgement of a more problematic history and an increasingly diverse and self-aware identity, today. Going into a conversation about ‘new and old’, she emphasised the importance of remembering how nature, earth, and ecosystems create the ultimate, underpinning conditions for the conversation, and how Indigenous ways of knowing have much to contribute.

Framing governance for better futures

@AlexHannant opened by framing the role of governance in the context of pursuing better futures. The governance we’re used to, and which will continue to be needed, primarily relates to the coordination of authority and accountability in respect to a range of entities, functions, and resources. But we’re facing complex challenges and working with complexity demands dynamic ways of acting. These will require expanded governance mindsets and modalities. For example, how do we retain coherence between diverse actors and groups who are interconnected (maybe interdependent) but also autonomous? How do we negotiate and organise in fluid, systems contexts, be they networks, DAOs, places, or value chains?

And, if better futures are to be pursued, what are the processes that can help form shared orientations and agreements around what is ‘better’ (while allowing for diverse perspectives and self-determination)? While this may feel abstract, it's a real challenge that we need to find practical ways of navigating. From a functional point of view, the expanded scope of governance in the pursuit of better futures could include:

  • Oversight of key operational functions or resources.
  • Enabling representation and decision-making at multiple levels.
  • Stewardship of shared values and principles.
  • Sensing and interpreting the world around us, or at least the systems we are acting within.
  • Negotiation and determining directions.
  • Conflict resolution between interconnected but autonomous actors.
  • Stewardship of shared assets and interests (including data).
  • Managing, mitigating, and adapting to systems-level risks.
  • Fractal-level enablement and consistency - e.g., what happens in micro interactions has fidelity with macro level principles, practices, and missions.
  • Interfacing a plurality of perspectives and self-governing entities.
  • Distribution of rights, responsibilities, and value.

In respect to the conversation here, how can existing thinking and practices combine with emerging web3 infrastructures to meet these communication, coordination, and coherence challenges? How can we harness ‘new and old’ to enable ‘good governance’ within this expanded and future-facing framing?

@AlexHannant then referenced how B Lab Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand’s new governance system is attempting to grapple with this expanded scope. B Lab AANZ is a small organisation that has to work well within current systems, while fostering a network-based movement of purpose-led businesses, with a higher-level goal for changing the economic system. Rather than have one governance group that attempts to hold these different functions, they have established a governance system that involves different forums to serve the entity, network, and system contexts (and which draws upon a mix of corporate, cooperative, and Indigenous influences).

While there is no current use of web3 infrastructures, it is easy to see the potential value they could add. This could include: B Corp certification being on-chain, tokens enabling network-based participation, shared data assets, a ‘soulbound’ token to foster connectivity with other movements and networks, and so on. He also recognised that web3 is not only about technologies. It’s clearly creating spaces for radical thinking, organising, and experimentation. He referenced Packy McCormick’s view on the potential for web3: "[it] allows for the most rapid iteration on new economic and governance models of any system humans have built.”

With this in mind, it may be that the framing of ‘new and old’ is unhelpful. Certainly, there’s nothing inherently oppositional here. This is really about how we bring our full set of capacities to the task of shaping better futures, and combine them in ways that gives us the potential to close the gap between where we are and where we want to go.

@JayneEngle started with acknowledging the sense of the possibility being created by web3 and her curiosity in exploring its role in bridging ‘what needs to die in the old world to what is emerging in the new’. Her context for exploring these horizons spans her roles as: Co-director of Participatory Canada, a collaborator in the City Experiment Fund in eastern Europe, and Co-author and editor of Sacred Civics: Building Seven Generation Cities. Her lens is asking how do we collectively adopt higher orders of responsibility and thinking about governance to build that which we do not have now. Her bias is towards ‘commoning’ and emphasising the importance of governance arrangements and capacities being able to hold the inevitable tensions in commoning and maintaining a strong sense of mutual responsibility. Her hypothesis for the pursuit of better civic and planetary futures is based on the idea that we are currently not organised for the change that is coming or for change that the world needs. The locus of power and organisation requires fundamental shifts and new institutions that are enabling of global commoning, global citizens assemblies, and more decentralised civic and bioregional networks.

