Vocdoni Guild Funding Proposal - 2023

Hello everyone,
I am glad to present to you the Vocdoni Guild Proposal for the Aragon DAO.

Description

Vocdoni’s vision is to improve democratic health and promote participatory governance using decentralized and open-source technology. To achieve that, we are building a censorship-resistant, secure, and transparent voting protocol to facilitate decision-making for communities and organizations regardless of whether they are digital natives or traditional organizations. Moreover, under the light of recent events (e.g. Ooki DAO, Tornado cash), secure anonymous voting is becoming a critical DAO management property. Together with Aragon, we aspire to leverage our technology and offer a universal voting solution not only for DAOs, but the entire web3 space and traditional organizations (web2).

The existing voting protocol is developed on top of the Vochain, a public voting blockchain, as well as a set of tools that facilitate its usage such as an API, an SDK and a dApp. The technology has been used by more than 500 organizations permissionlessly, and by 40 companies and institutions, including FC Barcelona and city councils, as in-house custom projects developed. The protocol has provided them with a secure, transparent, easy-to-use and low-cost voting system.

Vocdoni is requesting $2,256,742 for a 12-month period to advance in the initiatives listed in this proposal, including:

  • enhancement of the Web3 protocol through anonymous, delegated voting and results with verifiable on-chain execution, that will be also made available through aragon.app addressing the crucial security issues in DAO voting (as per Aragon’s 2023 strategy)
  • transition to a proof-of-stake blockchain, that can increases the value of ANT by enabling new potential use cases as staking token
  • creation of a Voting-as-a-service model, expanding Aragon’s umbrella brand and use cases to the entire web3 space and to traditional organizations and eventually bringing more Aragon DAO users (as per Aragon’s 2023 strategy)
Period 12 months (1st March 2023 - 29th February 2024)
Full-time Contributors 12
External Contributors 2
Main outputs • Enhanced Web3 Protocol: Anonymous gasless voting with verifiable onchain execution
- • Decentralization: Transition to Proof-of-Stake Blockchain }
- • Voting-as-a-service: Commoditize Voting
Total Budget Requested $ 2,178,651.93 (USD)
Impact 1. Provide technology for secure off-chain voting that could serve DAOs
- 2. New utility for ANT token (securing the network and governance of the protocol)
- 3. Expand Aragon use cases, focusing on bringing decentralized governance to traditional organizations (web2).

Context

The Vocdoni project was founded in 2018 aiming to create a decentralized digital voting protocol. In 2020, adaping to the changes brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic by pivoting from a mobile app to a more accessible web app. The web app was used by the largest cultural association in Europe for its General Assembly and election, with a census of over 180,000 members.

In January 2021, the project was acquired by the Aragon Association and has continued to provide voting technology for both the web2 and web3 realms, the most outstanding being:

  • Develop and Mantain Aragon Voice, a DAO proposal voting platform.
  • Release of the new voting dApp for traditional organizations.
  • Implementation of 14Fruites project, a digital survey that allowed for the first time, holders of government-issued digital certificates to vote securely, on top of a decentralized infrastructure that we distributed across many external stakeholders, including universities and private organizations.
  • Carry out the first official and fully digital voting process organized by a public institution in Spain, the city council of Bellpuig.
  • Release an alpha version of anonymous voting

Additionally, in the past six months, the team has been working towards becoming a protocol-oriented company, focusing on developers and integrators as its target user. To achieve this and to drive adoption, we released a new API, SDK, and developer portal. At the same time, we improved our protocol by simplifying it and making it more robust, modular and composable (refactoring the census package, reducing dependencies from 3rd parties protocols (IPFS), adapted to the new Tendermint release and removing legacy code) and added anonymous voting capabilities to our dApp. Paving the way for the transition to an infrastructure and protocol player, we closed several partnerships and collaborations with international projects and integrators, including Orbis, Decidim and BLOOCK.

The strategy followed to this date, has positioned the project as an important player in the local market attracting high-profile Web2 clients such as the Barcelona Football Club, the Official College of Engineers of Catalunya, and city councils such as Bellpuig and Bisbal d’Empordà. Those projects helped us gain press attention, which only in 2022 amounted more than +800 unique impacts on media outlets worldwide, as well as appearances on TV and Radio.

