Thoughts On Blockchain-Powered Governance

While coins are by far the most prominent application of blockchain technology to date, I believe that governance is another area that is predestined to be revolutionized by blockchain technology. Here are my thoughts on how this blockchain-powered governance could work.

Video Transcript

So we made it back today from California. Twelve-hour flight, we landed at roughly 4:00 p.m. All in all, it was a pretty good trip. Beautiful sunset on our climb out over San Francisco. It was a very, very good time to fly out – 8 p.m. So that after an hour or two, I fell asleep but naturally just woke up 10 hours into the flight.

Nevertheless, I have bit more energy and that’s probably due to my jet lag. It’s now close to midnight and I’m sitting at my laptop writing. And I’m thinking about how blockchain applications can change our world.

How the voting system works now

Whenever people get together and they want to accomplish something, they want to act in a common interest. They need some tools to govern their decisions. The way it currently works is we have different types of government systems including democracies, direct democracies…

And Switzerland is often referenced to as one of the most direct democracies there are. While I’m not saying we have a bad system, I think it’s still far from perfect. And I think one key issue is that usually, votes are binary. And I think that’s one key reason why the world is getting more extreme and I think it’s something that we should all try to avoid or think about a bit more and what consequences that might have.

The reason why I say that is, right now in the current voting system, we always only have the option between yes and no. Either we can stick with the status quo, which might not be what we want or we can often go to something completely different. Instead of just adjusting a little bit, we might go 180 degrees in the other direction. And I understand why we only have binary votes nowadays. Because there’s a lot of overhead in setting a vote up, then collecting votes, getting the actual tally and understanding which side won.

A new alternative – blockchain-powered governance

But I think technology, and especially blockchain technology, could help remove some of those barriers. Here’s how I think this could work.

Stage 1: Submit proposals

In the first period, everyone submits proposals. Now, these proposals could look like code, if the whole system is governed by smart contracts, but it could also be just proposals on how to change the law. And we could have anyone submit those proposals.

Stage 2: First voting period

And then there’s a cut-off date, let’s say after 30 days, where proposals are frozen and we have a first voting period. What we do here is we vote on these different proposals. Everyone could have three votes in this process or five or just one.

But we then use either a top X where a threshold X algorithm to cut off the top votes. So we could say something like we’re going to take the top three votes the next round or we could say every proposal that got over 10%, mix it into the next round. And this way the vote that we’re now going to have, the final vote, is not binary anymore.

Stage 3: The final vote

Instead of voting on yes or no or 1 or 0, we can now vote on at least three different proposals. One of them could be keeping the status quo and two could be variations of what we want to change. And so instead of going from what we have right now to the complete opposite because we’re unhappy with the status quo, we would have at least one more proposal which probably goes right here in the middle. It will help us to come to more balanced decisions and not always become more and more and more extreme and move away from each other.

Testing this concept within existing communities

There are a lot of people looking into this. I think one concept is called “liquid democracy” and we at DFINITY, we’re actually building this process into our governance system. So when people vote on whether to adopt the newest version of our client or whether to change one parameter in a software, we use a governance system built into our blockchain technology to come to that conclusion and make a vote as a community.

So I’m super excited about how that’s going to work out for us at DFINITY and as we launch this blockchain technology. How it’s going to help us keep the community around this beautiful piece of technology aligned and keep everyone’s interests in line. But then, I’m even more excited about bringing something like that, testing it first, but then bringing it to a wider community.

And first it could be just used as a community tool but hopefully, at some point, we will see nation states and countries adopt a more up-to-date voting process that uses technology to come not only to 0 or 1 votes, but much, much more elaborate votes that gives us, as citizens, much more balanced decisions.

What if we can vote in real time, on a daily basis, from our smartphones?

And then the other thing that technology will enable us is not only to vote on more proposals or have more balanced decisions, but it will also allow us to vote a lot more often. Because right now, going through a voting process takes quite a while to get the proposals out, send them via mail, get everyone’s votes collected, count the votes and now announce them.

But if we use technology, we could vote on our smartphones on a daily basis or on a weekly basis or a monthly basis. But it could be a much, much more fluid process where we don’t have to put that much energy into actually getting to the vote.

Delegating votes

If we had this system, voting daily, we also have to think about how do we vote. There are certain topics, like human rights, where all of us should participate and vote. We’re all humans, we should all have an equal opinion and a valid point on why we think A or B should be the case.

But then, there are other topics – trade treaties or tax treaties… There are some people that will have a better-informed opinion than others. Maybe I, as a citizen, can’t take the time to become an expert in everything.

So in our current system, the way this works is I vote for a certain party and that party puts a number of people into positions where they vote on my behalf. What if, let’s say for anything that relates to technology, I know a friend who I trust that understands my interests because I’ve had many conversations with him. And he also spends a lot of time thinking about this.

Every vote could have a number of tags or categories that are attached to it and I could say if a vote is tagged with the keyword “technology”, then this person is going to have my vote. So I delegate my vote to him. And now that person can either vote or maybe they know someone else who has an even more informed background for a certain area. So they decide to delegate their vote along with mine to that third party.

The beauty of this process is I don’t just say “okay, this person is best to represent my interests”. So I can say “this person is the best person to represent my interest in this category and that person is the best person to represent my interests in another category”.

Politics 2.0

If you think about it, the idea of a politician is someone who is not a just a citizen anymore but has this more powerful position. Automatically, it creates this situation where their interests are not 100% aligned with mine.

If we’re all just citizens and we all just vote, but sometimes we don’t have the time or energy to dig into a topic deep enough and we can delegate our votes to someone else who maybe doesn’t even know that we’re delegating them, it’s an extremely powerful idea. Because it’s a lot more natural process and it’s a lot more fluid.

Let’s say I delegate my vote to person X and he or she votes on a technology vote and I see what they voted and don’t agree at all. Then I can just switch it. Like, at my fingertips, I just pick up my phone and I change it to someone else. My idea is that we will have this network of people that we think best represent our interests in different areas that we’re voting on.

And it creates this network structure where people who have the most authority in a certain area automatically get to vote for the most people. So I think that would be a super efficient system.

And, of course, I could always override that. So let’s say, up and until 12 hours before the deadline, I could always say “okay, I feel very strongly about this particular vote and I’m just going to vote myself” instead of delegating my vote in this case.


What I would like you to take away from this video is, I think there are some exciting applications of blockchain technology beyond tokens and cryptocurrencies. Voting is one of those areas and interesting to think about what it can do for us and how it can make our world better.

I think there are two major improvements. One is – there could be much more balanced outcomes because we could have multiple proposals and have a very fluid way to get to those proposals.

And then instead of voting on just zero or one, we could have a way to vote on three different proposals or five different proposals and then a much more balanced solution could emerge.

On the other hand, it could revolutionize the concept of what a politician is. Someone who represents our interests on our behalf. I think there should be tags and different categories of votes and there should be certain votes where I always have an interest to vote myself, say human rights, and some very basic votes.

But then I could choose people from my network and delegate my vote to them and they in their place could do the same and delegate votes. And my hope would be that voting will be delegated to those people that have the best precondition and background in order to make an informed vote on behalf of all of us.

I spend quite a bit of time thinking about how blockchain technology could affect our actual lives. And I think voting is one of those areas where blockchain technology could make a big impact.

I’d be super curious to hear what you think, how you think about this and what flaws you see in my thoughts.

And until next time!

You can listen to the audio version here: