An Exercise In Ethereum Governance: Transparency, Chatham House Rule, And Ethereum 1x


November 30, 2018 11:59 PM

The latest Ethereum 1x meeting, which was conducted under the Chatham House Rule, has some folks in the Ethereum community thinking about the nature of transparency.

As human beings, we must decide how to govern ourselves, from the leadership models we choose to guide our actions to the information we are tasked with disseminating (or not disseminating, as it may be). The latter consideration, information-sharing, has emerged recently as Ethereum stakeholders consider the balance of transparency and privacy within the development space.

Namely, the November 30 meeting to discuss Ethereum 1x, a proposed upgrade for the network, adhered to the Chatham House Rule, which eschews the identities and affiliations of meeting participants. This was reportedly the first call intentionally guided by this rule.

During last week’s recorded session, various core developers expressed differing opinions about the openness of meetings – some thought it unnecessary to make all discussions public, whereas others were simply ambivalent about the nature of meeting transparency. This discussion was broached primarily in response to the private meetings that had occurred at Devcon4 in Prague and the reactions such gatherings elicited from community members.

Lane Rettig, an Ethereum core dev who has publicly published his thoughts about governance, noted during the November 23 call that the line between transparency and privacy is subjective and can be confusing. For one, conversations, especially regarding technical matters, can be misinterpreted or misrepresented by media outlets, as fellow developer Péter Szilágyi maintains. However, a purportedly open community such as Ethereum may want to default to full openness, as ETH Magician Greg Colvin argues.

The Chatham House Rule of the latest Ethereum 1x meeting, then, represents a kind of in-between: the call was not recorded, but unattributed notes of its proceedings will be published. There has been some skepticism, though, like from Nick Johnson of the Ethereum Name Service, who said the meeting was “a step backwards for transparency on ethereum,” or from Parity’s Afri Schoedon, who said he was “very uncomfortable attending a call that [was] not recorded.”

Despite these sentiments, the meeting had record attendance – around 43 at its peak – which is a sizable portion of the approximately 60 core devs around the globe. With the new rule, multiple participants felt like they could speak more freely. Rettig added:

As a journalist, I understand the concerns that folks like Szilágyi have. In an age of – dare I say it, fake news – misrepresentation and downright factual inaccuracies run rampant within the media landscape. This trend certainly applies to the realm of cryptojournalism, too.

Oftentimes, I feel like a voyeur of the Ethereum community, not necessarily a part of it, because of the reportage I’m responsible for. I write stories about Ethereum, and sometimes – especially because I don’t have a technical background – I get things wrong. There’s a distance between the development space and me, not only because I play reporter but also because people don’t always trust reporters.

Yet, as an observer, I say it’s important to have discussions about off-chain governance, which includes thinking critically about how the Ethereum community conveys a sense of openness. Some developers may not believe such considerations are important, especially when technological progress is the main goal, but the approaches developers pursue have consequences. Many stakeholders agree that a technocratic decision-making process would be harmful to the community, so let’s discuss how to prevent that, starting with conversations about meeting transparency.

Daniel Putney is a full-time writer for ETHNews. He received his bachelor’s degree in English writing from the University of Nevada, Reno, where he also studied journalism and queer theory. In his free time, he writes poetry, plays the piano, and fangirls over fictional characters. He lives with his partner, three dogs, and two cats in the middle of nowhere, Nevada.

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