In the Web3 space we delivered Aragon Voice, an Ethereum dApp that allows gasless token-based voting. The dApp allowed the Aragon community to perform significant voting processes to define the future of Aragon. Leveraging on this experience, our next challenge lies in providing the Aragon DAO with a cutting-edge anonymous voting tool that fulfills DAO security requirements.

You can read more about the project’s history here.

Strategic Approach

Vocdoni’s main technological innovation is the creation of a censorship-resistant, secure, and transparent voting protocol. Our roadmap will provide all the necessary security gurantees that such a complex application requires, embracing Aragon’s initiative to lead on governance security. Under the light of recent cases, such as Ooki DAO, secure anonymous voting is a necessary property for DAO governance. Based on that premise, and according to Aragon’s objectives for 2023, we will upgrade our usage of zk-SNARKS technologies in the protocol, enabling seamless off-chain anonymous voting with delegation support and off-chain gasless voting with on-chain verifiable execution.

In the same direction, we will transition our voting blockchain (a.k.a. Vochain) to a proof-of-stake model, strengthening its resistance to censorship and improving the protocol’s sustainability. This work will open the door for utility applications of the ANT, which will serve as a validator staking asset, making the Vocdoni protocol one of the core components of the modular governance hyperstructure Aragon aims to build, with ANT at its kernel. Finally, in the domain of verifiability, which is a key governance security attribute, we will collaborate with the Research guild (AZKR), to integrate a zkBridge and a zero-knowledge voting aggregator (based on OVOTE) into our protocol, to deliver on-chain voting validation – meaning that transaction data (votes/results) available in our L2 voting blockchain can be verified on-chain by anyone, making it auditable, reliable and transparent.

At the same time, however, we will work on ensuring that the protocol can be universally accessible by establishing a Voting-as-a-service model based on the new API and SDK. While decentralization and web3 technologies lie at the core of our protocol, we have always been committed to delivering decentralized governance tools to every organization or collective in need of these tools, irrespective of their technical capacity. This allows us to contribute to the Aragon Governance strategy by expanding the technology use cases to traditional organizations. Our work would enhance compatibility with the needs of corporations, non-profits, jurisdictions, and other types of traditional organizations, to empower easy adoption of Aragon’s stack.

As we work towards becoming the de-facto standard for secure and anonymous voting infrastructure, we are focusing in the short term (2023) on learning and fast iteration by performing voting processes with soft legal requirements (low-stake). By leveraging integration partners, we will improve our product rapidly, test usability, and validate product-market fit. Meanwhile, we will start opening up the VaaS model by establishing even more key partnerships with networks of integrators, leading web3 governance projects and social participation platforms. On the Web3 space we’ll focus on bringing voting capabilities to DAOs through aragon.app, as well as to social dApps and protocols (Gitcoin Passport, Orbis, Lens Protocol, etc.).

Our medium-term strategy focuses on low-volume/high-margin income by maximizing organic growth through external integrations and networks of distributors and consultants. Having our technology validated, we will be able to host mid-stake participation processes, and build a feature-rich VaaS. Please see the following section of the proposal for more information on our partnerships. As our primary revenue stream, we intend to charge usage fees at the protocol level. As a secondary revenue stream, we will offer consulting and integration services to large organizations (such as FCB).

To ensure the necessary technological components of the voting protocol are built with security and user-friendliness in mind, the company adheres to a set of design principles including Composability, Accessibility, E2E verifiability, Trustlessness, Free and open source, Resilience, Scalability, Anti-coercion and Automatization (click here to know more about those principles).

Primary Initiatives

Enhanced Web3 protocol: Anonymous gasless voting with verifiable onchain execution

Impact: Lead on governance security - Anonymous DAO voting - Aragon’s Strategy to Become a Governance Hyperstructure

Enhancing Web3 compatibility is an essential goal, as it allows for seamless interaction between the Ethereum blockchain and our digital voting protocol, making it usable and production-ready for DAOs. To achieve this compatibility, our team is focusing on the use of zk-SNARKS technology to enable off-chain gasless voting with verifiable onchain execution, while making it available as a voting plugin for aragon.app in collaboration with the Product Guild.

