Structuring support across a full innovation cycle


  • A treasury requiring a simple majority (51%) of votes is a specific funding mechanism.
  • Majority rule is definitively not the best way to encourage and support innovation.
  • Innovation should be understood as a process containing many evolving and interdependent phases.
  • Each phase optimises for specific outcomes but remains part of a cohesive whole.
  • People, cultures and projects fit into different phases at different times.
  • This post presents an outline for understanding and framing these phases.

How Innovation Works

Innovation is not an individual phenomenon but a collective, incremental and messy network phenomenon - Matt Ridley, How Innovation Works.

Current arguments within ecosystems focus attention on large ‘public good’ treasuries.

Whilst influential, these entities are just one component in what can be understood as a phased innovation process that should be structured through the full life cycle of R&D, productisation and go to market, with motivations, oversight, rewards and ROI contingent on the phase and the entity involved.

Lets try and break this down:

Phase Concept Type Process
1a R&D Independent Researchers (individuals or groups) are inspired to follow their own interests - researching, questioning and contributing to an established or emerging subject area in ways that may benefit the wider collective.
1b R&D Supported Independent researchers attract patrons who appreciate their efforts and seek to support their endeavours in some way. This support can be cultural (sharing output), support (non-financial) or financial (donations). Patrons ask for nothing in return.
1c R&D Directed Independent researchers, who may or may not have patrons, are recruited by research organisations to continue their work in a more formal setting, with some oversight. Researchers are selected based on perceived alignments with an organisation’s values, mission or operations. Researchers sacrifice some independence, but gain greater support - primarily financial. They will be managed in some way, with their work assessed and valued by relevant committees. This form of R&D is most commonly found within universities, governments and highly specialised or experimental industries. For many researchers a combination of support, alongside highly prized access to proprietary resources and proximity to other researchers whose work they find interesting leads their decision making. Generally this work also maps to gaining valuable qualifications or certifications such as a phD and producing cited work in relevant publications that establishes status amongst peers.
1d R&D Applied Researchers in the previous groups leverage their insights to make direct impact in active projects, turning theoretical concepts into applied environments, using feedback from these systems to inform the next phase of research and then into application. This feedback loop is the beginning of the productisation of theoretical research into concepts that have a path towards commercial exploitation. .
2a Product Reference implementation When applied research crosses from theoretical to practical, often a reference implementation will be created, to see whether the idea ‘can work’ even at its most rudimentary. Vitalik created the Ethereum Whitepaper which was a research paper whilst Gavin Wood created the Yellow Paper and a reference implementation of the concept.
2b Product Proof of concept When a reference implementation works, it becomes a proof of concept. The basic functions of a system operate as intended in an explicitly limited capacity. For outside observers without a peculiar specialisation, proof of concepts look no different from failures. It may take a number of reference implementations to reach a working proof of concept. This may also be called an Alpha release.
2c Product Minimum Viable Product More recently startup culture has made the MVP famous. MVP’s differ from Reference Implementations and Proof of Concepts given they are an explicit attempt to kickstart some commercial demand for a product or service from a nascent market. This is where we have moved fully from open ended research and into a commercial focus. We now move away from donations and public funding into the preserve of venture capital. This may also be called a Beta release.
3a Product Commercial venture When an MVP moves into practical application focused on a core set of paying users it becomes a commercial venture that must sustain itself and return value to those involved in the project through whatever terms have been agreed during the establishment of a company with involved parties.

Substrate’s emerging innovation support phases and functions

Phase 1a - Independent R&D

Independent thinkers are hard work. They are difficult to manage (they don’t want to be).

They do not want funding, deliverables or any oversight. They would rather be poor.

They want to be left alone to follow their own interests that may or may not later prove useful.

Innovation functions required:

  • A bunch of weirdos
  • Publishing platforms
  • Discussion spaces
  • Digital and IRL experiences to meet other independent thinkers.

Phase 1b - Supported R&D

  • Weirdos → independent thinkers
  • Some out there ideas

Innovation functions required:

  • Mechanisms to provide support via patronage that doesn’t request anything in return.
    • Donations
    • Subscriptions

Phase 1c - Directed R&D

  • Independent thinkers → focused researchers
  • Some out there ideas with some practical potential
  • Mechanisms, social structures and funding processes direct this thinking towards tangible impact

Innovation functions required:

  • Treasury Burn (0.2% of treasury).
  • Web3 Foundation Grants

Phase 1d - Applied R&D

  • Focused researchers → experimental builders
  • Out there ideas → practical potential

Innovation functions required:

  • Mechanisms, funding structures and processes
    • Treasury Burn (0.2% of treasury).
    • Kusama treasury R&D tracks (with fixed budget limits)

Phase 2a - Reference implementation

  • Experimental builders → Developers and Product Managers
  • Practical potential → System design

Innovation functions required:

  • Mechanisms, structures and processes
    • Treasury Burn (0.2% of treasury).
    • Kusama treasury R&D tracks (with fixed budget limits)

Phase 2b - Proof of concept

  • Product managers → Product teams
  • Practical potential → MVP

Innovation functions required:

  • Mechanisms, structures and processes
    • Treasury Burn (0.2% of treasury).
    • Kusama treasury R&D tracks (with fixed budget limits)

Phase 2c - Minimum Viable Product

  • Product teams → Startup teams
  • MVP–> user traction

Innovation functions required:

  • Mechanisms, structures and processes
    • Treasury Burn (0.2% of treasury).
    • Kusama treasury R&D tracks (with higer budget limits)

Phase 3a - Commercial venture

  • Startup team → Go to market
  • User traction → commercial impact

Innovation functions required:


To encourage an innovative culture, we need to understand just how to identify, support and scale that culture through a phased approach that approaches talent, focus and outcomes independently but as part of a cohesive whole.