@tinajennen started by sharing her lens on this conversation and her broad experience of governance. This included: learning about her own Indigenous identity after working with those in Aotearoa New Zealand, sustainable land development through Antelope Commons and wetland restoration, door to door canvassing for grassroots organisations, a community energy trust, bringing technology to the primary sector, and advisory roles to Collective Intelligence - a community organisation that grows leadership in Aotearoa New Zealand, and the Wellbeing Protocol - a DAO that is harnessing web3 infrastructures to help communities become more self determining. She emphasised the importance of interfacing ‘new and old’, and is looking for how technologies can be harnessed to develop sustainable communities while also bridging knowledge from community organising into the digital space.

Digital and physical spaces

The discussion moved to explore the degree that experimentation in DAOs and digital spaces was translating into complex social and physical spaces, where existing institutions and organisations are active and have a range of obligations. Questions came up around how capability and literacy could be developed so a wider range of people could access web3 infrastructures and determine its potential use in their context. Also, how do we find more ways to transition thinking emerging in digital spaces into existing social spaces, and how do we enable more experimentation with web3 in social and physical contexts?

While there are many examples of this crossover happening, there are more where web3 is being used for the purpose of extraction and wealth concentration - i.e., the status quo. On the flip side, too many existing governance institutions that hold responsibility for change are resistant to it. New worlds are trying to emerge but much of how the world works is stuck, such as city governments resisting experimentation and keeping expectations low as they struggle to deliver services or the serial collapse of bold, multi-dimensional policy packages like ‘Build Back Better’ in America​​. We need more hybridity that isn’t trapped by the logics of the present day and can act through the lens of being accountable to future generations.

These changes will require fundamental shifts in mindsets and assumptions. Through the lens of economy, there will need to be movement towards accounting for multiple forms of value (that reflect the attributes of real progress) and universal values. From the ‘old’, Indigenous perspectives can signpost the way through inclusive and regenerative principles. From the ‘new’, web3 infrastructures can platform blended and distributed forms of value creation, information exchange, and governance. Refi (regenerative finance) offers a promising example of this potential.

Moving into new territories

While we intuitively know we need new ways of organising and new institutions, it's hard to anticipate what these will look like and how they will work at scale. So we need governance that can help shepherd emergence and serve more relational and systemic approaches to cooperation. Not everything needs to be tightly coordinated, but there does need to be connectivity, coherence, and constant calibration to manage interests and conflicts. Awareness, literacy with, and practical application of web3 technologies could help facilitate some of this difficult work.

Forming shared values and principles are important in these trajectories because in an increasingly crowded world we can’t avoid interconnectivity and interdependence. The historical evolution of rule by divine right to the rule of law suggests such fundamental shifts are possible, if not linear. In the context of innovation, this means reframing thinking from individual solutions and ventures to something that is far more relational and better recognises the vast potential of harnessing latent multipliers and synergies.

Amber Craig @Tahetoka joined the conversation to emphasise the importance of safe spaces for Indigenous people and perspectives, and for the need to disrupt the structural bias of resource flows. Her focus has been on growing the Indigenous (Māori) tech community and fostering crowd efforts for systemic change. Her current kaupapa (purpose) is tackling housing inequality by seeking to provide warm, dry, sustainable, and affordable homes for Māori. Te Whare Hangahanga is stripping the core issues back to their roots and building fundamentally new models through mātauranga (traditional knowledge) and technological innovation. Amber emphasised how these approaches strive to be sustainable right from the very beginning: ‘we descend from the earth and that’s who we have to give back to because it will sustain us for the rest of our lives and future generations. We need to provide resources and create spaces for Indigenous Peoples to just get stuff done’.

Where to start

Community and the collective is a critical starting point for this work. There is much good intention in this respect but the logic of how we see and shape the world is dominated by assumptions that have been built up over the last 400 years, and our personal baggage. Part of the reorientation process is to make the implicit more explicit. For example, boards would benefit from declaring and monitoring their individual and collective assumptions and worldviews before engaging in the substantive work of governance.

