Today, we’re proud to announce the launch of apiary, an applied research company developing governance solutions for decentralized organizations.
We believe that good governance is key to the future of decentralized organizations and web3. It’s the secret ingredient needed to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts.
But today, governance is hard. We’re struggling to decentralize in ways that garner community participation, enable effective decision making, and mitigate risk. Our goal is to make that easier. We’re building data-informed solutions to governance design, so that teams and communities can better grow, ship solutions, and build new worlds together.
apiary is founded by CEO Camille Canon, in partnership with Kickstarter and with the support of 2050. Canon previously co-founded Purpose, a social enterprise on the forefront of new institutional models of ownership and governance.
At the most basic level, successful governance is systems and processes which enable interested individuals, parties, and groups to make effective decisions toward common objectives. These systems are often overlapping, taking into account official, political, or legal requirements as well as those driven by social, cultural, or personal incentives.
These systems are also more than the day-to-day, nuts and bolts of how things work (or don’t); at its core, good governance supports groups of people in understanding, navigating, and ultimately directing change in a rapidly evolving and increasingly complex world. Governance is what underpins the ability for collaboration at scale.
Governance is what underpins the ability for collaboration at scale.
When these systems are working well we can feel it, even if “governance” is not the first thing we think about. Let’s imagine, for instance, a well-run town or municipality. Its elected officials competently conduct the formal business of running the local government, engaging with citizens on a regular basis and through open communication channels, allowing them to address any issues and debate swiftly and effectively. Local citizen-run groups support various initiatives in the area, cultivating and reinforcing voluntary participation and collaboration among the town’s citizens. All components, formal and informal, working together to achieve consensus on the town’s maintenance and future. And when conflict arises, which it always will, there’s space and processes for constructive disagreement. Stakeholders with conflicting interests are able to work through them together.
This is a nice image, but we usually get the opposite: systems riddled with misaligned incentives that discourage collaboration and disincentivize good decision making. A corporate voting structure that does not encourage robust debate among interested stakeholders. A company culture that blocks new ideas and strategies, where information flow is siloed and ineffective. Local communities where important issues get hijacked by loud, partisan forces, taking energy and focus away from solving core problems. An imbalanced and ineffective federal government that does not represent the majority perspective on core issues.
The inability to build and maintain systems that cultivate interdependence and enable people to build things effectively – solutions, products, businesses – together is a failure of governance. We often focus on the individual factors, or malign actors that subvert these systems, but it is just as often a failure of the design of the system itself that leads to these common frustrations.
web3 has been heralded as the next era of the internet, a new paradigm that will disrupt the dominance of corporate centralization through new organizational models that allow those who contribute to value creation to participate in decision-making and economic upside. This vision promises to disrupt how we control data, content, and platforms, and to change how we build organizations, create communities, and drive value. At its core and at its best, this evolution of the internet represents a shift from hierarchical corporate governance models to a system based on a more egalitarian concept of interdependence and human cooperation.
We are optimistic about this vision. The last few decades of open source and public good projects (Wikipedia, Linux, etc.) have demonstrated the power of the internet to facilitate global collaboration and disrupt existing power and information structures. That said, we understand that this vision will need to be built. To date (and with Wikipedia and open source examples notwithstanding), the internet has supercharged previously existing power and value systems, resulting in a web controlled by a few mega powerful corporations.
The promise of web3 to overhaul this system isn’t a given. History has demonstrated that in the face of new technologies, the logic and momentum of existing systems persist. If we want to drive radically different outcomes in the next phase of the internet, we must innovate on how we design systems and the rules that govern them over time.
Challenges in decentralized communities mirror those we face in “real world” organizations, communities, and democracies. They, too, struggle to balance the interests of stakeholders, facilitate access to information, build consensus, manage conflicts, and maintain social cohesion around common objectives.
The logic of traditional corporate governance, defined by business strategies that funnel activity toward maximizing the value of a shareholder's stake in the company, cannot be simply transposed onto web3 projects. In contrast to these legacy systems, web3 projects depend on a diverse and prismatic set of stakeholders, whose interests by definition interconnect but may not always align.
Success in web3 governance supports the equilibrium of actors, not a hierarchy of them. Effective governance should support alignment among stakeholders, encourage sustained participation, and provide effective pathways toward conflict resolution. These systems and processes are most effective when they reflect the specific context, culture, and objectives of a given project and community.
Success in web3 governance supports the equilibrium of actors, not a hierarchy of them. Effective governance should support alignment among stakeholders, encourage sustained participation, and provide effective pathways toward conflict resolution.
While there is broad acknowledgment that improving governance systems in web3 is important, it is also clear that more research, experimentation, and prototyping is needed. It is challenging and at times all-consuming to design a protocol, find market fit, test and deploy a system, manage a community, all while debating and implementing the proper parameters of decentralization.
For projects to reach their full potential, we believe teams and communities should make governance an integral part of a system’s design. Because decisions made early on in a project’s development often have meaningful downstream effects related to power sharing, decision making, business development, and community engagement. By prioritizing governance design, developers and their community can increase their project’s chances of success, not simply mitigate its chances of failure.
At apiary, we think that governance goes beyond the basic rules of the road; well-designed, custom systems will separate those protocols and projects that are just getting by from those that achieve beyond their original, hoped-for parameters of success.
We support teams in designing governance systems to advance their objectives as well as processes for implementing organizational change towards decentralization. We understand the challenges organizations face, having worked with dozens of traditional companies, communities, and governments to build governance models that support the stewardship of enterprises, data, housing, and other assets. We’re excited to apply these learnings to web3, and believe that a phase of experimentation and prototyping will help us develop best practices and scalable solutions that make the tricky work of governance easier for teams going forward.
At launch, we’re excited to be working with the team behind the protocol Kickstarter is supporting to design a governance system that furthers the company’s mission of helping to bring creative projects to life. Building on Kickstarter’s legacy as a Public Benefit Corporation, we’re working on designing a system that supports the protocol’s health and sustainability while ensuring its mission stays core to decision making.
In the end, our mission is to advance good governance. To us, blockchain networks represent the most granular data on collective decision making in history. We see an unprecedented opportunity to research and build data-informed approaches to governance — the learnings of which we believe could extend far beyond the web3.