To facilitate this process, the Vochain will act as a distributed register, where Ethereum users can associate their Ethereum address with a new ZK identity and/or delegate their voting power to another existing account. This identity can be used to build a ZK census, which contains a list of ZK identities of Ethereum users registered in the Vochain. The census can be created using a ZK census relayer service integrated into the Vocdoni stack, which allows for the creation of a SNARK-friendly census from the current Ethereum data snapshot in a flexible and programmable way. Upon completion of this feature we will work together with the Product guild to create the corresponding voting plugin for aragon.app, enabling anonymous offchain voting with onchain execution.

Once the census has been created, participants can cast their votes using the zk-SNARKS anonymization mechanism available in the Vochain. Once the election is finished, the results can be sent back to Ethereum using the Vocdoni zkBridge. This bridge allows for the creation of a validity proof, demonstrating the validity of a batch of Vochain block headers by proving the correctness of signatures for active PoS validators over a set of state transitions. The validity proof can be uploaded to Ethereum and other networks able to verify a ZK-proof, and once the roots are verified, any data contained within the Vochain state tree (such as election results) can also be uploaded to Ethereum by providing a valid Merkle proof.

In addition to enhancing Web3 compatibility through the creation of a zkBridge, our team also has the goal of integrating an OVOTE-based mechanism into the Vocdoni Protocol. This Vochain extension would validate vote transactions and generate a proof demonstrating the validity of an election result for a specific census and a number of registered votes.To integrate this mechanism into the protocol, together with the Aragon Research Guild (AZKR), we will introduce changes to the OVOTE protocol, aligning it with the specific needs and constraints of the production Vocdoni network. These changes may include modifications to the cryptographic techniques used, the structure of the census, or the process for generating and validating proofs.

Increase decentralization: Migrating to Proof-of-Stake blockchain

Impact: New opportunities for the ANT as utility token

The main purpose of our optimized for voting blockchain (Vochain) is to register and manage votes in a transparent and verifiable manner.

Migrating the Vochain from Proof-of-Authority to Proof-of-Stake (PoS) will further increase decentralization by distributing the trust among the network. In PoS, validators are chosen to create new blocks and validate transactions based on the number of tokens staked as collateral. This incentivizes validators to act in the best interest of the network, as they stand to gain or lose depending on their actions.

Utilizing the well-established ANT as a staking token will further increase the credibility and attractiveness of the voting protocol to Web3 users. At the same time, this would benefit the Aragon community by attracting more interest to the ANT, as well as providing it with a strong utility use case. The details of this work should be refined by a multidisciplinary and cross-guild group of experts, including those with background in tokenomics.

A native protocol token will gate the interaction of the users with the Vochain. A protocol fee, in tokens, will be charged for creating elections, based on parameters such as census size, duration, etc.

Voting-as-a-service: Commoditize Secure Voting

Impact: Expand use cases, focusing on bringing decentralized governance to traditional organizations - Aragon’s Strategy to Become a Governance Hyperstructure

With the goal of becoming the “Stripe of voting”, our work will on making the voting protocol accessible and easy to use for third-party projects and developers. The API and SDK are key components in achieving this goal, as they allow for easy integration of the voting protocol into existing solutions. The developments contribute in creating a compatibility layer with traditional organizations, facilitating their integration in the Aragon ecosystem.

The API and SDK will be enhanced to provide a more professional level of service and achieve the full potential of the Voting-as-a-Service (VaaS) product, the Vocdoni team is working on refining the business model, expanding our partnerships strategy (focusing on integrators and web3 projects) and improving the usability of the tools. A UI templating system is also an important aspect of the VaaS offering, as it allows projects to quickly and easily create a tailored voting page without requiring deep technical knowledge.

The developer portal serves as the entry point for accessing the API, SDK, and other resources needed to use our voting protocol. By providing a comprehensive set of tools and resources, we are working towards the goal of becoming the leading provider of voting services and is actively working to build and foster a strong developer community. This community is crucial for the success and adoption of the technology, and we are working to attract developers who can contribute to the platform and shape its future direction.

Other Initiatives

To maximize the success of the primary initiatives, the three following initiatives will increase the use and awareness of the above protocol, as well as the exposure of the Aragon and Vocdoni brands, especially linking them to secure, transparent and privacy-centric governance. Considering the importance of security in the web3 space, these efforts will help aragon to continue building on Aragon’s reputation for security, attracting high stake DAOs.

