Setting Astar Network community and governance culture

TL;DR

  • I left Astar Foundation to create and propose Astar governance as a community member.
  • The network engagement and governance activity do not reflect the increase in Astar’s public presence; only a few people are engaged with the network.
  • The lack of clarity in our community culture makes introducing a functioning governance for Astar hard.
  • People should be more aware of what projects they support through dApps Staking.
  • Treasury spending should be evaluated based on the network’s return on ‘investment.’
  • We can start setting our community culture by clarifying the rules in the forums and updating the pinned posts in all categories.
  • Townhall and I will work on the Astar governance model. Details will be announced later.

Introduction

Hello Astar Community.

This is Hoon, CEO and founder of Team STEP and former CTO of the Astar Foundation.

It’s been a while since I’ve publicly posted and interacted with everyone. There has been a lot of exciting news around Astar Network with the zvEVM and dApp Staking v3, and it was a blast seeing the community engaging with this news. As the network grows, we will gain more attention from various people (both positive and negative), which will become a new challenge for the network. I know we’ve seen a bit of a surge in the token and the network success, but we can all agree that based on the current Astar community, the issue with community scalability and network governance will be questioned very soon. And we need to prepare ourselves for it.

I am working with the Townhall team (which shares the same parent team as Polkassembly) to create the Astar governance. They have extensive knowledge and experience about governance in and out of the Polkadot ecosystem. For those who don’t know, Polkassembly is the governance platform for Polkadot, and the community is extensively using and improving it. I cannot think of a better team than them to help us build the Astar governance.

I’m writing this post to raise awareness regarding the current status of Astar community governance, establish a community culture regarding the treasury and dApp Staking, and announce our intention to develop the Astar governance model.

This post follows up on my previous post touching on the state of Astar governance. If you haven’t read that, I highly suggest you do, but it is completely optional. While that post mostly discussed the ideal mechanism of Astar governance, this post will focus on the ideal culture that we, as the community, should bear in mind. But most importantly, I want to hear the community’s thoughts on setting our culture and rules.

Looking Ahead

Those who have been part of the Astar community for a long time might know me as the CTO of Astar Network and someone who was part of the project from the beginning. Yes, I am one of the initial contributors to the network (I don’t like to describe myself as a “co-founder,” and I wish others did as well since it’s not a company). I left the Astar Foundation in early 2023, as this was an agreement I made clear way before the start of Plasm Network in 2019, as I always intended to build on top of the blockchain.

Now, I am the CEO and founder of Team STEP. My role in the Astar Network is to separate it from the Foundation by proposing a governance model as a community member/contributor and ensuring the authority over the network is distributed amongst the true owners, who are community builders like yourselves, and that the network moves towards our vision.

I left the Foundation, so there is no need for a foundation as the central authority over the network. But everything I write here should be seen as an observation and proposal from a community member, not a future statement made by a network C-level member. The only C-level that should matter is the Community.

The Current Astar Community

Astar Network’s online presence has grown significantly in the past year, and I see more and more people talking about our network for different reasons. We see more projects interested in coming to Astar, the Ecosystem Agent Program (previously the ambassador program) is growing, and active OGs from the community now have a prominent role in the Foundation to help shape a better community.


Daily EVM TX (source: Subscan)

But despite the increase in Astar’s presence in the news and social media, the actual network usage does not reflect that. And let’s consider the Astar Forum participation rate. The numbers are even more devastating as there are less than 15 post activities daily, and most people engaged are from the ambassador program. If we consider that the ambassadors are rewarded based on their engagement with the community, I cannot help but question the authenticity and the value added to the network.

Based on the posts made on the Astar Forum, we have about 55 treasury/general proposals and over 130 posts regarding dApp Staking listing throughout the entire two years of history. The latter requires a clear consensus, while other posts are usually conversational or direct announcements from the Foundation. Limiting the forum voters based on their trust level is great, but because we are not putting much effort into increasing the forum engagement, the number of voters doesn’t seem to change too much.

In short, the primary governance platform is the Astar Forum, and the core governance activities are treasury proposals or dApp Staking listing. However, most activities are engaged by a small set of people instead of network engagement increasing alongside the network’s public growth.

