Setting Guardrails and Best Practices for Partnerships

Hey friends, thanks for getting involved in this important conversation.

The recent discussion of a controversial matching fund partnership has led to a healthy discussion of how partnership decisions are currently made at Gitcoin. The assessment of a potential partnership historically has been done using a 2 axis decision making matrix. On the X axis is the amount of potential funding and on the Y axis is the legitimacy or credibility of the potential partner.

The problem with this system is of course the qualitative nature of assessing legitimacy or credibility. That being said, generally this process has served us well as an informal way to discuss the potential benefits and trade-offs of a partnership. There has also always been discussion about potential partnerships amongst contributors and team members. The sensitive nature of negotiating contract details has made it challenging to meaningfully engage the community more fully in this process and doing so after a contract is finalized seems counterproductive in terms of the time and energy spent on business development and relationship building. So what do we do?

Much of my background is in non-profits and civil society organizations, many of these kind of organizations have partnership policies that exclude whole industries or sectors from consideration for partnerships. I would like to propose that for the Gitcoin Grants Program we take a similar approach. For example weapons manufacturers, hate groups (like the KKK for example), the tobacco industry and fossil fuel companies could be excluded from consideration for partnerships as part of the quarterly grants program if that is what the community believes would be appropriate.

This would not mean that these companies could not use Gitcoin Grants Stack tools or build on top of Allo Protocol, the open source code that makes everything possible. What it would mean is that these potential partnerships would not be tied to our quarterly grants program, nor would they be highlighted by our main Gitcoin Twitter account (aka “Momma Gitcoin”) or other primary communications channels like our email newsletter.

I see the Grants Program like the top of a funnel of engagement. For many it is the first exposure they have to Gitcoin and the first way they get involved and experience the magic of quadratic funding as a funding mechanism. This could be as a donor, a grantee or a matching fund partner.

Now that we also have the ability for anyone to run their own grants program using our tools we are working on how best to support those that wish to move along this “funnel” from experiences in our program into other ways to engage with our tools directly. This includes supporting those who skip over that first step and go directly to using Grant Stack or even those who might start building something new on Allo. Implementing “guard rails” in the form of some overarching directives for the partnerships team could help us direct the flow of these conversations to the appropriate place and ensure that everyone’s time is well spent.

Even with such rules in place of course there will always be edge cases. For example some ETH Killer blockchains might seem like a great partnership to some and controversial to others. Or a company might not be controversial but their CEO might be problematic in the eyes of community members because of stances they have taken on issues. My superstar colleague @MathildaDV has proposed a detailed structure for how we could deal with these edge cases that takes into consideration the various teams and work streams involved in this process. Kudos for the thoughtful work on this discussion document Mathilda!

So what do you think? In terms of a process for implementing this idea this is what I’m suggesting:

1: It would be great if we could start with further conversation here in the gov forum over the next couple weeks about this idea and what guardrails community members would feel were appropriate.

2: The PGF team could then bring forth a formal proposal based on this discussion for a vote for our token holding stewards on snapshot with an outcome finalized in early october 2023.

3: If adopted this new framework could be in place before our next quarterly grants round and the would determine

Cool?

To be clear this proposal could also change how we roll out existing partnerships as well as new partnerships.

Big thanks to @azeem @connor @Sov and everyone else who helped shape this proposal.

All feedback would be very much appreciated. Please help spread the word to anyone with an interest in this conversation.

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I’m all for this, Ben. Thanks so much for putting the work in to get this initial plan together. It’s especially good to get it from you specifically based on the background that you do have. Would love for us to find a good common ground in how to proceed this way.

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I am a fan of this. Thanks for putting this together, Ben. I’m looking forward to hearing what others think should be excluded and why.

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This is really great, @M0nkeyFl0wer! I am very excited to see these conversations open up, and I’m eager to see what people think of this proposal. I think having clear guardrails would go a long way – what would be important is alignment around implementing them, which is why I’m excited to see this process follow through and to hear everyone’s feedback on it.

