Voltaire is the name given to the next era of the Cardano core development roadmap (Bootstrap Period) that focuses on delivering Decentralised Governance functionality to the Cardano protocol and introducing a new framework of participants, roles, and actions, to the Cardano Ledger.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or decisions of any other agency, organisation, or company. They are mostly based on CIP-1694 and other systems of governance used in previous eras of the Cardano blockchain.
A government in any organized system assigns roles and responsibilities to participants, and provides checks and balances to ensure efficiency in how the system is progressed and maintained.
We see this in the US Government, for example, through law enforcement agents, judges, senators, and citizens. Another example is the bee colony system, which has a queen, drones, and workers.
This article aims to answer the following questions about Cardano's governance systems:
How are participants in Cardano classified according to their roles in the governance systems that have been in place in recent eras of the Cardano development roadmap?
How do these classifications impact the ranks, privileges, and abilities of participants of the Cardano protocol?
How will the Voltaire era define the system of governance and classifications of participants on Cardano?
What real-world parallels/analogies can be drawn to describe the ranks and roles of participants, across the various development eras?
Let's find out 👇
Prelude: A Brief on Organised Systems, Governments, and their Participants
Most organized systems have core constructs i.e. rules(eg. Constitutions), processes(eg. Elections), and structures(eg. Parliaments), that participants follow to coordinate and make decisions. This helps them control, execute, and be accountable for common goals and resources in the system. This combination of core constructs enables participants to achieve consensus appropriately. When all participants in a system agree on the core constructs for achieving consensus, it results in a political engine called a government.
A government is the accepted political engine for governance in an organized system. It determines how the fundamental principles to achieve consensus are created, modified, interpreted, and administered. Over time, governments have formed in many organized systems of participants to coordinate the masses for the purpose of pursuing progress and sustainability. We can see this in historical human systems, such as the Athenian Democracy and also in non-human systems, such as beehives, which are known as colonies.
In the real world, governments rule territories or nation states. These are organized systems inhabited by participants i.e. citizens, residents, and tourists. Each class of participant has its own specific rights and responsibilities. For example, citizens have the right to vote, residents have the right to access employment, and tourists have the right to access hospitality.
The Cardano blockchain protocol is another organised system that operates via a set of core constructs to achieve consensus in a variety of domains. It is also home to numerous participants.
Much like the organised systems discussed above, Cardano also has a government to steward the protocol towards progress and sustainability. These governments are instantiated specifically on the Cardano Ledger via a bespoke set of protocol rules and keys(and logic in Voltaire) which imbue special rights and privileges over the system.
Hereinafter, we will refer to the system of governance(and its participants) as the "government".
Early Governance on Cardano and Primary Users.
Since its inception and as part of the Bootstrap Period, Cardano has had a unitary government instated to direct all governance actions and proposals such as protocol upgrades, and oversee the access and allocation of common resources such as the on-chain Treasury.
The government is made up of Cardano's founding entities, namely: Input Output, EMURGO, and the Cardano Foundation. These entities operate as Primary Users on the Ledger.
The Cardano government has gradually distributed its authority and responsibilities to other participants over time, effectively promoting them to new ranks on the Cardano Ledger and giving them new roles in various domains, such as Consensus. Most of the advancements to the Cardano government system were initiated in the Shelley era and further improved in the eras that followed.
Let's discuss how these Cardano governments and participants on the Ledger have evolved.
Byron Government System (Byron Era)
The Byron era of the Cardano development roadmap saw the initialisation of the Cardano blockchain protocol with early developments and events, including the dedicated research and development of Ouroboros POS, the creation of the Genesis block, initial distribution of the Ada cryptocurrency, and assignment of primary (governance) rights and controls to the founding entities of the Cardano project.
From the perspective of the Ledger, this government recognised only two classes of participants: Genesis Key Holders (the founding entities), and Ada (Token) Stakeholders. Governance actions were reserved solely for the Genesis Key Holders.
At the Consensus level, the role of block production and validation was solely reserved for a federated set of nodes controlled by Cardano's founding entities.
This meant that Ada Stakeholders could not partake in governance actions or consensus work, and could only perform simple transactions, such as payments and remittances.
Given the rights and responsibilities reserved for the founding entities in the Byron Government System, we regard the following participants of the Cardano Ledger:
Genesis Key Holders, as Primary Users or Governors.
Ada Stakeholders as Secondary Users or Tourists.
The Shelley Government System (Shelley, Goguen, and Basho Eras)
The Shelley era of the Cardano development roadmap introduced new features, major upgrades and changes that improved the Networking, Consensus, Ledger, and Execution layers of the Cardano protocol. The benefits of these improvements persisted and were further enhanced throughout the Goguen and Basho eras, which were accompanied by continuous feature additions.
From the perspective of the Ledger, the current government (from Byron) retains their rights and duties as primary users. However, certain responsibilities and decision-making privileges were delegated to proxies, such as the Project Catalyst grants service.
Project Catalyst functions as an innovation (grants) fund designed to help democratize the allocation of Cardano Treasury funds towards ecosystem development objectives and initiatives. It accomplishes this by receiving funding proposals from the general public and determining their acceptance or rejection through votes cast by all registered Ada Stakeholders. The grant fund determines which proposals get funded based on their alignment with community values and goals.
