June 13, 2022

It Takes a Consortium: Participatory Design in Regenerative Finance

Research Objectives and Findings from Kolektivo’s First Collective On-site in Curaçao

Curve Labs

Curaçao is an island nation located in the southern Caribbean. It houses close to 160,000 humans and thousands of other species on its 444 km2 — hundreds of which are rare and endemic. The island is especially biodiverse, rimmed by fossilized coral reefs and fringed by mangroves. Its 217 bird species and dozens of sea turtle nesting grounds.

Even though 30% of the island’s surface is protected, the ecosystem faces the same challenges as many others today. Sea level temperature increases have already caused widespread coral bleaching, and the island’s inhabitants are more and more vulnerable to hurricanes. Overfishing has caused a 90% decline in catches between 1904 and 2006. 75 Dutch Caribbean species are now endangered or vulnerable, while sea level rise threatens mangroves and erodes beaches. Despite international inaction, local scientists and volunteers are working towards protecting and restoring the wealth of Curaçaoan flora and fauna, such as Reef Renewal Curaçao, Sea Turtle Conservation Curaçao, and Curaçao Nature Conservation.

Sea Turtle Conservation Curaçao publishes yearly reports summing up their monitoring, conservation and education activities.

The wicked problem of biodiversity loss is difficult to tackle and requires a multitude of technical, cultural, and governance innovations to be adequately addressed. The Kolektivo Framework is a modular crypto-institutional framework born of a close and long-standing collaboration between Kolektivo Labs and Curve Labs, with supporting contributions from many other forward-thinking Web3 and non-profit agencies. It aims to reinforce local collaboration and bolster regenerative impact through tokenization, co-governance, and co-management of natural assets towards local impact and eco-entrepreneurship.

On the ground, the Kolektivo Curaçao team has issued CuraDAI grants to meaningful local initiatives for several years. With the inclusion of Kolektivo in the Climate Collective in 2021, the project has finally found the necessary impetus to advance bigger and bolder experimentation. Since November 2021, Kolektivo has evolved into a collective effort beyond the previously mentioned actors, including Astral Protocol, Byterocket, the Celo Climate Collective, and Zed Labs. This blogpost summarizes our first collaborative on-site in Curaçao in Q1 2022. We want to share and highlight some of the lessons and organizational learnings required to implement such a large regenerative finance initiative.

Building Kolektivo for Curaçao

View of the Queen Juliana bridge over the Otrobanda neighborhood in Curaçao. Picture credits: Zed Labs

To achieve Kolektivo’s ambition of a self-sovereign regenerative economy requires working in close collaboration with scientists, volunteers and native islanders. We believe in the principles of participatory design and in the value of empirical research: remote collaboration has its limits when working at multiple local and overlapping scales. To this end, several members from the teams went to Curaçao for three weeks of workshops, research, and collaboration. They included:

  • Two UX/UI designers, a governance design lead, two researchers, a senior project manager, the co-founder and operations lead of Curve Labs
  • The operations lead and tech lead from Zed Labs, responsible for the Kolektivo wallet’s development
  • A UX designer and data-analyst from Kolektivo Labs
  • A team lead from Astral Protocol

On the ground, the group was welcomed by the entire Kolektivo Curaçao team. Founded in 2019 and made of 15 members, they are responsible for leading local actions for the Curaçao pilot and extending its local network. Over the years, they have carried the CuraDAI — a stablecoin backed by DAI and pegged to the local guilder — and CuraDAO projects. They supported over seven initiatives through stablecoin grant issuance, and 17 with local currency.

A whiteboard where team members expressed what Kolektivo means to them.

Overall, the trip has created immense value for the Kolektivo Framework’s builders. Many benefits of the group’s direct contact with the local environment are intangible — difficult to reduce to discrete and measurable research outcomes. It’s indeed the casual discussions, outside of structured time, that are often the most valuable. It is the mutual encounters, activities, and close contact with the local culture that enable a keen ethnographic eye to capture the inimitable and otherwise unobtainable elements necessary for a localized socioecological system to thrive.

