Hi everyone! I am a researcher at RMIT University (Melbourne, Australia). I work across RMIT’s Digital Ethnography Research Centre and the Blockchain Innovation Hub. I’ve been collaborating with Zargham, Josh, Kelsie, Primavera, Campbell and others to design and implement the ‘Blockchain Governance Observatory’, which is the tool for ethnographic research via Discord. We designed it as a means to do ethnographic research that is consent-driven and participatory. Really looking forward to working with SourceCred community as our first partnership!
Who are we? An interdisciplinary, international group of researchers developing new techniques for qualitative research into blockchain governance. The background is that I was introduced to Josh and Zargham who developed the Govbase dataset, which is a repository for information on blockchain governance that can be used to show trends across projects. Govbase is incredibly useful for showing how and where different types of tools and approaches are being deployed, or just for getting an overview of what’s out there (such as differences between DAOs), but there are some things that we can’t know from it. I came on board to look at how we can incorporate informal dynamics of blockchain governance into our datasets - the stuff that’s not hard coded through smart contracts or constitutions but might be shaped by them.
What is Ethnography? An ethnography is social science research that uses particular qualitative research methods. What we call ‘observation’ or ‘participant observation’ in ethnographic research typically means paying attention to the everyday, getting to know a community or group, and looking at how group dynamics form through informal processes, norms, practices etc. Some ethnographies set out to capture events and to understand what they mean in relation to the wider system. Most people think of ethnography as anthropologists who study one locally defined community at a time (going ’to the field’). However, ethnography has had to change to accomodate our technologically mediated lives. When communities communicate online, and where some of the actors in a system are machines (smart contracts in DAOs, for instance), things start to get complicated. Ethnographic research on a topic such as blockchain governance also needs to look across different communities/projects, which means undertaking ‘multi-sited’ ethnographies.
What is the Blockchain Governance Observatory? To do ethnographic research on blockchain governance we need to go to the forums where deliberation and voting occurs. As you are all aware, keeping up with conversations in Discord channels is hugely challenging given the pace of conversation in some groups. It is also difficult to ensure that those within these forums have consented to their comments being used in research as new people can arrive at any time. For that reason we developed a tool whereby:
i) Anyone can tag a post and alert the researcher/s to it. This can be done by adding the telescope emoji as a reaction or typing @Telescope in a comment. What we love about this is that it makes the research more participatory by allowing members of the group to identify what’s interesting to them.
ii) The researcher gets alerted to the post at that point. However, it’s not included in the dataset until the author of the post has given their consent. The bot will automatically DM the person who authored the comment and ask if they are happy for it to be included in the dataset. If it’s your comment, you get to choose whether it can be included and whether you want it to be included with your name or anonymously. This process has been approved by RMIT University’s Human Research Ethics Committee.
These tools are not quite live. We’ll let you know when they are.
What happens then? Our intention is to set up a channel so you can see what’s being approved. This is also a place where you can ask us questions or provide further comment on what’s appearing in the dataset. We might also occasionally post links to surveys here, or invite people to be part of an interview or focus group. We will also post anything we write to this channel, such as blog posts, academic papers that we have written. We welcome feedback on drafts
Finally, we should say that SourceCred is THE FIRST community that we are trying this with, so there may be some issues that need ironing out. We’d love any feedback on whether this is useful, arduous, confusing etc.
Feel free to shoot any questions to us at any time. And over to my colleagues to introduce themselves…