Addressing the challenges of community management in DAOs
DAOs are member-owned communities without centralized leadership.
DAOs are autonomous and transparent: This is because smart contracts lay the foundational rules, and execute the agreed-upon decisions. DAO activities like proposals and voting can be publicly audited.
Hence, a DAO is governed by its members who collectively make critical decisions about the future of the project — such as technical upgrades, business development, and treasury allocations.
Efficient member coordination in these decentralized communities is one of the most challenging aspects of running a successful DAO; This pivotal duty falls on the shoulders of community managers.
Despite leveraging smart contracts and digital platforms, community managers still face the challenges of coordinating humans around a DAO’s goals and mission.
This piece is aimed at addressing the challenges of community management in DAOs by providing insights into three questions:
1. How do we design better onboarding systems that help members build context about a DAO?
2. How do we convert members into active contributors?
3. How do we create opportunities for DAO contributors to build a sense of ownership?
How do we design better onboarding systems that help members build context about a DAO?
Many DAOs don’t take into consideration the need for members to properly contextualize/understand a DAO on their onboarding journey.
Onboarding design for many DAOs looks like this:
- A contributor learns about a DAO on Twitter, Discord, or Newsletter with some catchy copy or announcements.
- The contributor heads over to the website to read documentation that does not fully capture the operations of the DAO. Sometimes, the documentation is too vague to understand.
- The contributor fills out a form stating interest in wanting to join and provides information used to asses if they are a good fit for the DAO.
- The contributor joins the Discord to get involved. This user is met with a host of messages and announcements, a bunch of proposals in progress, and scheduled events that do not help them contextualize the community.
This basic onboarding process is inefficient and does not foster the orientation needed to build context and properly integrate into the community. It is basic, dormant, and is not the best approach to onboarding new members.
Although there are no perfect rules to designing a superior onboarding process, there are certain qualities that must be considered when designing one.
A great onboarding design should:
- Help new members build context for the DAO’s purpose and goal
- Encourage conversation and proactiveness
- Limit disjointed information on joining
- Be structured around ease of involvement
A recurring problem I have observed working and interacting with DAOs is the issue of context building.
Context building is the ability of new members to understand the circumstances, events, and operations of a DAO. Basically, it is understanding the who, why, and how of a DAO and knowing how to operate in the DAO.
Proper context building is important for members to take necessary actions and align properly with the DAO’s goals, priorities, and areas of focus.
For members to build the right context about a DAO, they have to:
- Understand the key goals, directions, and method of operations of the DAO.
- Be able to map and navigate the DAO ecosystem, i.e. they must have a reasonable understanding of the DAO marketplace, competitors, partners, collaborators, and opportunities.
- Know how to get involved and actively contribute.
While DAOs are quick and permissionless to join, context building takes time and usually requires a lot of effort from the members and the community managers. New members need to carry out proper research to build understanding, while community managers must ensure they make the research and learning process as seamless as possible.
Designing an onboarding process that takes into cognizance the human need for contextualizing their environment (in this case, the DAO community) to become familiar is the unlock for this challenge.
To do this, community builders should:
- Design an onboarding process that reframes the navigation, activation, and learning process of new members
- Optimize for a shorter learning curve
- Build an organized and easily accessible knowledge hub to aid knowledge transfer and context building.
2. How do we convert community members into contributors?
Most DAOs follow the 1–9–90 rule. 1% of the members create the community experiences (these are the core builders), 9% engage and actively contribute to building the community, while the remaining 90% are passive, consisting of lurkers and inactive members.
In DAOs, the active participation of community members is as important as that of users to web2 businesses.
Active participation supports the building and expansion of the organization, ultimately leading to the achievement of the organization’s goals and mission.
Community builders are always trying to answer the question: How can we convert members into active contributors?
While there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question at the moment, there are some best practices that can help.
Knowing your ideal community member
Strong DAO communities are very loud about their target audience. One way to break down web3 target audiences is by level of experience:
- Crypto newcomers: Recently joined the space, opportunity seeking, and not very knowledgeable.