“It is a lot more motivating to work for a project, if you get a grasp of its potential real-world implications.”
— Curve Labs developer

In short: building one of the first “Real-World Impact DAOs” requires breaking away from the traditional tech-first perspective of Web3 protocols to include the nuance of particular social, ecological, and cultural dimensions. To this end, the Curaçao on-site had several research areas — governance, local merchants, the grants system, and the wallet. In this blog post, each research topic corresponds to a subsection, delivering team insights.

Knowledge Harvesting

Governance Team

A governance workshop held in Curaçao with a Kolektivo Labs UX/UI designer, the Kolektivo Curaçao Regenerative Assets Lead, and two food-forest initiators.

The Kolektivo Framework consists of many subsystems, one of the most important of which is the governance system. In Web3, governance is becoming progressively more accessible, with design primitives such as the Gnosis Safe multisignature wallet (multisig) becoming a staple for coordinating collectives. For more information about Web3 governance, see this blog post.

For the Kolektivo Minimum Viable Product (MVP), the primary object of governance are the Kolektivo Curaçao food-forests, understood as “diverse plantings of edible plants that attempt to mimic the ecosystems and patterns found in nature.” Managing a food-forest is a collective experience bringing together different participants, from leaders to collaborators. Before the on-site, the governance team conducted four interviews with what we call food forest initiators — food forest or agroforestry experts carrying the role of motivating and leading the co-management of a forest. From these interviews, two assumptions were formulated. Note that steward is understood here as the Gnosis Safe owner.

  1. Food-forest contributors will need to be identifiable as such in Kolektivo’s interface, so that they can align on decisions, which will then be executed by a steward if they involve a transaction.
  2. Food-forest contributors collectively align on decisions.

The research goals of the field-trip were to verify these assumptions, and also to identify where potential requirements may be lurking.

On the island, the governance team organized a workshop, bringing together Curaçoan food-forest experts — namely Kolektivo’s regenerative asset lead as well as two food-forest initiators. Kolektivo’s Regenerative Asset Lead is responsible for establishing criteria for the inclusion of new food-forests in Kolektivo Curaçao’s system. Her role is essential to extend a verified network of Curaçaoan food-forests respecting fundamental principles of regenerative agriculture, while being able to feed locals. She manages and works in several food-forests, just like the food-forest initiators.

The group discussion unveiled the governance status quo — or the way in which Curaçaoan food-forests naturally tend to organize themselves. Their findings invalidated the second MVP assumption, as the food-forest initiator, driving the project, tends to be the only decision maker. Their decisions are then applied by paid workers or contributors, the latter being motivated by the perspective of yields or by more philanthropic reasons — such as preserving the local environment and the sense of community.

For the workshop, the governance design lead presented various personas deduced from the pre-trip interviews. Studying this fictional group allowed participants to come-up with what they considered to be “the missing participant”, that they called the driving-force. This member is, according to workshop participants, of crucial importance, and is similar if not identical to what we refer to as ‘food forest initiator.’

“Introducing network governance in food forests is as much of a social challenge as it is a technical challenge.
— Curve Labs developer

The governance team then presented various scenarios and posed questions on relevant topics to the workshop participants, from which certain insights were derived:

  • The first was a bottom-up role distribution scenario — i.e. how the roles are assigned during the DAO formation phase. In this first scenario, Kolektivo assigns DAO members with voting power, who then vote for a steward — the Gnosis Safe owner.
  • The second scenario was on the contrary a top-down role distribution, where Kolektivo assigns a steward who designates DAO members.
  • The third scenario were two financial decisions simulations. In the first simulation, a financial decision was executed by a steward who has been elected by DAO members, and in the second simulation, DAO members directly voted for the automatic execution of the financial decision — i.e. spending funds through voting. This can be understood as having a single multisig signer vs. multiple signers.

