Experimenting with Deliberative Processes in the Collective

Experimenting with Deliberative Processes in the Collective

As outlined in the Path to Open Metagovernance, Optimism takes an experimental approach to the development of the Collective’s governance system. One of our goals for Retro Funding in 2024, is to test a few clear hypotheses in each round, the results of which will inform the design of future rounds and/or other parts of the governance system.

While the Foundation facilitates this iterative process, with the help of the Collective Feedback Commission, any member of the community may contribute to this process. Inspired by a community member’s post, we will test the below hypothesis, among others, during Retro Funding 4:

A deliberative process can allow voters to come to consensus on a subject that would otherwise be difficult to come to consensus on.

More specifically, we want to understand whether voter participation in a deliberative process increases agreement on a contested topic, and whether the resulting decision leads to broader satisfaction and clarity in the Retro Funding process.

We will run this initial experiment as a pilot that could later be scaled to a larger sample size, applied to other parts of the Optimism governance system, and/or expanded to include an in-person assembly, if the preliminary findings are promising. Specifically, we think a deliberative process could be useful in the setting of collective definitions and/or shared values, preventing gridlock between Houses, coming to collective consensus on complex topics, and/or the future creation of critical governance documents, similar to the Law of Chains.


What are Deliberative Processes?

In its modern meaning, deliberation refers to a collective decision making process which aims to reduce the impact of power structures in discussion. In practice, it generally involves a set of three principles:

  1. Informed, structured, and facilitated discussion of pros and cons about a topic.
  2. A process that progresses from individual opinions towards collective judgement.
  3. A recruitment of a representative group to have the discussion. This is mostly achieved through “sortition” (random selection of participants).

Deliberative democracy has roots all the way back to Aristotle but deliberative processes have been flourishing over the past 20 years in local and global discussions (see here for many use cases). This method is currently utilized by the likes of the European Commission (to shape the directive on Food Waste, or the strategy on Virtual Worlds: https://citizens.ec.europa.eu/european-citizens-panels_en), national governments (more than 20+ such discussions have been held on Climate policy), or local governments (1000+ participatory budgeting discussions allowing citizens to allocate public funds to projects from the community).

Tech platforms such as Meta and OpenAI have explored deliberative processes among their users to discuss topics related to governing AI. In web3, Cosmos has experimented with deliberative processes to determine the process and principles for adding or removing chains to the Atom Economic Zone (AEZ).

What are Deliberative Processes Useful For?

  • More Informed Decision-Making: A deliberative process can aid a diverse group of voters with different perspectives and expertise in navigating complex topics without relying on popular opinions, resorting to groupthink, being pressured into conformity, or being driven towards partisanship.
  • Greater Chance for Social Cohesion: Deliberative processes can incorporate varied viewpoints in the process of coming to a shared consensus and promote greater social cohesion between people from different backgrounds. We’ve seen the opposite play out when the community has attempted to come to consensus in the absence of a structured deliberative process.
  • Credibly Neutral Consensus: Structured deliberation gives participants an equal opportunity to discuss and debate the merits and drawbacks of multiple options among a representative sample rather than letting the loudest voices prevail in an unstructured social media debate. This process, facilitated by an expert external third party, can also reduce the influence of special interests (and the Foundation) in the formation of policy.
  • Buy-In: Deliberative processes can increase the legitimacy of decision making via participation in the policymaking process. Voters may be more likely to commit to and/or abide by policies that have been proposed and agreed-upon amongst themselves.

Retro Funding 4 Deliberation

  1. A subset of 50 Round 4 voters will be randomly selected to participate in the deliberative experiment. Randomly sampling individuals to make governance decisions (also called sortition) is common practice in deliberative democracy as higher quality discussion can be had with a smaller, but still representative, sample of the population. We will also experiment with sortition in Round 6.
  2. This subset of voters will deliberate on a topic of relevance to Retro Funding Round 4, facilitated by a team specialized in designing and running such processes (from Missions Publiques and RnDAO). This subset will be provided with balanced information on the topic to be debated in advance of the deliberations. Participants will work in a combination of plenary and subgroup settings across 2 sessions:
    1. Thursday, May 30 from 16:30-18:00 UTC time (12:30-14:00 Eastern // 9:30-11:00 Pacific)
    2. Thursday, June 6 from 16:30-18:00 UTC time (12:30-14:00 Eastern // 9:30-11:00 Pacific)
  3. Between the two sessions, the community will be able to comment on the draft output of the deliberation. Also, the plenary moments of the sessions will be opened to the full set of voters in Round 4. This allows for the broader community to better understand and trust the decision-making process. The full Citizens’ House will ratify the output of the deliberative process before Round 4 voting begins.
  4. The ratified outcome will be incorporated directly into the Retro Funding 4 voting mechanism.

Next Steps

In 2024, you can expect to see a more scientific and interdisciplinary approach to research and experimentation in the Collective (thanks to our new Research and Experiments Lead, @elizaoak.) We’re excited to begin by testing a hypothesis that originated from a community member on the forums, and to experiment with an approach that empowers voters to address contested topics without interference from the Foundation.

The Foundation will share additional details on the specifics of the deliberation on the forum before reaching out to the 50 randomly selected Round 4 voters via email.

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16:30 UTC is 2:30am on the Australian east coast, so likely rules out most Australian badgeholders. Be interesting to see how many of the 50 badgeholders are available at those times.

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amazing. how do I participate in the design team for such sessions?

What is the opportunity space for offering different designs around intended topics?

What might a happy flow of integrating informal information/idea/insight exchange with existing formalized decision making look like?

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Very happy to see that Deliberation is taking place here!!

I’m a big fan of it and have facilitated it IRL, and with Urbánika we are doing a research on DAOifying DAOs which uses Deliberation on top of Charmverse. We presented it in a NEAR track during the ETH Cinco de Mayo Hackathon.

I’d like to help design this experiment. It’s important that some terms and processes are well defined, because Deliberation and Consensus are not very well matched, instead with Consent they are the dream couple.


Obvs there are thresholds in both, but the benefits described above regarding Deliberation occur only with Consent.

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Thanks for raising this @abcoathup. We will give all badgeholders the opportunity to share their feedback async on the forum in between the two sessions, so hopefully that provides an opportunity for badgeholders to engage who are unable to make it.

Moving forward, would love to hear what times you propose for this type of thing that would be most accommodating to everyone (keeping in mind many badgeholders are based in US/ European time zones).

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For this initial experiment, the Foundation is working with the original community members who proposed this idea on the forum, as they are facilitators that have run these types of processes with parties ranging from the European Commission to Cosmos. The process will be kept as transparent as possible and there will be a feedback thread for participants and observers to leave feedback on throughout, which could inform the design of any future deliberative process experiments or implementations.

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Good Works :blush:
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