Fighting a wildfire

There’s been a flurry of discussion in the forums in the last few weeks related to the structure of the ZOMG. We have an impending deadline to resolve these questions in the form of the imminent elections for the new panel.

I have only one purpose in this post: to propose a deferment of the current elections. After almost a year of working on the ZOMG, and working with the ZF since the new leadership got installed, I strongly believe that deferring the current cycle is the best/only move that we as a community can take to avoid a repeat failure of the next ZOMG panel^.

A summary of the topics that are under discussion:

  • Time expectations (need more hours)
  • Compensation expectations (rate per hour is not yet determined)
  • Relationship with ZF (not good. Belittling and dismissive behavior. Unilateral decision-making). This is a critical problem that has downstream effects on everything else the ZOMG does
  • Not many quality grants are coming in
  • Support needed (very significant) and ability to direct the support resource(s) (high)
  • ZOMG has not done enough (even if it is recognized that the time commitment expectations were wrong)
  • Only 1 of the current ZOMG members had intention to run. At this stage, no one seems to be running, or at least they have not posted a campaign post (last i checked)
  • Seat rotation / discontinuity from all members standing for election at same time
  • Should ZOMG be independent? Why? What level of “independence”? (My personal opinion is it doesn’t need to be, at least not yet - but enough people talk about it to warrant adding it to the list)
  • Zcash is facing an urgent threat of irrelevance; the ship for relevance is sailing away. ZOMG was supposed to help with that, they are not doing that
    (^^ Sources below)

These are ten (10!) very big problems/outstanding questions that have not yet been resolved. If the ZOMG is truly seen as an important arm of the Zcash community^^^, important enough to receive the lion’s share of the Dev Fund, does it make sense to launch headlong into a set up that needs basic fixing?

Here’s an analogy: there is a humanitarian crisis in the form of an uncontrolled wild fire. The first wave of firefighters went out to fight the fire, and they discovered that the weather/wind forecast was fatally wrong, the evacuees need a lot more help than just getting on a bus (perhaps some are physically disabled), and their contact point with the local emergency supplies warehouse treats them like they don’t know they are talking about (thereby sending them the wrong supplies or sending them supplies without first consulting with them on the on-the-ground conditions).

What do we do? Should we:

  1. Send more firefighters in, give them a few more hoses, and hope they can fight the fire? Some of the firefighters in the first wave already perished in the fire
  2. Take a pause and conduct an emergency conversation with the firefighters, the weather forecasters, and the emergency supplies warehouse? Figure out the most optimal next steps, and proceed with a plan more likely to succeed?

I think the answer is obvious. Here are the concrete actions i propose:

  1. Defer the election for 3 or more months. The grants program can take a backseat for a short time, especially over the upcoming holiday season where it is unlikely that we will receive many major grants. Or, we could convince a subset of the current panel to continue their work on a reduced basis
  2. Create a special committee to hammer out a coherent recommendation on the best structure for ZOMG going forward, resolving the most important pieces among the 10 outstanding issues. This may or may not involve a revision of ZIP 1014. This special committee should consist of current ZOMG members (voluntary basis), ECC, ZF, and potential ZOMG members
  3. Validate the recommendation through a CAP vote
  4. Run a proper election in 1Q 2021. Off to the races, let’s bring privacy and freedom to the world

If we instead stick to the status quo, letting the election run without any real changes, and hoping that things are different because the people are different - that’s the equivalent of sending more firefighters into the fire.

In addition, it’s safe to assume that with so many issues on the table, some of the candidates that would run today are different to the candidates that would run under a better structure - i suspect with a better setup, we would have a bigger pool of good candidates (while noting that I am very supportive of some of the current candidates). At this existential point of Zcash’s journey in the wider crypto landscape, we can only afford to send the very best firefighters.