As a project funded by Aragon and part of the Aragon Ecosystem, we adhere to the official Aragon brand guidelines (outlined by the Aragon Growth Team), which include displaying the “Powered by Aragon” badge on all of our communication assets, websites, products, and tools. It ensures that the “Aragon” brand, strengthened by our contributions, is prominently displayed in all relevant communications and products. We will adhere to this approach until a new version of well-defined guidelines, as a joint effort with Aragon DAO, are established to increase the impact of both main and child brands.

Bootstrap Vocdoni Builders Community: Developer advocacy strategy

One of the most important aspects of a protocol is to have a community of builders who can build on top of it, so that the different components that can be created have a compounding effect and an ecosystem of developers, integrators, and users can be built around the protocol.

To achieve this, we will create a strategy to attract builders through a Developer Advocacy program, which will have various aspects, such as improving technical documentation, creating guides, tutorials, and video tutorials, as well as being more active on social media, attending in-person events, and organizing all types of hackathons, training courses, and bounty programs.

This will be defined by an annual strategy with specific success metrics, with a special focus on the feedback received from developers and integrators in the API and SDK.

Be reliable, secure and compliant: Apply for certifications required to work with traditional companies and the public sector.

To increase the reputation and quality seal of elections organized with our tech stack, we must ensure that Aragon/Vocdoni are recognized as a secure, private, and compliant technology. This is also relevant for obtaining high-stake elections in the traditional world as well as for official government elections, which require a series of formal guarantees to be carried out.

Therefore, one of the initiatives will be to audit the project at the code level, as well as through ISOs that guarantee that the processes and technologies used adhere to the highest international quality standards.

The overall outcome is to ensure the integrity and reliability of our protocol, meet regulatory and compliance requirements and build trust with customers and stakeholders.

Partnerships strategy: Increase the reach & relevance for Aragon/Vocdoni

Our objective is to implement a strong growth strategy to increase the usage of our voting technology, taking advantage of its permissionless and adaptable attributes. To achieve this, we plan to double down on building partnerships with actors that can become users, prescribers, and good fellow companions of the protocol.

We have already begun approaching potential partners, including integrators, governance platforms, and other Web3 projects and protocols. With these efforts, we have seen promising results such as an integrator using Vocdoni to provide digital voting to clients (BLOOCK), an organization using Vocdoni for a referendum with more than 150k registered voters in Germany, social dapps for voting developed during the Web3Social Hackathon (organized by Orbis), a voting module for Decidim (a governance platform with 1M participants, used by hundreds of city councils, governments and organizations around the world). We will continue this activity and, beginning in January, will also be supported by our Developer Advocate.

To date, we have initiated conversations and collaborations with numerous actors, including Zodiac, Gitcoin Passport, Devs on the Farcaster protocol, and General Magic, among others in our pipeline. Our goal is to gain traction organically while expanding our technology internationally through this new approach.

Work Plan

To carry out the previously described strategy, we have prepared a roadmap with the various initiatives and sub-initiatives, each with a defined timeline and considering the dependencies between them, to progress efficiently:

View the roadmap in detail and full resolution here.

By the end of the proposal period, we should have achieved the following deliverables, using the proposed OKRs to measure the success of our work plan and the proposed roadmap to guide our efforts. These deliverables will serve as proof of our success on executing our strategy and the value we have contributed to the Aragon ecosystem:

Objectives Q1 2023

Objective 1: Improve Vocdoni Protocol Web3 interoperability, focusing on Census and Verifiability

  • KR1: ZK-friendly client accounts can be created via the SDK and API
  • KR2: Top 20 EVM-compatible tokens, based on market cap, are supported by our new Census Builder
  • KR3: Voting process results can be uploaded to EVM-based chains

Objective 2: Improve API/SDK security and adoption with integrations tools

  • KR4: ≥5 usage metrics are available to monitor in an analytics dashboard
  • KR5: ≥2 external projects/integrators being able to run a pilot voting process with the new SDK/UI-templating system
  • KR6: Integrate zk-SNARKS Anonymous Voting to the SDK
  • KR7: >80% score in security test suite provided by the DevOps Team

Objective 3: Lay the foundations of the Vocdoni Builder Community

  • KR8: Developer Advocacy Strategy and annual roadmap has been defined and approved by the guild steward, product manager, comms head, and also Aragon’s Developer Advocate
  • KR9: Publish 3 written technical articles or guides, and one in video format.
  • KR10: Improve the Developer Portal experience by implementing the Diataxis Framework.