Thank you for bringing this forward. Onwards and upwards.

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Thanks for putting this together Ben.

On this 2x2 matrix, I think the biggest point of contention is the bottom right quadrant (pictured above as $$$Coin), projects that have a lot of $$$ but have very little legitimacy.

I am of two minds here.

  1. For projects that Gitcoin actively seeks out or wants to promote through it’s main twitter handle, they need to have some sort of legitimacy to be associated with the Gitcoin brand.
  2. Allo protocol and Grants Stack are permissionless and anyone can use them for their own ends. Gitcoin cannot stop them, nor should they promote them using the product. Similar to how BNB/Tron/AVA/other alt L1s that have the EVM in them extend the EVM network effects, but how Vitalik/Ethereum Foundation never endorsed that/cant stop it… These projects may use the protocols permissionlesslly.

Personally this is the way that, in a perfect world, I would see the prioritization of partnerships.

But reality is more messy. And since Gitcoin is a DAO, different people will have different incentives.

Example: A lead who is trying to make revenue targets may be tempted to pursue projects in the rightward quadrant, I think it is incumbant upon that lead to figure out how to manage the brand risk if/when they do so. In practice, this may mean asking the project to use the permisionless protocol and not use the Gitcoin brand in their marketing (though they could use Allo Protocol/Grants Stack brand, as those are permissionless protocols.)

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Seems relatively easy to engage stewards/respectable program alumni privately for a quick vibe check to me.

Perhaps if thats not formal enough, a brand-vibe-check steward council (which is elected) could be in charge of formally approving which projects go through main Gitcoin brand vs not.

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Yeah I think this would be great to do more regularly. In fairness this has happened with past partnerships at least in terms of informing stewards and contributors of potential partnerships and it led to a fair amount of internal discussion but ultimately didn’t prevent the recent problems. More to unpack there of course in terms of the roll out and framing etc but perhaps that is tangential to consideration of who passes the vibe check and who decides. To me the key question is whose perspectives are we centering and are they representative of what we define as “the community”. This is especially complicated as we seek to be of service to a growing and evolving set of communities around the world.

Perhaps this is where the “sub daos” idea becomes especially important. If the only core rounds were our OSS round and the Core ETH infra round I think this would be a much easier dynamic to navigate and personally i believe this should be the plan moving forward.

That being said association with the Gitcoin brand and participation in the quarterly grants program is a key driver of inbound partnership interest and most people don’t really understand the difference between our core and featured rounds. This is also a communication challenge for us to dig deeper into.

Thanks for weighing in on this ser.

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Where the stewards consulted, informed, or approvers or the decisions? Perhaps this is a good opportunity to define the DACI here.

I personally think each round or set of rounds having their own subdao/brand, and only allowing the most legit brands to roll up to the gitcoin handle/brand, make sense.

One idea here is to call the featured rounds ‘ecosystem rounds’ instead? or ‘ecosystem featured rounds?’ This is more clear naming imo.

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I totally agree with what I am reading. I do want to add that I believe that before brands can associate with the GitCoin brand when marketing, they would need to have a presence in the space where they have made some sort of impact within a predetermined amount of time. Maybe 3-6 months first or so. This doesn’t stop them from participating in grant rounds though. It is just a way to protect the GC brand from malicious attempts of raising funds. This will allow brands to participate while validating their purpose through time.

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This all resonates and I’m excited to see how productive this conversation has been for the team. I agree with the ideal state @owocki proposes with the top vs bottom quadrants but recognize it isn’t that simple all the time. I think it’s really important to make the protocols and products permissionless and not restrict anyone from using them. However, there is nuance in this. Say a scam coin comes to Gitcoin and says they want to run a featured round and we tell them we aren’t able to accommodate them in the round. Does the conversation stop there or do we promote them to run their own round at a different time? Essentially do we incentive them to still use our product but just don’t endorse them or do we not encourage it at all? Where is the line for disengaging with scam coins? This is one of many nuanced scenarios that I think Gitcoin will see in the future to consider.

The second scenario I would consider strongly is what Gitcoin is willing to have as a tradeoff. The DAO contributors, stewards, broader community, partners and grantees should have a clear sense of Gitcoin’s priority. Is it to maximize funding for grantees or is it to work with legitimate partners and which one is prioritized? Based on this conversation legitimacy is the core priority. This is okay but as a result it may result in the tradeoff of having less funding as we continue through a bear market vs increased funding. Yes the ideal is to have both but in reality the DAO needs to make clear what the tradeoff is and communicate that decision clearly.

When it comes to bringing in people to review partnerships…

Seems relatively easy to engage stewards/respectable program alumni privately for a quick vibe check to me.

Perhaps if thats not formal enough, a brand-vibe-check steward council (which is elected) could be in charge of formally approving which projects go through main Gitcoin brand vs not.

I do agree that quick checks on each partner is a good idea and can be an easy follow on step after sharing a partner more broadly with the DAO and seeing what pushback or support happens internally. I think this would be preferable than public forum posts and conversations as it becomes more tricky with grantees and the like as financial incentives do muddy the water a bit (seen by a majority of the grantees accepting the Shell funds).

Overall appreciate the effort this team has gone to thinking through solutions and guard rails. My last small piece of advice is don’t let the guard rails impact the permissionlessness and decentralized nature Gitcoin is working so hard to achieve.

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H frens,

Bloom Network developed a partnership engagement policy for use in accepting funds over $10k from a sponsor.

We made this for when we, crosses fingers, someday are inundated with funding from all kinds of entities. In our context, its purpose is make transparent to our community why the finance team chose to accept funds from an “extractive-spectrum” funder, and to educate funders about what it means to move toward “regenerative”. The screens could be adapted to fit whatever community’s compass.

Oh, no links in forum - you can find the policy by going to our twitter @ourbloomnetwork, following our website url, and it’s linked in the footer of our website under “connect”.

TL;DR:
Here is how using this policy would look like with a sponsor who’s core operations are far from aligned with our values.

The finance team would label them as tier three in our partner engagement policy: “Tier Three is a company that we view as doing some harm, but which has some innovation that can support regeneration that we want to spread to other-use cases.” If the finance team feels the activities that meet our negative screen are countered by the positive benefits of the partnership, (i.e. that it’s still justified we accept the funds), they would be required to discuss with the operations team.

If both teams agreed to move forward with the partnership, we would publish a statement blog post. It would describe [X Company]'s CSR program goals (corporate social responsibility) or whatever program this comes from, alongside our analysis of how greenwashing/whitewashing it is - and specifically what negative screen items the company flags. And we would include a blurb describing what benefits this partnership will have, speaking to our intuitions/knowledge of what we know our community will need to hear about the reasoning to make the decision and implications transparent.

Lastly, there is an education and dialogue process required for accepting funds like this from an extractive company, because we’re required to attempt to move their program “closer toward being regenerative / in integrity”. With companies far into our “Tier 3,” we likely wouldn’t be able to advertise the company itself, but would need to say specifically the initiative the money is from and some analysis of that. It would also require some community process, so some of the funds would need to pay for our people’s time to even engage in that. We might further require an action or change from them on top of money, before accepting funds.

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Gitcoin would probably need a much lighter weight document if you went this route. But it’s helpful for being able to move fast with a small team if there are no concerns, and have a process for a sense-check with a second team that is more in touch on the community level. And/or in Gitcoin’s case, a sybil attack or gaming level.

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As a gitcoin quarterly grants round donor and featured round operator I really appreciate the care that has gone into drafting this proposal, thanks @M0nkeyFl0wer @MathildaDV in particular.

The policy framework looks very high quality to me, and I appreciate the additional nuance added by @owocki highlighting the edge cases - which has made this constructively contrarian viewpoint easier for me to see.

