I gave this short talk at the Decentralized Web Summit in August, 2018. (It was livestreamed on YouTube.) Below is the full text I prepared.
I work for a privacy nonprofit called the Zcash Foundation. We exist to support technology that puts people in control of their own financial information. We focus on stewarding the cryptocurrency Zcash, in collaboration with a separate, for-profit startup that you may know as the Zcash Company. The Foundation also works with independent cryptocurrency miners and developers.
As a protocol, Zcash is a lot like bitcoin. The biggest difference is that Zcash includes a cryptographic innovation called zero-knowledge proofs, specifically zk-SNARKs, which makes robustly private transactions possible. Zcash isn’t perfect and it has significant usability problems that are still being worked out, but we think it’s the best technological approach to financial privacy.
Part of the Foundation’s role in the Zcash ecosystem is to assess what the community at large wants for the future of the cryptocurrency. During June we held a governance process that was intended to enable broad participation while also limiting ease of manipulation. The results of the process were not legally binding, but they have already influenced the Foundation’s strategy and will continue to shape our choices as an institution.
Here’s how the governance process worked. The Foundation’s leadership decided to curate a list of people who they knew were central to the Zcash community. We reached out to those people directly to ask them to join a Community Governance Panel. We also solicited applications from the world at large on various social media channels and the Zcash forum. I personally contacted the most active forum commenters via private messages.
In general, one-on-one outreach was the most effective for getting people to sign up, but public solicitation also worked. Only two applicants were rejected: A known scammer who has burned the Zcash community before, and a sketchy-seeming opportunist. The Community Governance Panel ending up totaling 72 people.
Once the Panel had been assembled, its members voted using encrypted ballots on a system called Helios. We know who voted, but we don’t know what their individual choices were, except for a few people who voluntarily disclosed their votes. 64 of the 72 voted, which is 88% turnout. The user experience of Helios was confusing for many participants, so that’s something we’ll try to address next time.
There were six policy ballots, and the most common topic among them was the future of Zcash mining. The ballots had been proposed by community members on GitHub. In retrospect, we could have guided the ballots better, since people complained that they were either too vague or too specific. In addition to those votes, the Community Governance Panel also selected two new Foundation board members, from a field of nine candidates.
Overall, the governance process was a success, not because it went 100% smoothly but because the Foundation learned so much about how to do a better job next time. The whole user experience and how we communicate expectations will be streamlined. In particular, we hope to include more voters from outside of the United States and Europe. I wish I could go into oodles of detail, but if you’re interested, our recap blog post explains everything!