Concerns for the Governance

We are seeing a lot of apathy on the governance side, and most of the communication seems one-sided or reactionary by either the Foundation or the ambassadors toward an active proposal. This affects the network’s openness and puts pressure on the Foundation or the ambassadors as the main interface for new network participants (like builders).

Furthermore, I’ve also noticed a lack of consistency regarding how we handle dApp Staking and using the treasury. There is a standard template for opening such a proposal, and in most cases, the ambassadors and community members raise very important points regarding the nature of the proposal. However, there are no rules for what voters should consider before casting their votes or what people should consider before opening a new proposal. It doesn’t help that the pinned posts in most categories are placeholder texts or generic descriptions.

The lack of clarity in expressing our values as a community makes it hard for new people to engage in our governance and attract projects and proposals that share our vision.

Because of this, we see projects practically abusing dApp Staking by promising a grand vision and extrinsic motivations to stake on their project without delivering anything and collecting massive rewards to fund the cycle all over again. Another case is when staker apathy made a project gather a huge amount of stakes and rewards, and even after the project became stale, they were still sitting on the reward, forcing the community to “reset” the stakes.

The Vision for Astar Network

The community votes should not be used to change the numbers we dislike, but they should also not allow those situations to happen in the first place. Projects either get approved or completely lose their right to be staked. When we see a fundamental issue with the protocol’s nature, the community should find and suggest a solution. The role of the network is to encourage and incentivize those who wish to lead such initiatives.

My value for blockchain technology has always been open innovation and giving a chance to those who traditionally could not. The internet allows anyone to be connected through a platform, and blockchain allows anyone to start and grow the platform on which others stand.

Creating a platform for innovators was always the vision I had when contributing to the network, and that is why I took extra care when architecting the network governance, as I have seen so many communities and projects (Web 2 and 3) fail to achieve their collective vision because the power dynamic shifted in an unwanted direction.

Everything will change, but the role of good governance is to ensure that the change is positive. This always starts by establishing a community culture and rules.

As a community member of Astar Network, I propose the following criteria for two of our major governance activities: dApp Staking and treasury proposals. I also open the conversation for others to add to the rules and solidify them into words.

dApp Staking

dApp Staking is meant to be a way for token holders to express their support for a project that enriches the ecosystem and lets the protocol serve more users without fearing the cost of operation that comes with cryptocurrency fluctuations. In short, the more support for your project, the more users you should be able to serve without being affected by gas fees.

What it Shouldn’t Be

  • dApp Staking is not a funding or charity mechanism. Projects must sustain themselves regardless of this, and dApp Staking is only meant to be the last push that makes projects thrive.
  • It’s not a ponzi-as-a-service. Projects should not promise monetary gains to their supporters while financing through the staking rewards without generating new value.
  • It’s not a marketing or legitimization program. Not all projects should be listed on dApp Staking, and we should not set an example that implies that not being listed means “it’s not legit.” Being listed should also not mean the community endorses it.
  • It shouldn’t be a grant program. Projects can have milestones and future improvements, but for them to be listed, they must be ongoing businesses, and small grants or bounties should go through the treasury.

What it Should Be

  • dApps Staking should be the vitamin, not the cure, a booster, or the fuel. Projects should be able to serve more users and add more value to the network through the dApps Staking mechanism.
  • It should provide a platform for projects willing to make something new and be active by allowing the token holders to express their support directly. The real vote comes from the token holders (stakers), not those approving the listing process.
  • It should be the project’s final step, not the first one. We expect the project to improve and change over time, but the stake rewards shouldn’t fund that; it should be their business. The project should be live in production when it gets listed for staking.
  • It should motivate projects to engage in the protocol’s development and the community activities (governance), not a way to inflate our network ecosystem when it does not help with community engagement.

