Collaboration at scale

As humanity passed the 8 billion mark last week, I got thinking about the role of collaboration in solving some of our most pressing problems.

This is an area of research I’ve been interested in for a while: in college I published a paper trying to answer the question “Can crowdsourcing help us solve wicked problems ?” A few years later, I revisited this question with new lenses: web3 provides us with a new set of tools to tackle civilisation’s most urgent problems.

Collaboration & wicked problems

The problems that will define our future as a species are both global and wicked in nature.

Wicked problems are problems that are difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognise.

Global and wicked problems have one thing in common, tackling them requires collaboration.

To conduct change at the scale and pace needed to solve problems like climate change, we ought to break down the barriers to collaboration — we need better tools for collaboration at scale.

v1 — Online collaboration

The internet was the first unlock - it has enabled people to learn, coordinate and work together independently from national borders. Pre-internet, the number of people we could collaborate with was limited to the people we knew personally and could meet physically. The internet changed that.

Let’s take Wikipedia as an example:

  • It is the 7th most visited website and has democratised access to knowledge for billions of people (2B unique visits a month).

  • It is created and maintained by 31.7M Wikipedians who write articles for free from all around the world.

  • There are 10x more Wikipedians than there are employees of the US DoD (the world’s largest employer).

Despite successes like Wikipedia, certain blockers limit our ability to collaborate at scale — namely :

  • the bureaucracy inherent to the administrative, banking and fundraising overhead of creating an organisation that operates in different jurisdictions.

  • the lack of financial incentives and benefits for participants (often limiting who participates and how much time they dedicate to the project).

  • the lack of trust and transparency of operating large grassroots projects.

Web3 represent the next unlock for collaboration at scale. Web3 enables further experimenting, better incentive alignement and the creation of more public goods.

v2 — Onchain collaboration

Limiting bureaucracy

Web3 enables people from all around the world to pool resources and work together towards a shared objective. With multisig wallets, financial control can be enforced rather than expected. It’s a shift from “don’t do wrong” to “can’t do wrong”.

The biggest crowdfunding campaign to date was ConstitutionDAO, a project that started as a joke, was spun up in under 1 week and raised 48M$ from >17,000 individuals who had a shared objective to buy the constitution of the US. A multisig wallet replaced the need for a bank account, accountants, lawyers and a legal entity. It was spun up in 5 minutes at virtually no costs (except gas).

Now that we can spin up organisations, pool resources and start working together extremely fast and at very low cost - what will we build ?

Aligning incentives

By widely distributing ownership with tokens, web3 facilitates the alignment of incentives for stakeholders (getting rid of the principal-agent problem). By holding tokens representing ownership, participants can financially benefit from achieving their shared objective. They can also dedicate more time to the project as it can complement their income or cover their living costs. This direct model of ownership makes collaboration more scalable.

Now that we can financially benefit from collaborating online - what will we build?

Trust & transparency

Blockchains, the technology underpinning web3, are decentralised public ledgers. They can be audited by anyone (transparent) and they don’t require trust in a central entity (decentralised). Trust is a pre-requisit for collaboration but it is complex and time consuming to develop. Web3 facilitates collaboration between strangers: they don’t need trust each other because they can verify each others behaviour.

Now that we can trust each other without knowing each other - what will we build?

A new tool for collaboration

The internet and web3 can be used for ill-purposes: by facilitating collaboration they also enable collusion. These technologies aren’t fundamentally good or bad, they are a set of tools that should be leveraged to tackle problems to the best of our ability.

Web3 advances collaboration at scale in two main ways. Firstly, it increases scalability of projects by creating financial incentives to participate. Secondly, it breaks down the barriers to participation by decreasing the bureaucracy and not requiring pre-existing trust.

Combined with the internet, web3 offers a new toolset to solving some of civilisation’s most pressing problems.

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