The Project Catalyst Experience: Want to Pick Up a Shovel?

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Catalyst art by Agustina Troiano

For the last six weeks, I have been one of 50 volunteer contributors to “Fund 1” of Cardano’s Project Catalyst. Our work has been facilitated by Input Output, and led by Dr. Dor Garbash. From the first invitation to Fund 1, we’ve understood it as an “experiment in blockchain governance,” with no real funds at stake. Our task was to test the system by simulating a funding round, and to offer feedback at each step of the way.

When “Fund 2” launches this Wednesday, September 16, it will mark the continuation of this experiment. You can learn more alongside all of us and get involved in Fund 2 by registering here.

So, what have we been doing for the last six weeks? Our work has been focused on the challenge statement: “How can we encourage developers and entrepreneurs to build Dapps and businesses on top of Cardano in the next 6 months?”

While responding to that prompt, we have been testing and critiquing the processes and tools that will be used in future funding rounds. All of us, distributed across the globe and bringing diverse talents and viewpoints, have worked through the decentralized community funding process that will support the growth of the Cardano ecosystem at regular six-week intervals. After seeing this process at work, I hope to see these sorts of funding rounds running for a long time to come.

Participants have been able to opt into a “Proposer” role by submitting ideas for the group’s consideration, or as “Community Advisers” who evaluate proposals in preparation for the voting round. Along the way, we have all been able to participate in discussions about individual proposals and about the process itself.

I chose to engage by submitting a proposal. I’ve gotten helpful feedback that pushed my idea beyond where I would have gotten it on my own. Even as a Proposer, I was able to comment on other people’s ideas, and in doing so to form new relationships, start new collaborations, and recognize how my idea fits in among others. In weekly “town hall meetings,” we have gathered as a group to provide feedback on the process, to ask questions, and to learn about next steps.

To help you get a feel for the cadence of things, here is a loose overview of what the process was like for me as a proposer:

  • 8/12 — “Ideate” — first meeting, submit initial proposal drafts
  • 8/19 — “Refine” — specific questions, sharing feedback on proposals, and a chance for initial proposers to take a step back and listen to feedback
  • 8/26 — “Finalize” — take comments from the “Ideate” phase and feedback from the “Refine” phase, incorporate into a revised proposal
  • 9/2 — “Assess” — community advisers provide ratings and feedback on final proposals; all of us continue to think about the process and platform, suggesting changes as appropriate
  • 9/9 and ongoing — Finish the “Assess” phase and prepare for final voting

For Fund 2, there will be an additional “Challenge Exploration” phase before the “Ideate” phase begins. We learned during Fund 1 that it would have been helpful to have some time to reflect collectively on the challenge statement — and this is just one example of iteration at work.

To capture and to facilitate the work of Project Catalyst, we are using an online platform called Ideascale. Ideascale is not yet the perfect tool for the job, but throughout Fund 1 we’ve been proposing ways to improve it. The Input Output team elicits feedback frequently, and takes it well. They are working consistently with the Ideascale team to incorporate feedback and to refine the platform. This work will continue across upcoming rounds.

I hope that the overview I’ve provided here is helpful, and if you still have questions, I hope that you’ll attend the meeting on Wednesday to hear directly from the Input Output team. Starting this week and over the next month or so, we all have the chance to see this process in action.

Beyond what I’ve shared here, I want to spend a few moments reflecting on what it has felt like to be part of Project Catalyst so far, to share more than what we’ve been up to, and to try to get at what this project is all about.

First of all, Project Catalyst has been about people: creating space for new relationships to form, for collaboration, for being successful together. This is not just my impression — a group survey partway through Fund 1 showed clearly that a majority of us most value the opportunity to meet people and work together.

Catalyst is also about process, and often that means patience. Just like the rest of the Cardano project, this work is deliberate, sustainable, and about getting it right for the long term. As such, dedicated daily work matters.

Also like Cardano, Catalyst is about pushing power to new places and making room for new voices to emerge. At every weekly “town hall” meeting, someone new spoke up; each time was a reminder of the depth and variety of talent so many people bring to this ecosystem.

Finally, to use Dor’s words, it’s about reframing “ROI” as Return on Intention, which is broader than Return on Investment. This model of community governance and funding is new and still not yet fully defined. There are different measures by which we might consider a project successful. Here’s what I can say with confidence — Fund 1 met my expectations for progress of our entire ecosystem. There are still open questions and there are still systems to build — and you get to participate!

And with real money on the table for the first time, we might even say that the gold rush is on!

…except that the “gold rush” metaphor doesn’t really work here. All of the observations I’ve shared above keep me thinking about Cardano as something altogether new. I’m reminded of some good debates I’ve had over the years about the relative merits of owning precious metals vs. owning cryptocurrencies. That conversation often leaves me feeling like we’re missing the true story of Cardano. A few recent observations about Catalyst have helped me gain some clarity about where I stand in that debate.

In being about people, the Cardano blockchain creates value as more of us engage with it, as distinguished from gold that is extracted from the earth, often at the expense of other people, before being held tightly. I’ve been to the basement of the Federal Reserve in NYC, where international accounts are held way down on Manhattan’s bedrock, and you can hear the subways running above your head — where millions of dollars in value are exchanged on behalf of nations by attendees who move heavy bars from one end of the room to the other. Cardano is surely a departure from that.

In being about process, Cardano is not about an end itself — accumulation and withdrawal of resources — but about patience and daily attention to a world full of real, ever evolving, people. Gold conserves wealth, often at the expense of people. Conservation is a good choice within certain bounds, but when it limits the potential of other people, we have to rethink that. Cardano is built to create wealth, and, I hope, to support community members to invest in each other. Cardano is a social and financial operating system for a positive sum game, and as such can hardly be compared to a zero-sum asset like gold.

In allowing new voices and use cases to emerge, Cardano is about inclusion and it is designed to have real utility in daily life for billions of people. Listen, I get it that gold has some real world utility in industry, but be honest, how many people actually have access to those processes and tools?

So, is there any sense in calling Project Catalyst a gold rush? In at least one way it is. Anyone who comes along and picks up a shovel has an opportunity to get involved, and even to make a good living. It’s just that this time, if everything goes well, we’re not going to leave ghost towns in our wake, but thriving communities, capable of things that we’re only just beginning to imagine.

There are plenty of questions still percolating through the Fund 1 community. Some are technical in nature and others are big and broad. To name just a few:

  • Will a critical mass of participants see this as a positive sum venture?
  • Will good ideas attract attention on their own merit?
  • Will fruitful collaborations continue to emerge when there’s a much bigger group of people involved?
  • Can this whole idea of community governance even work in the real world?

If you can’t tell, I’m excited to find out over the next six weeks, and hope you are too. Just in case you missed it, here’s that link for getting involved — we hope to see you on Wednesday!

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Journeying toward decentralization with Cardano |

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