It has been over a year since Astar Network launched and more than four years since we started building.
It is breathtaking to see how much the ecosystem has grown. Since we started development on Astar Network (previously called Plasm Network), we have aimed to create a public and decentralized smart contract platform that billions of future innovators can rely on. We believe in decentralization because having a democratic platform where innovators and parties who contribute to the protocol can voice their ideas and get rewarded for doing so is the best way to scale the network to achieve our vision. I am working hard to create a governance model that works for the Astar vision and the community culture, which will be my primary focus until the foreseeable future.
I write this post to share with the community how we see Astar’s governance and our plans for decentralizing Astar Network. I hope this clears up any uncertainty and that everything written here is not set in stone. I am always open to discussions and suggestions.
The State of Decentralization
Astar Sudo Key
Let’s first address the elephant in the room. Astar Network did not remove the sudo account. We, the core team at Astar Foundation, are managing the sudo key as a multi-sig wallet that is shared amongst the management team. We are very open about the state of the network or how it’s managed, and we do not intend to remove the sudo pallet at this stage.
We take decentralization and on-chain governance very seriously, as that was our vision from the very start. Because removing sudo signifies the start of decentralizing our network, we do not want to remove it before we can prove to the community that we don’t have any superuser in the network in all senses of the word.
You can find the full sudo calls here for transparency: https://astarnetwork.notion.site/40a578d5c8964de4817066804d660509?v=1c0eaae8c96444fda346fb562f9c8794. I apologize for not making things public and explicit earlier. This was an honest mistake from our side as it flew above our heads. The community deserves to know everything, even if everyone won’t check it.
The last thing we want is to remove sudo and pretend the network has no central authority even though the core team still has the ultimate power. This brings up to my next point.
One of the advantages of being a Substrate-based blockchain is that it has a lot of modules built by the community and other ecosystem players. The pallets used to form Polkadot’s on-chain governance are also part of the publicly available pallets, which means any parachains and Substrate-based chains can use the same governance tools on Polkadot for their networks. Because the Polkadot governance was thoroughly researched, I see many projects being tempted to use the governance tools on Polkadot directly in their networks.
However, we believe that every community and ecosystem is built differently. Therefore, every protocol should have a different governance model that fits its vision.
Based on my observations, many parachains that removed sudo and have a council to promote that they are decentralized are still centralized in practice. Most, if not all, parachains still have a council seat and the tech committee that the core members occupy. The core team still owns the maintainer rights to the GitHub organization, moderation rights to their forums and Discord, exclusive access to their internal workflow, domain ownership, and the final saying in where the project goes. I do not see how a project has functional governance if the major ecosystem players have less power than a single centralized organization.
Achieving a high level of decentralization for a parachain is challenging, and I will be the first to admit that Astar is highly centralized. But we are no more centralized than other networks that removed sudo or introduced democratic council members, as ultimately, the core team still has the final saying. We want to set the right expectation for decentralization and not pretend to be democratic when we are not. So when you see a project that promotes itself to be decentralized, ask, “How are they decentralized?”
We take decentralization very seriously, and removing sudo should be the first step toward a functionally decentralized network. When we remove sudo, we are telling the community that there is no ruler of the network; only democracy can decide the fate of the network. We do not wish to remove sudo before the suitable governance model for Astar is publicly announced. This may set the wrong impression that the network is decentralized when in reality, it is not.
Instead, I am carefully researching our unique governance model that will push the network players to expand in the direction that aligns with the Astar vision. This research has been ongoing for more than half a year, and we have been working with various professionals in and out of our ecosystem to model this.
The research has been going very well so far, and we should be able to showcase our full governance model in Q3 of 2023. After that, we will take a quarter or two to implement the model to the runtime, which is when we can remove sudo using our governance model. So expect sudo to be gone by the end of this year or early next year if everything goes well. Though, because of the dependencies involved, I won’t be surprised if this gets delayed.
Also, I want the democratization of Astar to be a community-centric process, which means that I am working on this outside of the Astar Foundation with other parties, and the core members’ opinions of the model will be treated with the same weight as the opinions from the community. Astar governance will not work to satisfy the interest of the Foundation or any other entities.
Exceptions With Sudo
In case of increased external regulatory pressure, we will have to prematurely remove the sudo pallet before the governance model is introduced to the network, as the continuous operation of the network is more important than anything. But in such a case, we will clearly state to our community that even though sudo was removed, our network governance is not fully operational, and we are not decentralized.
The Astar Governance
We don’t want to slap in a bunch of governance pallets from Substrate (or OpenGov) and call it a day. We believe that different networks and ecosystem needs their governance model to make the network function.
So, what type of governance do we want to create? Astar Network is an innovation platform for independent builders and enterprises who wants to program the multi-chain world. So we need a governance model that fits our vision.
Throughout this section, I will outline the core requirements we were looking into when modeling the Astar governance and the high-level features that will form the governance system. Of course, these are just ideas now, and any feedback, concerns, or other suggestions are more than welcome. Nothing is set in stone.
- Builders who provide value to the ecosystem should have a more influential voice than the average token holders.
- The community must be encouraged to contribute their ideas and opinions (vote) to the network.
- The council members must have a substantial stake in the growth of Astar Network.
- The community and the average token holders vote with their ideas, and builders vote with their approval.