At the Consensus level, block production and validation transitioned from being strictly reserved for federated nodes controlled by the founding entities(Genesis Key Holders), to a hybrid model that added support for participation from Ada Stakeholders through directly staking their Ada (as validators), or delegating their stake to other validators(a.k.a. SPOs).
The Shelley era redefined the rankings of all participants in the new government system of the Cardano Ledger by creating new roles and responsibilities for entities other than the founding ones. Given the changes in this system, we regard the following participants of the Cardano Ledger:
Genesis Key Holders, as Primary Users or Governors.
Ada Stakeholders that contribute to Consensus i.e. Validators and Stake Delegators, as Secondary Users or Residents.
Ada Stakeholders that do not contribute to Consensus, as Tertiary Users or Tourists.
A New Era of Governance and Path to Citizenship For All on Cardano, through Voltaire
The Voltaire Government System (Voltaire Era and beyond)
The Voltaire era will completely revamp the governance system of the Cardano Ledger, introducing new functionality and provisions intended to democratize and distribute decision-making powers over the Cardano protocol and shared resources, such as the Cardano Treasury, to a wider range of participants.
The primary objective of the Voltaire era in protocol development is to eliminate special rights and privileges reserved for the set of Genesis Key Holders, who are Cardano's founding entities. This will be achieved by discarding the Genesis Keys, effectively dissolving them. As a result, the Shelley government system and the role of Governors will be completely replaced by the Voltaire government system.
The Voltaire government system will adopt the structure of a Constitutional Democratic Republic with a political system similar to that of a Federal government design.
The reason for this is that the Voltaire governance system will be limited by a Constitution that establishes a rule of law on the Cardano Ledger and its dependencies, including the Consensus Mechanism (Ouroboros), Execution Environment (Plutus), and Networking Infrastructure (P2P). This Constitution will serve as the primary reference for the kind of proposals and actions that can be legitimately executed.
From the perspective of the Ledger, the Voltaire governance system will introduce three new classes of roles/entities:
Delegated Representatives(DReps) -> A set of governance agents that serve as Representatives for participants of the Cardano protocol who may not have the time or resources to be directly involved in governance processes, via the delegation of governance rights.
- Note: This role is attainable by any participant at any time (Terms and Conditions apply)
Constitutional Committee -> A set of elected personnel that function as overseers of all governance events and proposals to ensure that said events and proposals are rightfully within the limits of the Constitution, and are interpreted as best as possible to all.
- Note: It is still to be determined what the exact requirements would be to join the Constitutional Committee, but it is safe to say that it will be an open and accessible path for all.
Stake Pool Operators(SPOs) -> During the Shelley era, Stake Pool Operators (SPOs) were responsible for producing and validating blocks while also serving as proxy staking providers (delegates) for their delegators, thereby securing and advancing the Cardano protocol at the consensus level. With the introduction of the Voltaire government, SPOs will be natively appointed as governance agents with roles and responsibilities similar to those of Decentralized Representative (DReps). However, unlike DReps, SPOs will not be able to receive delegations of governance rights from other participants.
- Note: SPOs can still separately register to be DReps(in addition to their natural governance appointment) and then be able to receive governance delegations from other participants.
At the Consensus level, everything will remain quite the same and function like that of the Shelley era.
The Voltaire governance system will redefine the rankings of all participants of the Cardano Ledger by introducing new roles and responsibilities. As a result, all participants will have the opportunity to ascend and become Primary Users of Cardano, much like the founding entities in the Byron and Shelley eras. In light of the improvements that the Voltaire system will bring, the following participants of the Cardano Ledger will be regarded as:
(Registered) Governance Participants, as Primary Users or Citizens
- Note: This includes all DReps and Governance Delegators, SPOs, and members of the Constitutional Committee
Ada Stakeholders that contribute only to Consensus via Stake Delegation, as Secondary Users or Residents.
- Note: These parties can register to be Citizens at any time by becoming SPOs, DReps, or Governance Delegators(by delegating their governance rights to other DReps). No permission needed.
Ada Stakeholders that DO NOT contribute to Consensus or Governance on the Ledger, as Tertiary Users or Tourists.
- Note: These parties can register to be Residents or Citizens by contributing to Consensus or Governance, respectively. No permission needed.
By now, with the help of real-world analogies and examples, we should have a good mental model of how the participants of the Cardano protocol are classified and how their classifications affect their ranks, privileges, and abilities in the system. We also learn how these participants and their classifications have evolved as the various eras of Cardano have progressed.
The Voltaire era marks a transformative phase in the history of Cardano, where the future of governance and stakeholder participation will be reshaped. With a renewed focus on credible decentralisation, it presents an opportunity for many users to finally become true citizens of Cardano and contribute to the protocol in more impactful ways than ever.
Cardano Governance, IO – https://github.com/input-output-hk/cardano-node/blob/master/doc/reference/cardano-governance.md
Cardano Roadmap, Cardano.org – https://roadmap.cardano.org/en/
Cardano Treasury with Kevin Hammond, QA DAO – https://quality-assurance-dao.gitbook.io/community-governance-oversight/parameters/governance-parameters/cardano-treasury-with-kevin-hammond
CIP-1694, IO – https://github.com/JaredCorduan/CIPs/blob/voltaire-v1/CIP-1694/README.md
Age of Voltaire: The end of the Bootstrapping Period, Emmanuel Batse – https://twitter.com/thepizzaknight_/status/1598069184826863618?s=20