If you agree with this, please chime in here. Most especially if you are currently campaigning, or considering campaigning. Please contact the ZF and ECC members that you know. Otherwise, I do not think that the main actors at the ZF will voluntarily do this, as there is heavy inertia and a vested interest in the status quo.

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Postscripts

PS - Zooko first broached the idea of deferring the elections in his post here (Alarm bells! 🚨 re ZOMG), but I was the origin of this deferment proposal. I have been suggesting that to people at the ECC, ZF, and the ZOMG since a few weeks ago. I say this only to remove potential suspicions about Zooko’s motivations. As to what my motivations are, this post should answer the question.

PPS - Why I am not running under the current structure.
(This section is irrelevant to the main goal of this post, but in case you’re wondering why I care about making a strong stance on deferring the elections to restructure the panel, here are some personal notes that may predict what would happen to other 2022 panelists or the 2023 panel if we go ahead with the elections with nothing fixed.)

  • I campaigned for the ZOMG because of a personal passion for privacy and freedom (campaign post: ML for MGRC). I saw serving on the ZOMG as an act of service and contribution. At the token rate of $500/month, my hourly rate has worked out to be $21/hour - the opportunity cost has been very high. A year of service qualifies as having done my part, and I have been very happy to have the privilege to contribute. I would very much like to continue serving the mission of privacy and freedom, but the financial and mental/emotional costs of doing so are too great with the current structure and dynamics
  • I would like to see highly qualified and consistently reliable individuals run, so that we can move mountains together. The current broken structure has undoubtedly prevented quality candidates from running (issues: relationship with the ZF, ECC-ZF spats that have the ZOMG caught in-between, determined forum trolls, compensation, etc). Like with any other job, the quality of fellow panelists and social dynamics have a big impact on enjoyment and effectiveness
  • I see a success case where we can turn things around in the next year: quality grants, DeFi participation, a Zcash that is better connected with the rest of the crypto ecosystem, better inroads to communities that could live better lives with more privacy. We’re going to need lots of work that looks like the whitepaper strategy document (ZOMG whitepaper v1.0), calls with the community to co-create (What to build?), a way to provide more clarity and fairness for applicants (and for them to engage with the ZOMG more easily), a consistent pipeline of quality grants, more transparency / AMAs with the community, benchmarking ourselves against other grant committees and adopting their best practices… the list goes on. Unfortunately, in the current structure, and with the alternating straightjacket and baby’s bib that the ZF is making us wear, I do not believe this future is possible in the next 1 year or longer

To be very clear, it is not all of the ZF that I refer to when i make the above statements. A limited set of certain actor(s) are creating this dynamic, and perpetuating it even in the face of repeated, well-meaning feedback. I believe there are still good forces that ZF that I / we can have a productive, constructive relationship with. I do not want to single out people because I do not believe that is constructive. It is what it is, and the ZOMG have adapted as much as we can, and we continue to try to engage. I / we (the ZOMG) just want to build a better future/partner.

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Footnotes

(^) On failure. I don’t consider the first panel, of which I am a part, to be a failure, objectively speaking. But we have at best achieved 30% of our potential progress in the first year of the ZOMG, and that I personally consider a failure. This assessment does not take into account the fact that we were not set up right. And this is a personal opinion, which I do not think some of the other ZOMG members share.

(^^) Sources for the 10 issues:

(^^^) Significance of ZOMG. For what it’s worth, the treatment from / our relationship with the ZF’s main actors has made us feel small and in possession of little agency. If the goal was to subjugate the ZOMG, that goal has been achieved. If nothing changes, here’s a potentially provocative statement: leaving the ZOMG with 40% of the Dev Fund creates undue risk to a fragile system that is vulnerable to subversion / manipulation from inside and outside.

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@ml_sudo - Thank you for taking the time to write this post. It’s a great summary of the issues, and I understand why you’re proposing to defer the election.

A couple questions: How many of the current committee members recommend deferring the election in order to properly address these issues? Would you and other members consider running for re-election if these issues were resolved during the period of deferral?