One of the challenges of scaling in web3 is that we often don’t know the people we are communicating with while relying on mechanical processes to make decisions. Also, we may not be getting enough diversity. This is important because diverse teams are better equipped to make sense of complexity and resist groupthink. The Wellbeing Protocol is intentionally being incubated by a diverse group with both some challenging and promising results, but how do we foster this type of diversity in innovation and governance across global networks?

In response to this question, notions of Citizens Assemblies provide a model. This can include global institutions that involve 100 randomly selected people from around the world, who are invited to engage with their local communities and then contribute a voice on shared issues, like climate action. DAOs could provide organisational infrastructure for these types of approaches. How would we think about designing DAOs to facilitate global citizens assemblies? How could we think about generating collective intelligence with the aid of technology to inform deliberation? Whatever we build needs to consider scale and also find bridges between different levels of scale.

DAOs as bridges between new and old?

This turned the conversation to asking what DAOs actually represent. We can see them as novel organisational forms or as an enabler of organising - a more fluid arrangement that is able to respond to the requirements of next-horizon cooperation. The framing around these ideas is hard because it’s still forming; we’re having to build novel ways of understanding, interacting, and communicating as we go.

@Lewwwk joined the conversation and raised the potential trap around seeing DAOs as a formula and wanting to see DAOs doing something. It can be more helpful to think about them as the primitives or tools that are coming available to enable experimentation with new forms of weaving across systems and networks. Experiments with how we bring people together in ways that are sometimes ephemeral, sometimes durable, and sometimes around shared resources. They are enabling us to be more flexible and iterative than we’ve been before with existing governance systems.

Progressing the notion of organising versus organisations, to what extent can DAOs enable diverse actors to organise around shared missions? How can this interface with non-DAO actors? Or is this a false dichotomy…? The decoupling of agendas may come from the pace of change in legacy institutions not aligning with people active in the web3 space who are looking for accelerated movement. While there is a clear need to work towards better futures, we also need to avoid slippage into utopian spaces that exist outside the reality of cities and places. We need to integrate new technologies with existing social and physical contexts in ways that are transformative, not vacate them.

The conversation closed with a sense that splitting the worlds of ‘new and old’ is not helpful. People active in DAOs are not categorically different to those who haven’t yet developed an affinity with web3 (or are skeptical of its value). It’s more helpful to see this time as transitional, not divergent. That said, if web3 plays out to its potential, we will need many more people engaged in how the technologies can unlock new possibilities and bigger shifts in cooperation.

A reflection on all three conversations

We’re not currently organised for the change we need. Better futures will demand more fluid cooperation and more people participating in distributed yet coherent action towards shared missions.

In the three conversations we explored how:

  1. Meta-governance offers a framing to recognise systems interdependence and a field in which to develop practical governance approaches for those contexts, and which can layer onto higher-level purposes and orientations.
  2. The dynamics of DAO to DAO interactions are incredibly diverse, fluid, and emergent.
  3. Web3 infrastructures provide the potential to enable radically different ways of organising, acting, and governing, but creating communities decoupled from the social and physical contexts we inhabit will stymie this potential.

More than anything we reaffirmed what we already had a sense of - that we need more values-based and purpose-led experimentation with web3 infrastructures. DAOs and DAO primitives provide flexible and dynamic spaces and platforms for doing this, and diversity will enhance innovation.

Critically, experimentation needs to go hand-in-hand with the strengthening social capital and transfers of power (and resources) that enable more people to think and act differently.

It will also be useful to think about different time horizons and levels of scale - what is available now vs. what needs to be worked towards, and what needs to be present at the level of experimentation to indicate the potential for scale (acknowledging that scaling can play out in a number of ways).

As we find our way through these experiments, we will need deeper and clearer thinking about the role and arrangements for governance. Furthermore, we should recognise that governance is an emotional capacity, and a mindset, as well as a set of functions.

You may also be interested in…

Some other thinking on governance being undertaken by @SuperBenefitDAO:

Summary produced by: @AlexHannant and @TarynLucas6

Image attribution: Coloured reflections, Tony Hisgett

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