Research Introductions: The Blockchain Governance Observatory (for Discord)

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 :telescope: 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 :slightly_smiling_face:

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…

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Hello! I’m Campbell, Ellie’s research assistant. I’m working full-time on the Crypto-Governance Observatory and other digital ethnography projects that Ellie leads. Over the past few months I’ve worked on the logistics of getting the Observatory off the ground. We have a great team working on the project, including a few people who have made important contributions to SourceCred.

Please reach out to me if you encounter any questions or problems as we roll out the Crypto-Governance Observatory.

The beautiful thing about this kind of reasearch is that it really is a collaboration between researchers and comunities. So I look forward to getting to know you and learning with you!

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Hi there! Great intro Ellie. I’m Kelsie, a PhD candidate at RMIT University and researcher in the RMIT University Blockchain Innovation Hub. Before that, I worked in blockchain in the Ethereum community.

I have the great pleasure of regular research collaborations with the team at Blockscience, and affiliating with “metagov.org”, which is how we all got started on this Discord bot for open research project.

Look forward to hanging out and learning together

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Hi folks!

I’ll just re-introduce myself here; I’m Josh, I’m a researcher at Oxford / Stanford and I help run Metagov, a research collective building standards and infrastructure for online governance. While I’m not an ethnographer by training, I’ve been in touch with the SourceCred community for a while through Dandelion (who gave a talk at the Metagov seminar) and LBS.

Looking forward to the conversations!

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:partying_face: I’m really excited to have y’all on board. In general the web3 space is blowing my mind. What I believe it can do as a tool to gather and leverage resources, how it could assist in raising individual and collective awareness and the ability for humxns to coordinate and create climate change to various impacts within it is just dreamy to me. With this mindset its easy to appreciate how you all came together to do what it is you are planning to do within the community.

I understand Ethnography but I’m still having a difficult time trying to imagine what sorts of things might signal one to use the :telescope: emoji. Could someone provide an example or scenario of something that could be tagged and used for such research?

Sometimes when receiving new information / processing new concepts I am unable to “connect the dots” or imagine the unknown (well hello there Autism . . . :wink: )

Thanks for the question! And apologies for the slow response. We were working through some technical issues with the Telescope that are now fixed. The kinds of posts we are interested in are ones where either people are considering governance issues or where there is a significant event that reveals something new about governance. We will go through and tag some posts ourselves once the telescope has been implemented and then write a rationale for why we tagged these posts. Hopefully that will provide some guidance for others to use it. We are more than happy to have a meeting to go through getting it into the server and answer any questions people have. Would this be helpful?

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No worries on the delay, I believe things happen as they ought to.
Finding a time for us all to gather would be great!

I’ll make sure everyone’s tracking that there will be a gathering soon. In the meantime I dropped our calendar in the research server in the #general channel with a message to the team about scheduling.

(I’m really really really excited about the work you are all doing btw)

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