If the majority of current ZOMG members support a deferral, I (as a ZOMG Candidate) would support this option:

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While I share some of @ml_sudo’s concerns, I don’t think the ZOMG’s first year has been a failure, and believe the elections can be held as planned.

My priorities for the next ZOMG committee remain these: Amendments to ZOMG and Potentially ZIP 1014 - #29 by cburniske

Everything evolves over time, I don’t think the situation is as urgently disastrous as it’s being made to seem in some conversations.

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You should probably make your own independent decision on this. Most of them are not running; the incentives and motivations are different. Afaik, your personal style/background is also different from some of them.

To answer your other question: if the important issues are resolved, I may run again. I would like to (and may likely do), but in the absence of information about the future now, I can’t say with certainty.

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I agree with your opinion. The election should be postponed for at least one month. I support you @ml_sudo

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Actually, please do. The Zcash investors need to know who are the bad actors.

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@ml_sudo I admire your courage, and I find your post very persuasive. I support your proposed three month delay.

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@ml_sudo, thanks for sharing this. It looks like that there is quite some foundation work to do.

I hope these changes will be done and we keep you.

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I also support delay. Since origin, there was a clear lack of consensus as to how MGRC was to work with ZF. ZOMG was a complete failure. MGRC would have been workable. Appreciate the honesty and objectivity here.

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@lawzec the zomg is not a “complete failure.” I am uncomfortable at your stating as such in this post of yours, and on other threads.

When you say that, it has the impact of

  1. feeling like you’re insulting all five of us, and
  2. it may also make CAP voters wonder if you have the right balance of qualities to lead in the next panel.

On the whole I like your inputs in the forum, but this one goes a bit too far on the aggressive side.

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Thank you for your contributions, honesty and integrity. You are a huge asset to the the Zcash community and mission. I share your concern, appreciation of the significance of the money and time at stake, and personally support the delay as long as there is a clear commitment from the ZF and community to support your other proposed actions (2-4).

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While I did mention in my other post that I think the support issues ZOMG has could be addressed without completely stopping the election. I am also fine with a set-time delay.

My only concern with this approach is that we could get stuck in a endless feedback loop and polls and by then end of a few months (a short time TBH) all issues will not have been addressed and will cause yet another delay.

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That’s why we need a special committee. Without a special committee who has one job of putting forward an actionable recommendation, I’m confident we will spiral into an “endless feedback loop.”

This sort of special committee mirrors the kind that is created within boards for special situations like M&A discussions, or for important but routine topics like compensation or audits.

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Please answer to my first reply. Zcash investors deserves TRANSPARENCY about the shenanigans that are going on. You owe the truth to our community.

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My answer is no, @joris. Given the tribal warfare and immature behavior i see on the forums from some members, I will not feed the mob with more fodder for ad hominem attacks. I don’t know anyone at the ZF or ECC who isn’t trying their best.

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The issue of support is being addressed and the issue of compensation unknown so I wont touch those, nor the issue of your personal relationships (generally good advice). Nobody expected a really smooth first time around and I certainly won’t forget you all but I do feel that the issue of discontinuity (which I think is more inherit than maybe everyone else) demands that we do not defer but get the next iteration up to speed quickly while the five current members can be reasonably expected to help out a little there, not months later. I would see stopping the momentum as a disservice to the work already put in.

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To be 100% honest, I only now, vaguely, remember that you suggested, in conversation with me, delaying the next ZOMG elections. I think when I posted that, I thought it was my idea! :rofl: I know that last year at the advent of the first ZOMG, I talked with ECC and we collectively as a company suggested a 90-day delay to the elections, for a few reasons. The Zcash Foundation quickly agreed to that suggestion, and the result worked out pretty well, I think! We got a strong pool of candidates to apply.

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ML, thank you for taking the time to write such a detailed and well thought-through post. Over the course of today, I have discussed it with the ZF board and with other members of ZOMG.

