Seeking a New Kind of Public Good: Open Call for Proposals

One of many possible positive sum worlds imagined by Hayao Miyazaki

TL;DR: Gitcoin and Other Internet are creating an RFP for writing that makes the case for a future or an existing public goods project (within or beyond the crypto space). Submissions can be sent here by August 17th, 11:59pm Eastern Time.

In addition to submitting your work, anyone working on a piece can join our Public Goods Discussion Group. Share what you’re thinking, get email reminders on submission due dates, and join us for bi-weekly hangouts on public goods. Note, this is purely optional, if you already know what you want to write just submit above!


Seeking a New Kind of Public Good

Toby Shorin, Dena Yago, Carson Salter (Other Internet) + Scott Moore, Kevin Owocki (Gitcoin)

Blockchain-based networks are increasingly involved in a conversation surrounding the development of “Public Goods.” Many in the crypto space are thinking hard about this topic. Even in just the last few weeks, we’ve seen new initiatives to retroactively reward public goods builders. Notably, in Positive Sum Worlds, Other Internet introduced some key perspectives on the topic, asking a couple of important questions:

1) Who comprises our notion of the “public,” and can there be multiple publics served?
2) What values drive our definition of “good” and who determines what’s in the public’s best interest?

Together with crypto’s largest public goods funding organization, Gitcoin, Other Internet saw an opportunity to open up this conversation beyond crypto, to other organizations working in the public’s benefit.

Until recently, the public goods that have been funded in the crypto space have been specific forms of mission critical Web3 open source code. But the crypto community is growing rapidly, bringing on new developers, and a wide range of entirely new collaborators such as artists and activists. As the space expands, we are onboarding more and more communities with new ideas, as well as new shared problems that blockchain tech and cryptocurrencies can potentially solve. 

With the growth of protocol treasuries and powerful decentralized coordination tools, we as a community are facing a new challenge: what types of public goods should we enact? Our theory of public indicates a few concrete answers. Let’s walk through a decentralized, community-led model for identifying important public goods to build and fund.

Define a Public by its Shared Problems

The notion of a public emerged alongside the development of mass print media and democratic nationalism in the 18th and 19th centuries. A public in these terms is a collection of individuals as they relate to an institution or organization such as a state or media. But how should we think about publics in an era of global interconnected networks?

A useful way to think about this is through the situational theory of publics. A public can be identified and classified by shared problems, the extent to which they are aware of such problems, and the extent to which they do something about it. This definition is useful because it cuts across different types of users and stakeholders. Thinking in terms of shared problems expands our sense of “community” beyond any given platform’s set of users or audience. Instead, we start to think about externalities — effects on third parties who did not agree to incur a cost or benefit.

For instance, Web2 platforms have unintentionally created multiple publics (including Web3 advocates and the so-called “Techlash”) which all reject the platforms’ negative externalities.

In the case of the biggest Web2 platforms, these effects include frequent incursions on personal privacy, the spread of misinformation, and the ‘attention economy,’ all of which have fundamentally changed how we relate to one another, and destabilized civic engagement and labor across industries. This has not only affected the internet as we know it, but the world at large. Here, the public is a set of people that goes far beyond those “users” initially addressed by these platforms; it’s everyone who shares in the negative effects. 

So some useful questions to ask are: What problems do we face? How do they unite us with others? Who is trying to solve these problems, and how? And how might our solutions impact — positively or negatively — groups outside of who we are targeting?

Determining the Scope of the Public

This brings up a second way we can identify worthy public goods. When we ask “whose shared problems are these public goods serving?” it’s natural to want to answer “everyone!” But as we know: the future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed. If we as a community are creating goods for a public, we must remind ourselves our own community is not a monoculture. The growing crypto space has diverse needs that exist across a spectrum, from “access to tools” to immediate localized concerns. Public goods are deeply contingent on a group’s shared context, beliefs, and values. 

For instance, supporting infrastructure for local production and supply chains, clean water and land preservation, and improved health outcomes are areas of concern for many communities. These areas are in line with how public goods are thought of in their original contexts of urban planning and governmental design: goods that exist at the lower tiers of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, often infrastructural. Meanwhile, groups with different values might believe in funding support systems for creative and artistic work that doesn’t depend on capitalist patronage. As the crypto space grows and diversifies, so do its needs. As token market caps and protocol treasuries expand, this in turn means greater opportunities to grow and diversify the public goods funding pie.

Self-Determining Public Goods

Ultimately, the idea of public goods in the crypto space poses the following question: how do we proceed with an expanded notion of public that does not subject us to centralized definitions of what is in our best interest?

