This post aims to get start a discussion and solicit thoughts from a diverse set of stakeholders in regard to the funding, structuring and organisation of research & development (R&D) by on-chain treasuries.
Everyone in the community is familiar with the Web3 Foundation and its role in the ecosystem. From the website:
We fund research and development teams who are building the foundation of the decentralized web.
Our industry-leading research team confronts the most difficult research problems standing between us and Web3.
Web3 Foundation Research is being done in an in-house research team, mostly located in Zug (Switzerland), as well as in collaboration with industrial projects and academic research groups.
In the Ethereum community, Vitalik’s blog - where he discusses questions, challenges and abstract concepts sets the temperature for the ecosystem and can be seen as a core driver of ecosystem innovation - it drives value, simply by inspiring people with his essays…
Research and development (R&D) funding is defined as expenditure on research, mostly in science and technology, that results in new products, processes and understanding. It includes research undertaken by, and funding from, public and private sectors UK Parliament, Research and Development Funding Policy
Researchers are driven by curiosity – by a desire to ask fundamental questions about how the world works and why – and by a drive to solve problems at the intersection of knowledge and societal need.
By supporting research, we advance the frontiers of knowledge, increasing our understanding of the world and of each other.
We form global collaborations and alliances.
We invent the highly disruptive new technologies which can transform the world around us,improving living standards and health outcomes.
And we use these insights to tackle the greatest challenges facing the world – those that cross boundaries and impact on our whole society.
Since the technology is so new, there are very few certainties or relevant experience, other than that gained by simply ‘doing’. As a result on-chain R&D covers every area of a live project and indeed its relationships within an interoperable environment - from maintenance to upgrades, from moderation to media, governance to real world adoption - it is in simple terms, the knowledge acquired through the mere existence of contributing consistently within a network of peers.
On-chain R&D can be delivered by individuals, teams or collectives and is focused on time spent asking questions, researching problems which then develop into core insights, which resolve as projects and recruitment of talent and the packaging of teams that then feed into public treasuries.
In this regard it feels like it occupies a different space to the more ‘off-chain’ R&D that feeds into the distributed systems work of the W3F and the software project overall. Currently both Kusama and Polkadot projects tend to fund projects - the R&D, as with most organisations is not costed.
The area of is R&D is perhaps one of most divisive, hard to explain and indeed value. This is not just a challenge within the Polkadot domain, it is generally been one of the biggest challenges faced by individuals, companies and institutions, since most R&D leads to dead ends, does not have immediate or obvious applications and commercial exploitation may be years, or even decades in the making.
R&D is not domain specific - it exists everywhere, even if the terms and language may change. What is more, it is generally recognised that major innovations within industry domains come from those who may not be experts, but who recombine ideas from outside the status quo to present perspectives that are not obvious.
My own particular experience has been in Edgeware where the community felt my contributions were valuable enough to fund, but it was always difficult to explain and hard to value. I was charging for time spent actively sourcing, developing and coordinating proposals, figuring out on-chain governance processes, and trying to organise a fully decentralised network of holders - new territory.
The ecosystem is funding an external R&D organisation (Messari) - but there is maybe a path to developing our own on-chain R&D, as first noted in Creating the Messari of DotSama.
Beginning the journey in Kusama, again, R&D is a difficult thing to present - and it can cause friction, since it seems that there is payment for ‘no output’.
Yet research and development - blogs, essays and long form writing of both a quantitative and qualitative nature provide us with context, introduce insights and help people to see problems from new angles - that in turn, lead to novel mechanisms, products and services that would not otherwise exist.
The Fellowship’s collective can be seen as an emerging R&D org since the aim is for members to earn a living wage, but its focus is on the core development of the protocol - there is a danger that the lack of engagement of members in on-chain governance and other emerging ecosystem domains, leading to a siloing of knowledge and experience, as those who are best placed to push upgrades miss valuable insights elsewhere.
Would love to hear from W3F and Parity about their processes, evaluations and indeed funding structures and the way they present and/or consider the role of R&D - as well as others who have worked in academia, or may find themselves in quasi R&D position in their native domain or within the emerging Substrate ecosystem.
If we can agree that Substrate/Polkadot represents a melting pot of many different areas (distributed systems/tech/economics/social science/arts to name a few) and that in the case of mainnet deployments we are really discovering and generating new knowledge based on the lived experience of building these social structures, we may more easily figure ways to structure, organise, fund, document and value R&D groups, who will better cross-fertilise ideas and indeed drive forward the development of the ecosystem.
Maybe we can fund R&D, to structure the R&D? This can also be seen as a way to kickstart on-chain collectives who would receive delegations from holders. Open to ideas.