I remain firmly of the opinion that the ZOMG elections should go ahead as planned.

In saying that, I do not intend to belittle the concerns and issues that you and other ZOMG members have raised, both publicly and in private. Nor do I intend to stymie or prevent discussion about how ZOMG should evolve in the future.

As you know, we are addressing the operational issues that have been raised by hiring more staff, and increasing the expected time commitment, based on feedback from the current ZOMG Committee members (which will also result in a commensurate increase in the nominal compensation amount).

FYI, the current $500 per month nominal compensation is based the ZF’s original assumption of a five hours per month time commitment, at a rate of $100 USD per hour. This rate was based on the fair-market value of a non-technical executive at a non-profit with a yearly budget of $5 million USD a year (which doesn’t appear to have changed much since last August).

We’ve also come up with an idea to begin staggering elections to address the lack of continuity that results from the 100% turnover that can result when everyone’s terms expire at the same time.

With the new staff we’ve recruited, we will also have the bandwidth to begin working with ZOMG to address the problem of a lack of quality grants. Next week, we’ll be meeting with ECC to discuss how we can work together to address that.

And, just this evening, we’ve been discussing with other members of ZOMG how we could use RFPs and bounties to allow ZOMG to access and benefit from technical expertise that may not be otherwise available from ZF or ECC.

At the same time, I want to improve communications and interaction between ZOMG and ZF. It’s become clear that there have been miscommunications and misunderstandings that have led to us talking (or emailing) past one another, and caused resentment. I want to address that by talking more with ZOMG, and making you all feel more like part of ZF.

In short, we are working to make ZOMG work, as it is designed and described in ZIP 1014. I think it’s entirely reasonable to give the changes we’re making an opportunity to take effect. Based on informal conversations, the majority of the current ZOMG Committee feel the same way.

Therefore, we’re going to go ahead with the election, to ensure that ZOMG continues to function, and the changes we’re making have an opportunity to take effect.

Simultaneously, the discussion about whether and how ZOMG should evolve (including whether it should become an independent entity, become a DAO, spend its own funds, etc.) can continue, involving both the former and new ZOMG committee members, as well as other interested members of the Zcash community and ecosystem who want to contribute - i.e. the same constituency that took part in the governance process that resulted in ZIP 1014.

However, in the event that our efforts to make ZOMG work are unsuccessful (for whatever reason), we need an objective way to recognise and respond to that.

Therefore, if, after four months of the new Committee (i.e. mid-March), a majority of the new ZOMG Committee is of the opinion that insurmountable problems remain, we will consult ZCAP about changing ZIP 1014. Should that eventuality come to pass, the ongoing discussion should have produced enough viable ideas and proposals to be able to progress rapidly to a resolution (in the same way that we went from 13 proposals to ZIP 1014 during the Dev Fund process).

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I understand that you believe this is sufficient. I don’t think it is. I would rather run a race, fully prepared, than limp along on a marathon. But i acknowledge we all have different styles.

On the nonprofit management benchmarking, there are two points i’d like to make:

  1. nonprofit board members typically don’t require the skill sets that you require for the ZOMG to be successful (success = adoption of ZEC)
  2. I would recommend we shift our mindset towards “pricing” for value, not for cost: https://www.intercom.com/blog/price-value-not-cost/

In any case, this is not the right forum to hash things out. This is why i said my only goal for this post is to propose a deferment. What we can all agree on is that all of the 10 topics are still outstanding and major; going through a trial and error process (your approach above), instead of re-designing things from the ground up, could be the most expensive mistake the ZF and ECC makes, as unofficial guardians of the ZOMG process.

You may be right, I may be right. The right thing to do is for a special committee to work through the pros and cons of all the approaches under consideration.

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Just for clarification, the plan to to have an open discussion involving ECC, ZF, and members of the community in a panel-type discussion. We’re tentatively targeting September 16th at 21:30 UTC. Registration details will be forthcoming.

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