In my experience implementing policies and processes in various growing organizations, and working with dozens of Founders & CEOs, taking a policy- or process-first approach is applying the 80/20 rule backwards: 80% of your effort on the 80% of cases that cause 20% of the problem, and 20% effort on 80% of the problem. The process will involve various additional checks and balances, and will work well for those cases that are very far away from being edge cases, eg very high legitimacy or very low vs. the size of the contribution. But I would argue that those cases are already working well; Shell was an edge case because the community feedback was very mixed.

Instead, why not put 80% of efforts towards the 20% of cases that cause 80% of the problem: the edge cases. So how do we define the edge? IMHO, for almost any funder, there is an amount of funding above which the positive direct and brand impacts of the funding itself will outweigh the negative impacts of the low levels of legitimacy. Conversely, even extremely tiny financial contributions can be worthwhile with a high enough level of legitimacy. Without trying to be mathematically rigorous, this looks something like the top right quadrant of y = 1/x. The exact definition of the “edge case” can be debated, the intention here is to get something reasonably close.

I would also contend that attempting to come up with a generalized process and framework for all imaginable cases can easily take up a huge amount of time, and special cases that don’t fit will come up anyhow. If you already felt the desire to correct my y = 1/x assertion above, then you know how this can happen.

Instead, I would propose that given this is a DAO, there is the opportunity to lean in to using some tools from sociocracy within the Partnerships team in particular, but also more broadly: namely Consent-based decision-making and the advice process.

In practice, when looking at a new partnerships opportunity, this would look something like this:

  1. The partnerships team member interested in initiating the partnership would ask the partnerships team "I think we have the potential to secure $XXX with YYY funder. Do you agree that this is ‘good enough for now, safe enough to try?’
    2a. If there are no objections, we don’t have en edge case, and we just proceed, without extra steps.
    2b. If there are objections, and the partnerships team member sees the partnership as worthwhile enough to justify the additional effort, they initiate an advice process that will either resolve the objections, or scrap the effort.

Depending on the specific case, the advice process may include community consultation, gov forum posts, consulting other gitcoin teams, etc., but that can be quickly determined according to the judgment of the partnerships team member with support as desired.

With just a small shift from control to consent, we can dramatically reduce the amount of work (and therefore cost), while still being able to ramp up when needed.

Just my 2 cents, hopefully they’re helpful :slight_smile:

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Hi Jon, I think this proposal to establish clear guidelines for partnerships in Gitcoin Grants is a commendable step towards transparency and community involvement.

These guardrails will help ensure partnerships align with the values and goals of the Gitcoin community.

Seeking input from the community and token holders further strengthens the democratic process. It’s a forward-looking approach that not only applies to future partnerships but also addresses existing ones, enhancing Gitcoin’s credibility and trustworthiness.

Kudos to the team for this thoughtful initiative!

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Thank you to Ben and everyone weighing in on this great discussion. I’d like to suggest that Gitcoin is an important org for showcasing how web3/blockchain/crypto can actually do good in the world. While we all understand the vital importance of Open Source Software, many people outside the ecosystem are more drawn to the value proposition of a healthy planet, a way to contribute to disaster relief, a more equitable place to work, etc. If we are looking to onboard the next billion to Ethereum, Gitcoin is doing its part by being a place where people can onboard from all over the world and get a taste of how crypto works and how they could be a part of a global community using web3 for good. That’s why I’d consider Ben’s idea of excluding whole industries from matching partnerships, I see this as something that Gitcoin can promote as a global citizen of the ecosystem. That said, I’d turn it around and instead of focusing on exclusion, we can focus on creating more of a sense of building partnerships with organizations that share our values and mission, and then promoting these partnerships as something valuable and special. A related idea is creating a value statement that clarifies the overarching values of Gitcoin e.g., to support OSS as a public good, to help address climate change which affects all of us more and more every day, and to promote an equitable and sustainable way to utilize blockchain tech for good. Having a set of agreed-upon core values will lend clarity to these types of partnership decisions as well as attract talent from the many people worldwide who are looking to engage in yes, cool and exciting tech, but also tech with a purpose, meaningful work and collaboration with a mission-driven organization.

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love this think, thanks for weighing in @DarylEdwards

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Big kudos to @M0nkeyFl0wer and @MathildaDV and everyone else who has put a lot of thought and effort into this. Definitely an important thing for the DAO to figure out, and certainly not trivial.

Exploring/developing a “recognized subDAO structure” is something I proposed on the forum back in June, and I think giving different “interest groups”/communities within Gitcoin (e.g. Climate, DeSci) ownership over partnership decisions is a good idea.

This helps delineate Gitcoin (a DAO developing and maintaining protocols/tools) from communities using those tools to run grant programs. I agree that Gitcoin should continue to operate a marquee grants program consisting of core rounds (Eth infra, OSS, community+edu), but I also think that decentralizing round operations within the quarterly GG program is crucial for scaling.

How to structure and ensure the alignment of these “subDAOs” (or whatever we want to call them) is a question for another post; the question of how to approach partnerships decisions is a subset of that problem.

Whatever framework we land on, I just want to emphasize that clarity about decision-making authority at various steps is of utmost importance. To illustrate this with an example:

Let’s say the DeSci grants program, which is an “independent featured round” managed by the grassroots DeSci community (via democratically elected stewards), is considering accepting matching pool funds from a potentially controversial partner.

The DeSci community that has sprung up around the two DeSci rounds at Gitcoin (GR15 and Beta Round) is a sort of proto-DAO… and it holds a vote (e.g. using Jokerace), where projects in the past round get a vote, and donors to the last DeSci round get a vote. They decide to accept the money.

Now let’s assume that running the DeSci round alongside/within the quarterly Gitcoin Grants program (e.g. in GG19) is something that is very important to the DeSci community because we think that the network effects of being in the quarterly round are important for maximizing crowdfunding efforts.

The next step is for the DeSci community (or its stewards) is to get clarity from Gitcoin itself, whether that means PGF or some other cross-functional group that oversees acceptable partnerships for GG19, on what accepting that money means for DeSci being included in that round.

  • How to notify <group with decision-making authority> of this potential partnership? (or all partnerships)
  • Will we still get some co-marketing if we take their money?
  • Will we be able to promote our funding partners?
  • Will we be included in multi-round checkout?
  • Does this affect our eligibility for support around Sybil analysis, rebates for service fees, etc (if these things were to exist)

These are questions that a subDAO (or recognized affinity group, or ecosystem round, or whatever name you want to call it) would need clear and timely answers to so they could make funding decisions and be upfront with partners about how partnerships would look.

Once more, great work on establishing this framework. Just wanted to share this scenario to highlight my opinion that any community hoping to run grant rounds on GS/Allo as part of the quarterly GG program definitely cares about Gitcoin’s reputation… so it’s crucial we’re clear on how decisions that may impact reputation are made.

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Yes there was a DACI framework articulated at the time as this was being discussed. Perhaps we should revisit that framework moving forward.

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You raise a really good point ser. We have not broken down the role of matching fund partners for featured rounds in enough details for the minimum viable round criteria for featured rounds. We should incorporate the same language we use for the core rounds into that document. Thanks for flagging this.

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Thanks for all the thoughtfulness and consideration that went into your post, Ben. I think this is a great step in the right direction and I’m glad to see this discussion continuing in the wake of the Shell craziness.

One thing I think we should work on that I didn’t see explicitly called out here (and I know @owocki has mentioned this too) is establishing very clear boundaries around the parts of Gitcoin that are credibly neutral and those that aren’t. It feels like the community tends to batch all the parts of ‘Gitcoin’ together when they air their grievances and it can lead to confusion or valid criticism being directed towards the wrong place.

I just put in an MMM request for a graphic that shows these differences with our new logos and branding, which feels like a good start. However, I’m curious if anyone wants to weigh in on how else we can define these boundaries and share them with the community in an easy-to-understand way.

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