The above outcomes enabled the formulation of a potential design for the food-forest governance system:

Design Team: Merchant and Grants Flow

The design team interviewed H., owner of the diving center Curious2Dive, about his experience as a Kolektivo Curaçao grant applicant.

The design team had two specific fields of research: the first one focusing on Kolektivo wallet merchants and users, and the second on the grants system. In simple terms, a cryptocurrency wallet is a device for storing a user’s public and private keys, which can be used to track ownership of, receive, or spend cryptocurrencies, as well as engage with smart contracts. Since 2018, Kolektivo Curaçao has been allocating grants to impact projects. Today, projects and initiatives apply for funding according to six key impact areas that align with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Merchants and Business

“Web3 is usually protocol first. What is fundamentally different with Kolektivo is that we’re building for real people.”
— Curve Labs designer

For merchants, the research objective was to understand fully the context of doing business in Curaçao:

  • Why and how do merchants promote and advertise? This question was asked with the intention of streamlining the matching process between customers and merchants through the interface of the Kolektivo wallet.
  • How do they receive payments? This was asked to understand user preferences and frame the Kolektivo wallet design accordingly.

Designers were also interested in studying business collaboration potential with each other, as well as understanding their past experience with the previous CuraDAI pilot. By studying these, they would be able to clarify the most relevant aspects of the ideal wallet application for a real-world community making payments in a local cryptocurrency.

Qualitative face-to-face user interviews were conducted with various business owners — our wallet “merchants”. A wallet prototype was presented and used as a discussion point to understand user goals, motivations, needs and pain points. Key findings are presented below, as well as corresponding Kolektivo MVP recommendations as formulated by the design team:

The Grants System

Grant UI prototype shown during the user interviews.

“It was about meeting people where they are, including culturally” — Curve Labs designer

For this second category, the research objectives were to understand Curaçao volunteer and community groups, as well as Kolektivo Curaçao ’s current grants committee. The design team explored the challenges faced by grant applicants and the committee, as well as their preferences and goals, so that the MVP will meet as much as possible their needs and desires in deploying funding for impact to its most useful ends.

Various 1–1 user interviews were conducted throughout the stay. The six participants, interviewed during one hour and a half meetings, were a mix of grant applicants and members of the grant committee. Representatives of volunteer and community groups mostly consisted of small NGOs (around two to six members), but one interviewee was a notable business leader with substantial impact operations. All were deeply passionate and motivated by their work. The design team presented a UI prototype with the interviewees to sound out their spot preferences and feedback.

The table below presents key research findings as well as corresponding MVP recommendations by the design team:

Definition of service design

Wallet Team: Payments Pain Points and Preferences

Wallet UI prototype shown during the user interviews.

The last area of research concerns the Kolektivo wallet, a parallel fork of the Celo ecosystem’s popular Valora wallet. The research objectives included understanding Curaçaoan payment preferences, pain-points, and past interactions with CuraDAI. The design team wanted to clarify the preferences of potential wallet users — such as their general interest in social impact projects or a notification feed feature, or cryptocurrency specific features, such as swapping tokens.

To conduct this research, four qualitative 1-on-1 interviews were conducted with two wallet users and two wallet-using merchants. Some interviewees had more knowledge of cryptocurrencies than others. All users were presented with the UI concept prototype (see above).

The table below presents research key findings as well as their corresponding Kolektivo MVP recommendations. With help of these findings, the design team came up with two personas — a utility-focused wallet user, who prioritize the practicality of the wallet and strictly use it because it is functional and helpful in their life; and a community-focused wallet user, who care about community related features, such as community challenges and signaling what impact areas should be funded.

A Note on Food Forest Tokenization

This agroforestry farmer uses the vegetables grown in his syntropic food-forest as ingredients for his restaurant’s dishes. Picture credit: Kolektivo Curaçao.

