"What was the point of these votes?" - A brief history of the AGP process

In his May 24th annotated edition of Week In Ethereum, Evan van Ness commented on the now-public legal dispute between the Aragon Association (the legal steward of the Aragon project, responsible for managing the funds raised in the 2017 crowdsale and other important community assets such as trademarks, domain names, and social media handles) and Autark (a recipient of several grants to build open source software for the Aragon community).

I’ll leave the response to most of Evan’s commentary and the dispute itself to the Swiss courts to sort out, and hopefully all of the details will eventually be made public so the community can have clarity and closure.

But there’s one comment of Evan’s in particular that I want to address, because I haven’t seen it answered yet and I’m sure other people are wondering too.

Obligatory disclaimer, because of the ongoing legal dispute: I do not speak for Aragon Association board members Jorge Izquierdo and Luis Cuende or the Aragon Association (AA) as an organization in this post. I work as a contractor for the AA but am not directly involved in the dispute and this is not a public statement from the AA about the dispute. This is my own commentary, to try and provide clarity to community members with questions, as someone who has been closely involved with the AGP process from the beginning. Any details I get wrong about the backstory and context around the dispute are my own fault and not the fault of the Aragon Association or my colleagues who work there, and I welcome correction/ clarification (but again, prefer to leave the details to the Swiss courts to sort out at this point - this thread is not intended as a venue for litigating the dispute).

With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s look at the question from Evan’s post:

If Jorge and Luis could decide by themselves to countermand the results of any of those votes without even telling the tokenholders anything, then what was the point of these votes?

First, an aside before addressing Evan’s question: to the point he makes in the above quoted comment about “without even telling the tokenholders anything”, for those who missed it, the AA has already said the reason they chose to keep the dispute private was because they wanted to help Autark have a soft landing as they exited the Flock program rather than make a big public deal about firing them and possibly make life harder for them. (I know canceling a grant is different than firing, but the effect and reasoning for canceling the grant is essentially the same as firing so I am going to use this term as a shortcut for “canceling the grant”.)

This is how firings normally go in companies: both parties remain relatively quiet about it and amicably go their separate ways. Only rarely are firings announced publicly in a dramatic fashion right out the gate. If Jorge and Luis had made a big public deal of the firing back in January when the decision was made, this might have hurt Autark’s reputation and harmed their chances of raising funding for whatever they decide to pursue next. Instead, Jorge and Luis say they tried to keep it low-key, negotiate a severance package kind of deal in private, and amicably go separate ways. They say Autark rejected this, and even rejected a subsequent offer to organize a tokenholder vote to confirm the firing. The lawsuit that the Aragon Association filed in Swiss court recently is the culmination of months of stalled negotiations in an effort to finally lay the matter to rest, and now the dispute is public.

Whether the choice to keep the firing private for as long as they did was a good decision or not is certainly a matter for debate (but not on this thread, please). I can only say that Jorge and Luis had their reasons and I believe good intentions behind the decision and I understand why they made that decision.

But I digress - just wanted to clarify this point because it’s right there in the question and I thought it would be unfair to people just tuning in to leave this point hanging there unaddressed.

Answering Evan’s question about the point of the votes

Now to the main topic of this post, the question at hand, “what was the point of these votes?” Here Evan is referring to the Aragon Governance Proposal (AGP) votes.

To answer this question we first have to go back to the early discussions that led to the adoption of the AGP process. As I mentioned in response to a question about why the AA had a central role in the AGP-1 decision-making process:

AGP-1 was intended as an experimental implementation of an even earlier proposal by Luis Cuende to begin decentralizing Aragon’s governance. The main idea was that rather than making all decisions unilaterally, the AA would make proposals to the community and offer ANT holders a chance to reject the proposals. To further decentralize decision-making, the AA created a process (the AGP process, defined in AGP-1) for the community to suggest proposals that the AA would then review and either reject or put on the ballot for a final community vote.

One thing that was not codified in AGP-1 was what the AA would do in case a proposal that was approved in the AGP process did not work out for whatever reason. While the AA took legal measures to address this in its contracts by including mechanisms to cancel grants that weren’t working out, AGP-1 never specified that these kinds of cancelations should be put to a community vote.

In hindsight the AA probably should have been explicit in AGP-1 about what would happen in case the AA later decided against a previously approved proposal. However it is a somewhat moot point now because ANT holders voted in March of this year to end the AGP process.

Similarly, two things that I don’t think were made clear enough in communications about the AGP process were that AGPs were not by themselves legally binding and the AA could still make decisions without tokenholder input. In some cases, the AA may even be legally obligated to make such decisions on its own.

This tension between the inner workings of the AA as an independent legal entity and the expectations of tokenholders is one of the reasons the AA decided to propose sunsetting the AGP process. The AA learned that mixing an open community, with its uniquely varied expectations and desires, with a Swiss Association that has a specific legal mandate was not a great recipe for success for the project and the people involved, at least not in that format. The AA decided to shift focus to launching the Aragon Network so that ANT holders would have full control over their decisions and no longer be subject to the limitations of AA governance and Swiss law.

So, with that context, to answer Evan’s question: the point of AGP votes was to give ANT holders the chance to veto proposals put forth to the community by the Aragon Association. If ANT holders disagreed with a proposal put on the ballot by the Aragon Association, they could veto it. And to the best of my knowledge, the AA honored every veto. This is in contrast to the pre-AGP-1 decision-making process where the AA made most major decisions on its own, sometimes discussing decisions openly with the community but without a formal way to approve or veto those decisions.

The AA originally thought that AGP-1 would be an improvement on the old way of doing things, and in some ways it was, but eventually decided to iterate again and focus on launching a fully decentralized decision-making tool for ANT holders: the Aragon Network.

I want to thank Evan for asking this question and hope this post clarified some things for him and other readers who were also wondering.