Our research indicates one answer. We believe that determining public goods should not be a top-down decree. Instead, we need to bring more people into the conversation, hear their concerns, and let specific publics determine what’s in their best interest. In many cases DeFi protocols do not yet deliver on this promise, because “public goods” in this context are centrally determined by concentrated groups versus a broader public. But with Web3, we have both the technological capabilities and moral imperative to not replicate the legacy mistakes of Web2. We can create public goods that produce positive externalities, changing the lives of both token holders, community members and those not yet crypto-initiated. We can create ambitious public works projects that have a positive ripple effect. What might start with one public in mind can be constructed to positively impact subsequent publics. 

If our ambition is to create a new society, let’s build the public roads and parks of the Web3 world. Let’s bridge the chasm between localized communities’ physical needs and blockchain-fueled solutions. Let’s build a positive-sum world where public goods are created by individual communities, for a greater community. Generating value-driven positive externalities for the greatest good.

RFP: Writing about Public Goods

Link to RFP Submission Form

While working together, the teams at Gitcoin and Other Internet realized we share some values: a commitment to communities’ self-determination, making Web3 more accessible, and dedication to building things that benefit everyone. With Gitcoin beginning the process of decentralization, we saw an opportunity to open up the important work of defining public goods with the community.

Because we cannot solely determine what public goods should be, we would like to hear that from you. This is why we are opening a RFP process to reward new, concrete applications of public goods. 

This is a request for written pieces about public goods. The piece may be about an existing public good or service, or a prospective public good that could benefit from Web3 funding and technology. We are specifically interested in hearing from groups and individuals with concrete ideas to share, including those who have already been working in the public’s benefit. 

A great public good should: 

  • Be values-based — it’s in service of a set of values your community cares about.
  • Have longevity — it’s achievable and maintainable.
  • Create positive externalities — it benefits a public beyond an immediate set of users.

Per our own values, we are interested in proposals that address social concerns. It is not necessary to involve of crypto blockchain tech in your proposal, but we are also interested in how these technologies can be used for the public’s benefit. Here are some examples of projects we imagine you might write about.

  • An underfunded maintainer’s experience building their open source software project
  • A squad running a mutual aid group out of its Discord server during the pandemic
  • An artist collective finding ways to leverage new technologies as galleries closed down
  • A local community working to create green space in their neighborhood
  • A loyal group of customers helping mainstreet businesses during the downturn
  • A group of employees making a case for their company to get involved in funding public goods or creating positive externalities
  • Any group or organization in web3 thinking about ways to scale their public goods efforts

How can we enable broad and equitable financial prosperity? How do we enable others to do more with what they have, without extracting from them? How do we encourage groups to coordinate together rather than defect? These are just some examples of questions your work might answer.

Piece Requirements

  • Roughly 1600 words maximum (don’t feel the need to count to the word).
  • Should showcase an existing public good or service you are a part of, or make a case for a concrete new public good you’d like to see in the world.
  • Submit by August 17.
  • Submit as a Google Doc here.

Selection

  • Selection committee will select several of the pieces.
  • Each selected group will be rewarded with 1 ETH and have their work republished.
  • Any participating group will have the opportunity to share their work with the broader Gitcoin community.

For good measure, just so you have everything you need:

Submissions can be sent here

Join the discussion group and get email reminders here

And thank you again to all of our judging committee members below:

Committee Members

  • Ellie Rennie, is Professor and Principal Research Fellow at RMIT in Melbourne. She researches social and policy questions arising from automation technologies, including blockchain.
  • Yancey Strickler is an author and entrepreneur. He is the co-founder of Kickstarter and founder of the Bento Society, a global community of people exploring what’s valuable and in our long term collective interest in the context of Bentoism.
  • Sara Constantino is an interdisciplinary social scientist at the School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, researching the intersection of behavioral economics, decision-making and psychology, political ecology and social and environmental policy.
  • Nathan Schneider – Nathan Schneider is a professor of media studies at the University of Colorado Boulder. He writes about cooperative enterprise and new economic forms.
  • Xena Ni is an artist and civic technologist who builds for public institutions that serve everyone. She has worked at Nava, Alloy, and CodeforAmerica, was a founding designer at Propel, and is the founder of progressive technology consultancy Trestle.
  • Cierra Peters is Communications Director of Boston Ujima Project, a democratic member-led organization building a community controlled economy, with a mission to return wealth to working-class BIPOC communities.
  • Dena Yago and Carson Salter are co-founders of Applied Arts, a strategic consultancy that builds narratives, and explores cooperative engagements between creative practitioners and commercial clients. Salter earned a Masters at MIT’s Program in Art Culture and Technology, Yago was previously co-founder of the trend forecasting collective K-HOLE. They are ongoing collaborators of Other Internet.
  • Scott Moore is a co-founder and community lead for Gitcoin a platform and DAO for building and sustaining digital public goods.
  • Toby Shorin, is a co-founder of Other Internet, an applied research organization building social technology. A leading cultural analyst, he has co-authored and edited a number of influential articles in the crypto space. 

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