Proof of Humanity: Ethnographic Research of a “democratic” DAO

Jamilya Kamalova, Sofia Cossar, Tara Merk.

In early 2021, the first Sybil-resistant registry of humans was launched. The Proof of Humanity (PoH) registry and the PoH DAO is the first decentralized autonomous organization democratically governed running on the Ethereum network. To help us conduct this research, we relied on academic articles from a lot of different disciplines, such as political science, digital ethnography, democratic theory (especially literature conceptualizing Western liberal democracies to make sense of our empirical observations and findings), but also studies on blockchain systems and blockchain-based governance.

The problem of this research is: What governance dynamics led to the Proof of Humanity DAO’s crisis and decision to fork?

Our theory was that such a decision came from a persistent governance crisis caused by the absence of strong democratic elements, procedures, regulations, and institutions that could have supported the coexistence of its diverse community rather than leading to its growing and ultimately irreparable division. So we conducted this ethnographic study involving online observation, interviews, events, and institutional analysis. Participants signed community consent forms under BlockchainGov’s research ethics, approved by EUI/CERSA, and agreed to the use and publication of data collected about the PoH DAO community for this research project.

Now, in March 2024, we are releasing an updated version of the research, integrating the feedback received from the community on the originally presented findings.

Read the paper to discover more about our findings! This document is available in English and Spanish.

Download the report here.