Example Staking Use Cases

  • At Team STEP, we exclusively serve Web 2 users through our solution, and we are building a platform that uses Astar Network (and other blockchains) as the identity and authentication layer. For this to scale better than other solutions, we created an account abstraction wallet that manages all account instances, and we plan to use dApp Staking rewards to fund the wallet for gasless transactions. As a company, we will stake a percentage of the fiat revenue on our dApp. As the number of users increases, we can provide free transactions regardless of the token price while consistently applying buying pressure to the token.
  • DeFi projects could use the staking rewards to populate some of their LP or provide fee discounts for the users.
  • Sufficiently community-owned projects could use dApp Staking as an additional voting mechanism. They mint new governance tokens based on the stakes they receive while populating their treasury with the tokens swapped from the rewards.

Treasury Proposal

The treasury is the core of any governance and the main motivator for community proposals. However, it is the most easily exploitable part of most governance systems (and the main reason such things fail) and must be treated carefully. Because of this, the foundation and the community hesitate to touch the treasury, making it heavily underutilized. However, I think it’s better to be underutilized than abused.

The Astar Network’s governance treasury is accumulated through network activity and inflation. Like any good treasury, it should be used to serve the purpose of the network’s consensus: to increase the value of the treasury. Because part of the transaction fees goes to the treasury, any KPI that generates high fees should be considered directly adding to the treasury’s value. Exceptions could be made for additions that do not have a quantifiable KPI but are considered by the community as undeniably important for the ecosystem (like critical infrastructure funding or technical features.

For Astar governance treasury, we plan to introduce a bounty-based treasury where anyone can open an initiative (bounty) with a budget request, and the council and the average voters will vote to agree on the budget or not. A small set of bounty curators will approve the bounty spending for various matters. Until this system is in place, we’ll treat the treasury as a mix of both approaches and create a common understanding of how we should see the network budget being treated.

What it Shouldn’t Be

  • The treasury should not be used as a project investment fund or as a bribe for influencers. The network does not have a company, so where do the assets go if it invests in a project?
  • It should not be used to fund something that sounds good but cannot be quantified. Proposals must have a clear deliverable, scope, and measurable benefits regarding the treasury returns (how much monetary value is added to the treasury or the network).
  • It should not be a free crowdfunding platform. Projects can only use the treasury to finance their projects if there is a clear and measurable return. Even then, the treasury should see results first and be reimbursed later.
  • It should not be used to fund tools that people think are the “common good.” FOSS tools on the network do not mean they’re a common good. Instead, the common good should mean something mission-critical to the ecosystem’s operation in its absence.
  • It should not be someone’s business model or livelihood. The treasury does not pay anyone’s salary; it only reduces the barrier to creating a network effect.

What it Should Be

  • The treasury should be retroactive and focus on reimbursing the cost for adding value to the network, not funding first and expecting the delivery later.
  • It should be used to maintain the network and ensure a quality experience for the builders and businesses operating on top of Astar Network.
  • It should incentivize corporate builders to open their solution for everyone in the network for free rather than keep it for themselves if enough businesses rely on it.
  • Proposals must have clear and strict KPIs that the voters can agree on. Something like “funding a YouTuber to make a video of us” will not work unless the proposal can add exactly how many active wallets it can increase (with proof) and how that translates to the added value to the treasury.
    • Not everything will have easily measurable outcomes. Hence, proposals should think long-term and include multiple actions throughout a time frame to become measurable (e.g., opening a proposal to fund 10 YouTube channels with x average daily viewers to increase more than y number of new Discord server members).

Example Proposals

  • Starting an Astar hackathon
    • This should only be reimbursed if the hackathon directly resulted in x new projects in the network, which cumulatively spent y amount of gas that went to the treasury (adding to the treasury value). This could be spread across multiple events, measured in accumulation, and reimbursed simultaneously.
  • Funding an indexer or explorer service
    • The indexer should only be funded if the service is completely free for Astar Network builders, and x projects will be affected, resulting in y potential transactions not being served (removing the treasury value).
  • Creating a network governance system
    • The Townhall team and I are working on a unique governance model for Astar Network. This model will contain the voting mechanism, distribution model, treasury system, and the full UI + dashboard for the end users to interact with. We plan to create a treasury proposal (a governance bounty) to fund the project continuously after it goes live. The voters will decide if this is truly a common good system that should be funded using the system we built.

The Astar Governance

As mentioned above, the Townhall team and I have worked hard on the Astar governance for the past year. I will open a separate post to discuss the technical details; however, one challenge we found critical to the development is transitioning from a community culture to rules and establishing a common understanding behind these important governance actions.

In Astar governance, instead of voting with ASTR tokens, we will use tokens staked on dApp Staking as the criteria for minting govASTR tokens that cannot be transferred and will have a diminishing return if not spent on a vote or delegated. This means that the voting power starts from the builders and people who support the builders; hence, it is critical to establish a clear rule and set expectations on who would likely be the active governance participants.

Furthermore, for the treasury, we will be adopting a retroactively funded bounty-based treasury, where the voters will allocate a budget for sub-treasuries and their curators. The curator will be responsible for ensuring that the milestones are met before they can request an additional budget. For similar reasons, the lack of clear guidance on how the treasury should be spent makes it challenging to create a system that perfectly represents our community.

In the treasury example, I list small funding requests like creating online content or hosting an event and large requests like funding an ecosystem infrastructure. Both should be part of a larger bounty with a larger budget. Things like a hackathon or online content generation should be part of a single marketing bounty that could fund ten hackathons and more content creators within six months. The people involved in the bounty must set measurable KPIs and report the progress to the community if they wish to get more budget.

Timeline

I don’t want to make this post even longer, so I’ll keep this short. Regarding progress, we finished designing the voting mechanism (govASTR distribution, burn period, delegation, total supply), the referendum mechanism (proposal batch system, voting period, conviction system), a simulation for various cases, and a defense mechanism to counter any issues. We still need to model the treasury mechanism and the council system before we can start implementation.

Around 40% of the total efforts are finished (modeling and research-wise, I’d say around 80% is finished). Before we propose an on-chain implementation, we will roll out a smart contract implementation with off-chain voting using the Townhall UI and let everyone participate.

The community can expect more posts related to this.

Conclusion

This was a very long post, and I want to thank you for reading it through. I want to reiterate that the rules around dApp Staking and treasury are based on how I think the community should see these features and understand the bigger picture. However, the community consensus ultimately turns suggestions into rules.

Now, I want to open the question to the community members.

What do you think of the points mentioned above? Do you have anything else to bring up that should be part of the rule? How should we update the pinned posts? I want to continue this thread, get everyone’s thoughts, and create a “rule book” that all new and old community members should reference before making governance decisions.

19 Likes

Thanks for so much effort @hoonkim My only concern is about The Council.
I think it is really important having a plural and empowered Council and avoid what is happening with Polkadot Governance - Whales taking control of the chain.

I know Astar has leadership and those are the people who need to lead the protocol until the success - decentralization does not mean lack of leadership.

Furthermore, I 100% agree to this proposal.

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I completely support this. I’m new to Astar, only about a year of even knowing if it’s existence.

I am an actuary, so deal with many of the governance issues you outlined above in my daily work. Much of what you have pointed out would get a regulator breathing down a company’s throat. It is refreshing to see someone tackling these issues.

I’m particularly interested in ways forward with dApp staking. It is massively abused right now, at both a team and individual level. I believe that the change to the V3 model is promoting, not remedying, every issue in your “what it shouldn’t be” section. You’ll have my vote on moving forward any governance initiative that addresses this.

Great write-up.

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Thank you for your post. :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:
I didn’t know CTO is changed, and Don’t know WHO is the CTO of Astar Foundation.
I think this kind of thing is NOT good. BAO communication.

Thank you, again. and good luck for your new post. :four_leaf_clover:
Sorry about my bad post, sometimes. :pray:

Hello , your post about the vision for Astar Network eloquently addresses the essential roles of community engagement, open innovation, and responsible governance in the blockchain ecosystem. Your insights into the nuances of dApp Staking and treasury proposals reflect a deep understanding of the delicate balance between supporting projects and maintaining the integrity and sustainability of the ecosystem. Sounds Interesting

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This is a super comprehensive analysis by @hoonkim & the Townhall team!

Hoon’s acknowledgement as his role as a community member makes it clear that all parts of the proposal are open for deliberation and discussion.
What he highlights are common issues for any network which have no focused on governance. We have seen detrimental effects of the same on a lot of parachains in Polkadot as well as across different networks that claim “decentralization”

dApp staking is core to a lot of what Astar has achieved but its flaws are setting us for potentially dire consequences.