Team

The Vocdoni team is a highly skilled and development-oriented group. With over 70% of its members being engineers and a substantial combined experience in blockchain, distributed systems, smart contracts, and backend, the team is perfectly equipped to develop and deliver top-quality products and services. In addition to the technical expertise, the team also includes several members with other necessary skills, including product management, communication, marketing, developer advocacy, and project management. This allows us to take a holistic approach to product development, ensuring that their products meet the needs of their customers and the market.

The team is organized into the following key areas:

  • Decentralized infrastructure and blockchain technology (4 members)
  • UI/UX, and SDK development (2 members with the support of 2 external contributors)
  • Communications, Developer relations, and Projects (3 members)
  • Product management (1 member, with 1 new hire).

H1 - Engineering Tech Lead & Co-founder. A computer science and distributed systems researcher with +8 years on mesh networking and 10+ years of blockchain-based projects. Responsible for guiding the high-level architectural discussions for the Vocdoni protocol.

H2 - Engineering coordinator & Guild steward: A ****PhD in distributed systems with 3+ years experience in software development.
Responsible for coordinating the engineering team and also representing the guild as a steward to the Aragon DAO.

H3 - Product Owner: ****A computer scientist with a master’s degree on smart cities, with +15 years of experience in software development & product management.

Responsible for translating the product strategy into actionable tasks and guiding the development team on what to do next and how in terms of reaching product goals.

H4 - Communication lead: A marketing expert and postgraduate in Social Economy Business Management, with 8+ years in blockchain comms and 7+ years in early-stage projects comms and community building.

Responsible for setting, leading and executing the communication and marketing strategy, enabling partnership opportunities and represent Vocdoni as a spokesperson.

H5 - Core & Smart Contracts Engineer: Computer Science, 6+ years of experience on blockchain-based projects. Backend and smart contracts developer. Guest Lecturer at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia.

Responsible for designing and developing the smart contracts that bring the on-chain functionalities of the Vocdoni Protocol and one of the main contributors to the Vochain development.

H6 - Project Manager: A designer with 5+ years of experience on project management, leading different kinds of projects and dealing with customer’s needs.

Responsible for kicking-off and manage projects with clients and partners, as well as bringing the best experience to the costumers. Also provides support to Comms and Ops.

H7 - SDK Engineer: A computer scientist with 12+ years of experience in software development.

Responsible for developing and maintaining the Vocdoni SDK

H8 - Core Engineer: A backend engineer with 6+ years of experience as Innovation Research, focused on Privacy Enhanced Technologies.

Responsible for the development of the zkSNARKs circuits for the anonymous voting and contributor to the Vochain development.

H9 - Core Engineer: A distributed systems expert with +5 years of experience with mesh networks and decentralized systems.

Responsible for the correct functioning of the protocol distributed networks, as well as contributor to the Vochain development and DevOps.

H10 - Lead Developer Advocate: A developer advocate and a programmer with 5 years of experience in developer relations and blockchain technology and 10 years working in IT.

Responsible to lead the Developers Relations strategy bringing the best experience to developers, improving the developer’s portal and the documentation, build and engage the developer community as well as creating events and bounties.

Future Planned Hirings (Core contributors)

H11 - Backend API Developer

Responsible for developing and maintaining the Vocdoni API as well as bringing new capabilities to the API itself and the SDK.

H12 - Senior Product Manager

Responsible for leading the Product strategy for the Vocdoni API and SDK, specify the product requirements, coordinate with the tech and marketing areas and making sure that the needs of Vocdoni users and costumers are meet.

External contributors
Full-stack developer. A Senior developer with +15 years of experience in applications & website development.

Responsible for developing the UI Components and templates to facilitate the integration of the Vocdoni SDK

Frontend developer. A telecommunications scientist and computer science with +8 years of software development experience.