And other factors that encourage the community to grow and push them in the direction that builders and innovators are heard.
High-Level Features and Model
- Corporate stakeholder council: Most council seats in the Polkadot governance model are occupied by prominent individuals in the network. However, this will not work in Astar, as we want teams and corporations to have a stake in the network. The council members are expected to monitor and participate in the governance process 24/7, which is impossible for a single person. In Astar governance, organizations or teams with substantial influence or stake (ex: Astar Foundation, Startale Labs, Team STEP, etc.) will occupy one seat at the council table. One company, one vote. With this model, you cannot have multiple council seats with people working in the same company and maintain decentralization.
- Governance token: Astar governance will use governance tokens to represent voting power within the network. The governance tokens will be non-transferrable, delegatable, and automatically burnt if not used within a certain era duration after receiving them. So the governance tokens won’t have any monetary value, and participants can vote without any financial implications while the voting power does not accumulate over time. At first, the voting threshold will be based on Polkadot’s governance model, but instead of voting with ASTR tokens, people will vote with the governance tokens. However, token holders can still open a proposal by locking ASTR tokens.
Build2Vote: How is this governance token distributed if votes require a governance token? I propose that after dApps Staking v3 with staking rankings, governance tokens will be added as part of the reward to the project team. With this system, accounts can only vote on Astar if they build something people support or you stake on a project that allows you to vote. The reward destination account can do one of four things with its governance tokens:
- Use the gov tokens to vote on a proposal.
- Delegate the gov tokens to another account.
- Distribute the gov tokens to its project nominators (and they will be given the same option as the original reward account minus this option).
- Defer the burning period by half the previous era’s duration so they can vote or decide on something more important.
- On-chain ideathon bounty: On-chain bounty is a great program underutilized in the Polkadot ecosystem. In Astar, we will create a sub-DAO with a treasury funded by the Astar governance payroll. This treasury will be used to fund the ideathon bounty, which is an ecosystem event where anyone (with or without tokens) can participate by submitting their ideas and presenting them in front of the curators. Unlike a traditional hackathon, this is an idea hackathon where participants pitch their ideas and research to improve the Astar protocol, creating a product on top of Astar or a business idea. The participants do not have to program (though they need a lot of research and validation), and they will be rewarded from the sub-treasury if the curators think it’s a good idea that needs a team to work on it. Depending on the team, the winning idea will be converted into an on-chain bounty or a treasury proposal. Details for this mechanism deserve their own post, and I will follow up once the idea develops. But the general idea is to create a systematic way to incentivize people to innovate in the network and contribute to the system without being part of the core team.
- Anonymous voting: One of the major issues with on-chain governance is that everything is public, including who votes to whom. This would be unacceptable in real life, which is one of the reasons why on-chain voting participation is low. In Astar governance, we will use various privacy technologies to enable anonymous voting. This can either use zk on Astar or rely on XCM with Manta. The detailed implementation method is still under research.
- Treasury: Please see The state of Astar governance and our development plans - #19 by hoonkim
You can see that there are a lot of new features that will define the Astar governance model. But the features listed here are not set in stone, and implementing all of them does not mean that Astar is decentralized. Instead, decentralization is a gradual process that requires the community’s involvement. I expect many of the features mentioned here to change over time with community input and testing.
For the scope of the genesis governance (removing sudo), we will introduce the first iteration for the three features listed above (Corporate council seat, governance token, and Build2Vote). The other features will be worked on later when the base governance functions as intended.
What’s Not Finished and Dependencies
- dApps Staking v3.
- List of required pallets for the Astar governance.
- Governance action parameters and values.
- Testing and validation.
- Input from the community.
- Governance for listing and de-listing dApps Staking projects (ideally be done by both governance token holders and the normal token holders).
- Refining the Astar tokeneconomics
2023 Q2: Astar Governance high-level model and features
- 2023 Q3: Astar Governance “whitepaper” release, test, and validate the model
- 2023 Q4: Code implementation and roll out to ShidenDAO
- 2024 Q1 ~ Q2: Improve and roll out to Astar Network (remove sudo before or during this phase)
Some of you may recall the fuss about ShidenDAO. One of the initiative’s objectives was to create a decentralized community culture by having fun events, activities, and discussions through the ShidenDAO that were hard to make public on Astar. This was meant to be the foundation for starting and testing the Astar governance that I envisioned. But due to the lack of a dedicated ShidenDAO driver from our team and my resource, the project went a bit quiet. I wish to solve this issue by having a co-owner of the ShidenDAO with an external party (like another parachain, or example).
I still haven’t given up on ShidenDAO, and everything about Astar governance will be reflected on ShidendDAO first, with slight adjustments to fit the vision of Shiden Network. If you wish to get involved in creating the next biggest DAO, please join the ShidenDAO and help us out there! Innovation starts from the community.
Currently, I am the sole driver of the Astar governance project with a handful of important external advisors like people from Polkassembly, Parity, Web3 Foundation, and other projects. Although I regularly update the Astar core team with my intentions for the governance model, I want to ensure that the core members’ opinions are treated equally to the community members. This means that most important discussions should happen on public platforms. I will not allow the Foundation to censor my proposal before the community reviews it, as this is how you create a healthy community. But because I am the sole driver, resource constraints will also be a concern. So please understand if I am not as responsive as I wish to be or if I talk more than I do.