Eagerly awaiting the next steps on this initiative

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Hello Hoon,

Thank you for taking the time to share such a comprehensive update on the current state and future direction of the Astar Network.

Really impressed with the proposed approach of leveraging dApp Staking as a mechanism for community engagement and governance empowerment.
By prioritizing the interests of builders and stakeholders invested in the long-term success of the network. This can truly cultivate a vibrant ecosystem.

I’m eager to see how these initiatives unfold and am excited to contribute to the ongoing dialogue surrounding community governance.

It’s commendable to see Hoon’s dedication to fostering a more inclusive and transparent governance model for the Astar community. Their efforts to involve the Townhall team, known for their expertise in governance within the Polkadot ecosystem, reflect a strategic approach toward building a robust framework. The emphasis on clarity regarding treasury spending and the proposed bounty-based system demonstrates a thoughtful consideration of sustainability and accountability.

In addition to these initiatives, incorporating educational resources to help community members understand the intricacies of the proposed governance model could significantly contribute to its effectiveness. Workshops or tutorials could empower stakeholders to actively participate in governance discussions and decision-making processes, ensuring a more informed and engaged community overall. Moreover, establishing transparent communication channels dedicated to governance matters can foster open dialogue and encourage diverse perspectives, ultimately strengthening the legitimacy and effectiveness of the governance system.

1 Like

@hoonkim , long time no see!

Totally agree with your post. The current Forum posts and votes are mostly from Ecosystem Agents and I don’t think they reflect the voice of the community. I think this is partly due to the incentive design and partly due to the governance culture.

This requires education and the right to vote. Also, as you say, there needs to be clear rule (criteria) setting in governance.

On that note, I have a question that combines this and my previous post.
(If this is included in the technical explanation to be posted in the future, a detailed answer is not necessary.)

  1. In a previous post, the govASTR was obtained by the dApps side and delegated to the community if necessary. Will this be changed so that it is also granted to Staker?
  2. I understand that if govASTR is not used, the returns will be reduced, does this mean that the dApp Staking rewards will be reduced?
  3. What are your thoughts on UCG (Unstoppable Community Grants)? This does not seem to fit with the dApp Staking rules you are proposing. Would you consider this a separate category as a form of grant? ( Although, this was considered in dApp Stkaing v2 and I think it could be redesigned to fit v3).

Dear Hoon, it’s been a while. I haven’t forgotten the valuable time we spent in Japan.

Regarding the content you proposed this time, it might have been difficult for me and other contributors to figure out how to influence it, even though we had a vague idea.

I agree with many of the issues and proposals. I think openness is particularly important in this context. Not all members of the community (I am Japanese, so I’m referring to Japanese members) participate with the same feelings, so there may be a risk of concerns arising from being used in a slightly different way than initially expected.

I believe that dApp Staking and Treasury are mechanisms to support activities to contribute to and grow the network. Your post this time has made it more clearly articulated and I think it has become a trigger for it to be conveyed. (This post itself should be a significant contribution)

One point of concern in rule-making is that users are not people from just one country. In the future, will there be a situation where we have to reflect something that takes into account the nationality and circumstances of the region or area? If it does happen, I’m a little worried that the rules might allow the majority to work through voting and eliminate the minority, which could negatively affect the network.

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The proposed rules for Astar Network’s governance make sure that dApp Staking and treasury spending are done wisely.

They’re all about making sure everyone plays fair and uses resources in a way that benefits the whole community. It’s like setting up guidelines to keep things running smoothly and fairly for everyone involved.

Thank you Hoon!

2 Likes

GM Hoon! This is really great. Highly appreciate your efforts towards ensuring the Foundation operates as a true DAO. Really excited about the upcoming model. The governance structure and plan overall looks really promising. Community can really make or break an ecosystem. #wagmi

So, How about Shiden & ShidenDAO is going ? :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:
And the relationship between Aster’s governance and Shiden’s governance.
I’m worry about Shiden, like you. :four_leaf_clover:
Below is the relevant part.

