A DAO is a bureaucrat

What is Governance?

To govern is to structure the field of action that is possible to others (Foucault, 1982). Groups develop governance practices to deal with risks, which involves setting and enforcing rules as well as shaping outcomes through services (such as health and education). Negotiation and general ‘collective puzzling’ can be part of the process of governing (Colebatch, 2014).

What is a DAO?

DAOs (Decentralised Autonomous Organisations) are typically defined and assessed in legal terms and as a bundle of rules. In Wright’s (2021, p. 155) description, DAOs consist of a ‘network of hard to change rules that establish the standards and procedures of anyone interacting with, or taking part in, a DAO’. I am less interested in the rules than the interaction aspect of this definition — how the technology shapes actions within a field and what new capabilities or harms this produces for individuals or groups.

How do we design for resilience?

Fukuyama (2013) provides a framework for evaluating what he calls the infrastructural power of bureaucracies, meaning the performance of agents carrying out the wishes of a political principal. To understand infrastructural power, we need to look at two qualities: capacity and autonomy. Capacity includes merit, including professionalisation and extraction (the ability to tax). Autonomy is the extent to which the bureaucracy has an appropriate degree of scope to implement programs without direction from the political principal. Fukuyama makes the point that capacity and autonomy need to be considered together, in that you don’t want an incompetent bureaucracy to have too much autonomy.

Fukuyama, F. (2013) What is Governance?

From plutocracy to democracy

The rule makers in the field I am describing are those who choose to create a DAO and those who are accepted into it (when there is some level of participation). Bureaucracies don’t require democracy to exist; monarchies had bureaucracies too.


Colebatch, H. K. (2014). Making sense of governance. Policy and Society, 33(4), 307–316.



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Ellie Rennie

Ellie Rennie


Professor at RMIT University, Melbourne. Australian Research Council Future Fellow 2020–2025: “Cooperation Through Code” (FT190100372) Twitter: @elinorrennie