Recent Reports on Decentralized Autonomous Organizations

GETTING-Plurality Research Network member, Sarah Hubbard, spent the past academic year as a Technology and Public Purpose Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School. During this fellowship, she spent time researching and convening various stakeholders on Decentralized Autonomous Organizations. Below is a summary of this work with various recently published reports from the Belfer Center.

Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) can be defined as global, digitally-native organizations which enable people to coordinate and govern shared resources and activities through the use of smart contracts on blockchains. The explosive growth of DAOs since 2020 has led to experimentation, speculation, and investment in this emerging organizational framework. There are an estimated 6,000 DAOs as of June 2022, with participation from contributors around the world and an aggregate treasury value of an estimated $25 billion.

Recent Reports on Decentralized Autonomous Organizations

Decentralized Autonomous Organizations and Policy Considerations in the United States

This report aims to serve as an accessible primer for United States policymakers to understand the unique opportunities and challenges DAOs present, and how these organizations may be addressed in the regulatory landscape of the U.S.

Read more: https://www.belfercenter.org/publication/decentralized-autonomous-organizations-and-policy-considerations-united-states 

Towards Equitable Ownership and Governance in the Digital Public Spehere

Cooperatives (co-ops) are organizational structures that are, unlike Big Tech companies, owned and governed by their users. Co-ops have the potential to provide equitably owned and governed alternatives to Big Tech but have been held back by issues which limit them from scaling effectively, including a lack of organizational transparency, effective governance systems, and member accountability.

However, the tooling recently created by and for Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) may help co-ops reach their potential. DAO tooling enables new forms of transparent and immutable co-ownership and governance, and technical and operational pathways for online platforms to organize around principles of equity at scale.

This paper explores how newly developed DAO tooling could help co-ops compete in the online economy. 

Read more: https://www.belfercenter.org/publication/toward-equitable-ownership-and-governance-digital-public-sphere 

Case Profiles of Decentralized Autonomous Organizations

This series of case profiles seeks to compile a few examples of DAOs to illustrate the applications and current use cases of these emergent organizations. Below is the product of semi-structured interviews with 13 DAOs and 22 DAO contributors, combined with digital ethnography research which includes analysis of forums, group chats, on-chain activity, voting records, and documentation. The selection of DAOs took into account a variety of objectives and operating activities based on criteria including influence, team size, maturity, and treasury size. This report does not endorse any organization profiled, but seeks to showcase current examples of DAOs in practice. 

Read more: https://www.belfercenter.org/publication/case-profiles-decentralized-autonomous-organizations 

DAO Harvard Conference

On April 2-4, 2023, the DAO Harvard conference brought together practitioners, policymakers, and academics to engage in conversation regarding the research, legal, and policy considerations of Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs). The conference, hosted by the Belfer Center’s Technology & Public Purpose Project and the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Ethics, convened global participants across five continents here at Harvard University. Topics included:

Day 1 gathered experts across multiple institutions to discuss ongoing academic research efforts regarding decentralized social technologies. Researchers had the opportunity to present their recent work, as well as align on future research priorities.

Day 2 gathered lawyers, academics, and practitioners to identify the current pain points that DAOs encounter when trying to interface with the legal system, understand the current legal approaches being experimented with, and reflect on how legal frameworks could evolve to accommodate their needs. Topics included how various jurisdictions are currently handling incorporation (e.g. Wyoming DAO LLC), liability, taxation, and more.

Day 3 was an intimate gathering of leaders across policy, business, and academia to discuss the role organizations such as cooperatives, open-source communities, and DAOs are playing in enabling equitable ownership and presenting antidotes to some of the harms caused by Big Tech. We also discussed the hurdles these organizations are facing in realizing their potential, and how novel entities like DAOs may improve outcomes in the US.

View the Day 3 recording here. 

View the event webpage here.

Read the event recap blog post here. 

For any questions or comments on the material above, please feel free to reach out to sarah_hubbard@hks.harvard.edu 

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