Thank you for your comment.

I agree with the council. I’m quite mixed between having organizations as a council (ex: Foundation and Startale Labs can only occupy one seat each) or individuals as council members. Each has its own benefits but might not be feasible depending on how involved the council can be. The Townhall team and I will open a new post that specifically discusses the governance mechanism, so I think we can further the discussion on that thread once it’s released.

Thanks for your comments.

We are considering introducing this governance to Shiden first, but the main problem is that there are no dedicated community leaders or a budget to manage the ShidenDAO full-time.
So, if we push the Astar governance to Shiden, I don’t think we’ll gain any interesting community insights due to the lack of activity. It’ll end up as a glorified test net to see if the code works. But ShidenDAO’s true value should come from the fact that it’s a community test net, not a technical test net. If we can get a few community members to dedicate their time to creating ShidenDAO community events and attempt to fund them through the governance process. In that case, we can use that to validate the Astar governance as well.

I am happy to further this discussion.

2 Likes

Thank you for your valuable perspective.

As you mentioned, most of the current participants in the Forum are Ambassadors. This is likely because participation in governance is one of the reward criteria for Ambassadors. Under the current reward system, there is a tendency for 10 short comments to be valued more highly than a single high-quality comment. As a result, Ambassadors have become conscious of the number of comments they make and are behaving accordingly, leading to a decline in the quality of comments (I say this as a reminder to myself as well).

I believe that, apart from the Ambassador Program, it is also necessary to build a community culture where anyone who contributes to the prosperity of the Astar Network is rewarded, regardless of their affiliation with the program.

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I agree with this; hence, the proposed governance model empowers builders and projects that are part of the ecosystem rather than large asset holders.

At the same time, I think many of our community governance activities are not publicized enough, which gives the impression that the Astar Foundation is doing everything in the ecosystem from an outsider’s point of view (which is not far off the truth). I hope this post gets more traction within the community so everyone knows that things are happening and that it’s the best time for those who wish to be involved in the network to have a role.

I think support from the ambassadors is critical in propagating this idea and starting a meaningful discussion.

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I also agree with Hoon Kim’s opinion. However, even if a team has pride, grand plans, and aspirations, I believe the team cannot grow significantly if they have a mindset similar to “Why aren’t you participating? Not for any reward, but to participate for our common purpose.”

In every system involving individual investment (such as trading on exchanges like stocks or cryptocurrencies), there are more people motivated by the reward of profit. It has been proven in the results of many teams over the past few years that they should not be excluded.

The CTO of Astar Foundation is Shaun Wang. It has been communicated many times on livestreams, community calls, etc… Not knowing doesn’t mean bad communication.

3 Likes

Incentivization is the foundation of any healthy organization to move on. So I don’t disagree with your statement. However, the point I wanted to raise was clearly defining the network’s core stakeholders. Even a publicly listed business does not operate solely to benefit the retail investors or common stockholders. It works to ‘reward’ preferred stockholders, the board of directors, and its stakeholders (customers, partners, etc.) in the form of dividends or product value, not asset price appreciation (after all, what is the point of ownership if the only value is to sell it?)

Astar Network does not have ‘dividends’ as it does not have a profit model. Instead, it has a way of quantifying demand from stakeholders in the form of ASTR tokens (blockspace weights, to be exact). But do you know who has (or really should have) a profit model? Projects and companies building on Astar Network.

My point in the main post was that the Astar community lacks a common understanding of what and who we should see as ‘stakeholders’ for which the network functions. I proposed that projects building on Astar Network should be our main stakeholders, and we measure that through dApp Staking metrics. However, because the community voted to list any projects to DS without setting up a clear rule and culture, we see many projects show up and get huge DS rewards without adding anything long-lasting to the network. So we should set up a rule to define what kind of projects should be treated well and how to use the treasury.

This is not to say that we must vote with passion and vision without expecting anything in return, but that we should look at our current situation in the long run and ask ourselves, “Is this alright?” and make this right before Astar turns into another liquidity box (i.e., Ethereum but cheap and fast) like all the L2s and chains we see nowadays before it gets drained by other chains or another bridge hack.