Responsible for developing and maintaining frontends such as the Developer Portal or the Vocdoni Explorer

Funding Breakdown

The total requested funding period is 12 months, from March 1st 2023 to February 29th 2024.

Vocdoni is in the process of creating its own legal wrapper and will use Opex Core AG Wrapper as an OPS service provider (symbolic fee included in Other Opex). Both the team compensation, the yearly bonus & the unexpected expenses have been carried over from the previous conditions. We will be requesting the non-seasonal budget in the first season and it will be controlled by a multi-sig owned by core Vocdoni members.

Yearly Summary
Concept Amount (USD) %
Team Compensation $ 1,268,464.58 56.43
FTE’s 12
Average $ 105,705.38
Yearly Bonus (12%) $ 152,215.75 6.77
Event Expenses $ 102,000.00 4.54
Team Expenses $ 140,400.00 6.44
Total Other Opex $ 49,549.19 2.20
Third-Party Providers $ 192,000.00 8.54
Non Seasonal
Audits $ 150,000.00 6.67
Comms $ 50,000.00 2.22
Legal $ 15,000.00 0.67
Unexpected expenses (~3% of the above) $ 61,038.41 2.72
Total Yearly Budget $ 2,178,651.93 100.00
- - -
Total Season 1 (+non-seasonal) $ 761,420.56 33.87
Total Season 2 $ 494,998.46 22.02
Total Season 3 $ 496,098.46 22.07
Total Season 4 $ 495,350.45 22.04
Total Yearly Budget $ 2,178,651.93 100

Risk and Dependencies

There are some potential risks and challenges that we may face throughout the year. These include security breaches, technological failures, and regulatory changes. To mitigate these risks, Vocdoni has implemented robust security measures, built-in redundancies, and has a dedicated team of engineers. In addition, the company is planning to undergo audits and certifications to further enhance the overall security of the protocol.

The following table summarizes some of these risks:

Risk Table:

Critical risks for implementation
(T: type {T: technological, P: practical, E: economic} ; Sev.: severity; Prob.: probability)

Risk T Sev. Prob.
R1 Product market fit Not able to get traction with our value proposition. E Med. Med
R2 Cryptography high innovation risk We are using cutting edge cryptographic functions that have not endured yet the test of time. T High Low
R3 Sensible market Digital voting is an extremely sensible and controversial topic. Most institutions are risk averse and the media finds it “juicy” to attack. P Low High
R4 Network attacks There are high incentives to attack voting processes and their components. P Med. High
R5 Miss the window of opportunity Multiple technologies make E2E verifiable voting possible now. There are poorly-performing solutions with a shorter time-to-market. E High High
R6 Copies The entire stack is free and open source, allowing anyone to clone it. P Low High
R7 Regulatory Changes Changes in laws or regulations at the national or international level could impact the company’s ability to operate. P Med. Low
R8 External technical dependencies We make use of code and libraries maintained by other projects. Bugs or lack of maintenance of those projects can disrupt our development. T Low High

Risk Mitigation Measures:

R1 Product market fit: Agile based development with fast iteration cycles. New API/SDK strategy. Developer advocacy. Bounties. Partnerships.
R2 Cryptography high innovation risk: Technical audits. Open-source-based development enables constant peer review and, using bug bounties, we can maximize the incentives for hackers and researchers to scrutinize our system. Research and academic papers.
R3 Sensible market: Build a solid reputation. Accurate communication of risks. Legal support.
R4 Network attacks: Decentralized infrastructure. Proof-of-Stake. Censorship-proof design. Strong infrastructure ecosystem. encryption and multi-factor authentication.
R5 Miss the window of opportunity: Aggressive go-to-market strategy. Fast release cycles. Attractive pricing.
R6 Copies: Main strategy: reputed project. In addition, all the code is released with an open-source license. No restrictions on commercial exploitation are currently applied, although we reserve the right to change this in the future if bad practices jeopardize the project.
R7 Regulatory Changes: Legal Support. Address the international market where the risk is lower.
R8 External technical dependencies: No proprietary software is used. Open source development allows our team to take over the “abandoned” project. Risk analysis before choosing dependencies.

Look forward to hearing the feedback on the Proposal!

Thanks,
ManosD

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