In view of the Kolektivo MVP, the first natural capital assets to be tokenized will be Curaçaoan food-forests. These areas will be tokenized as Geospatial Non-Fungible Tokens, or GeoNFTs. GeoNFTs leverage Astral Protocol for Web3-native topological data and use a decentralized identifier to point to an ecological data store. While the GeoNFT will eventually service several use cases, its primary two for the purposes of the MVP are to act as collateral the pilot’s reserve and to start building a monetizable ecological state data store. Post-MVP, the GeoNFT will radically experiment as a new type of natural capital asset: attributes such as token supply can be linked to the size of the GeoNFT’s area or the quality of its ecological indicators. Our ultimate objective is to redefine value creation to sustainably embed the local economy in its surrounding ecosystems and their associated services.

“Being present IRL allowed us to engage firsthand with the stakeholders who maintain and will benefit from the tokenization of natural capital assets.”
— Zed Labs

As mentioned earlier, the Kolektivo Curaçao team includes a Regenerative Asset Lead, responsible for the acquisition, certification, and in the future, tokenization of food-forests in Kolektivo. The on-site was an opportunity for our collective teams to finally meet this person and experience her working methods. She was full of ambition and committed to improving her community. She arrived with her sleeves rolled up and her pants strewn with earth and mud, having just finished one of the gardening lessons for the neighborhood’s children. She took us on a full-day’s tour of Kolektivo’s food-forests, to better understand their ecology and surrounding communities. Throughout the visit of two forests, researchers from Curve Labs and Astral were able to ask and immerse themselves in the praxis of local agroforestry and familiarize themselves with the other forest co-managers.

Kolektivo syntropic food-forest in the rural Northern half of the island. Picture credit: Kolektivo Curaçao.

Urban Kolektivo food-forest in the Otrobanda neighborhood. Picture credit: Zed Labs.

The first agroforest is cultivated according to the principles of syntropic farming. This agroforestry method aims to regenerate soils in a short amount of time, leveraging the power of natural succession. Syntropic farming requires planning and extensive pruning to maximize photosynthesis, and to recreate thriving ecosystems that minimize human inputs. The evaluation of the syntropic food-forest was an opportunity to exchange and determine which ecological data is important for the formulation of the GeoNFT.

“Visiting the various food forests we were struck by the wealth of knowledge that the farmers had to share […]. We came to appreciate the complexity of these systems and the tremendous benefits they hold for the communities in which they operate.”
— Zed Labs

The second visited forest, an urban forest, was nestled in the center of Willemstad, in the popular district of Otrobanda. Its primary manager is Kolektivo’s regenerative asset lead — she highlighted the fundamental nurturing role that these green settings can produce from the concrete’s heart. These modest-sized plots of land are true solarpunk oases, which weekly feed dozens of families. Our regenerative asset lead underlined the involvement of the community in the management of the forest, as well as the other planters and hydroponic cultures scattered around the neighborhood, providing insight into the dual ecological and social role food forests play.

The on-site was also an occasion to organize events gathering the team to deepen relationships. Picture credit: Kolektivo Curaçao.

“They are leading what Kolektivo [Curaçao] will become, we are just facilitators.”
— Curve Labs designer

To live up to Kolektivo’s ambitions of inclusiveness and participatory design, proximity and field research are essential. During this first on-site, the focus was largely on user experience research, but the benefits are returning in many tangible and intangible ways as the project works towards the Q4 2022 MVP pilot in Curaçao. The teams working on Kolektivo are now enriched with a more precise and concrete dimension of what and how a pilot experiences the project.

We believe that effectively responding to the global challenges of the 21st century, such as anthropogenic climate change, require projects that empower local communities. These projects must have a distinctly institutional character, providing relevant and emancipatory financial and governance tools that embody self-sovereignty and move us closer towards climate justice. The Kolektivo Framework hopes to prove with its first pilot in Curaçao that social and environmental work done at the local scale with the latest institutional Web3 tooling can help in this direction.

If you’ve read this far, we thank you, and invite you to mark your calendars for the Kolektivo Festival, which will take place October 21–22 of this year in Curaçao. Stay tuned!

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