- Crypto enthusiasts: Bull market-driven adopters who know enough about the niche they are interested in.
- Crypto natives: Very sophisticated with lots of technical knowledge, value-based investors, seen through multiple market cycles, and are mostly driving the innovations.
Knowing your audience is essential for the following reasons:
- It helps to define your approach to designing and building your community.
- It helps to customize the business and community experience, helping members to align easily with the DAO’s mission
- It helps to provide a clear path to designing community spaces and activities that caters to the specific needs of the community
- It helps builders to be thoroughly informed about the community members which can be used as a feedback loop to better improve the community.
Encouraging active contribution
Every community has a few members who show up more than anyone else in the community and bring a massive amount of passion and energy. They are the lifeblood of your community. Make their happiness your priority.
— David Spinks
As stated earlier, most digital-first communities follow a 1–9–90 rule. When the stats are so skewed towards ‘inaction’ what steps can we take to encourage more participation?
One of the best ways to encourage proactive participation is by recognizing active contributors. This sets up an organic fly-wheel within the community. Active members get recognized and this encourages more members to contribute and take responsibility resulting in more active members in the community and then the flywheel rotates again.
Make it as easy/attractive as possible for others to engage (suggest topics, remove friction, celebrate people who engage, help solve their problems)
There are many factors that keep lurkers in DAOs from becoming active contributors. The community builder’s role is to identify these barriers and remove them.
Community builders must create novel ways to add more value to lurkers and inactive members alternatively. Community managers must also make it easy for them to participate or get value out of the community by:
- Iterating on the pivotal decisions, most popular discussions, and upcoming events from the community.
- Providing easy access to the community knowledge base. This should be addressed in the onboarding process as easy accessibility to the community knowledge base reduces the friction of sourcing needed information.
- Designing intrinsically and extrinsically motivating benefits for active contributors, highlighting them, and nudging members to take action.
- Asking for feedback on how to improve the overall community experience.
3. How do we create opportunities for contributors to build a sense of ownership?
Most DAOs want to achieve a set state of decentralization, community governance, and active contribution from the onset, but in reality, this is only achievable when contributors develop a sense of ownership within the DAO.
Fostering a sense of ownership among contributors is key to retaining key contributors and participants in a DAO.
When contributors have invested enough of their time, resources, and energy to a DAO, they grow a sense of the ownership mentality that primes them for active contribution in the long term. Community builders must then create avenues quickly to sustain this sense of ownership in the community. This can be achieved by:
- Identifying enthusiastic and high-value contributors, and assigning them to key community tasks. These are members with a unique set of skills, high reputation, and high performance.
- Allowing active contributors the opportunity to influence and participate in key community decisions, discussions, and forums of importance. The goal here is to ensure that community members feel heard and get empowered to have a real impact on the future direction of the community.
- Providing open opportunities for members to take on contribution opportunities. The key here is to make opportunities readily available across all spheres of community operations.
- Giving contributors opportunities to take on more responsibilities via community leadership roles such as running workshop groups, leading community proposals, or managing new vectors of community businesses. eg. MetaCartel’s Paladin role.
- Rewarding contributors with vested tokens/network ownership for their work, commitment, and the value they bring to the community. For example, Index coop’s full-time retention proposal.
Fostering this sense of ownership among community members and contributors is the key to retaining key community contributors and fostering more active contributions.
Conclusion: The Future Of DAOs
We are still in the early days of understanding how to better design and effectively build communities for decentralized organizations.
Tons of research work and funding is presently being allocated to building innovative and better coordination systems for DAO community operations.
As of the time of this writing, there is still no clear-cut winner — no single DAO has fully cracked the decentralized community building code.
Nevertheless, it is exciting to see new solutions emerge, ones that will guide the next generation of community builders to create better-decentralized communities that fully satisfy the needs of DAOs.
Written by Barnabas Atam — Contributor to the SixthsenseDAO blog.