Partial list. Full dataset available on request.
Cardano aims to establish a decentralized financial Operating system for the world of tomorrow. Guided by the vision of Charles Hoskinson, some of its defining characteristics are Principled, Formal and Self-Sustaining. It intently leverages and promotes academic research as opposed to fast development/iteration. Built using Haskell (a formal-logic-friendly language), it is primed to support formal verifications, and the academically-published research it has powered over the past few years (90+ papers) has led to advances in other cryptocurrency protocols.
Cardano is an open platform that seeks to provide economic identity to billions who lack it by providing decentralised applications to manage identity, value and governance. Cardano seeks to bring a new open & inclusive standard in technology to challenge the old and activate a new age of sustainable, globally distributed innovation.These feed into an overarching goal of Cardano establishing itself as a global social and financial operating system for the 21st century.
As the custodian of the Cardano protocol, the Cardano Foundation has set a number of strategic goals for the short, medium and long term:
- 2021-2022: Onboard 50 banks, introduce 3+ supportive libraries/tools or use cases, launch a developer portal and number of third party updates, increase the quality of voting and proposals in Catalyst, increase interoperability for financial inclusion.
- 2023-2024: publish 3 white papers and 5 how-to case studies, promote growth in wallet addresses, increase the diversity of on-chain activity, on-board 3 Fortune 500 companies to hold ada, increase interoperability for chains and world systems
- 2026 and beyond: a suite of services for a nation, 10 Fortune 500 companies and over 1000 SMEs using Cardano/ada, a decentralized protocol stack, ongoing assistance on regulatory frameworks, and one billion users.
There are three organisations that are contributing to the development of Cardano:
- The Cardano Foundation is an independent body based in Switzerland with core responsibilities to oversee and support the Cardano ecosystem. Its mission is to drive adoption, shape blockchain governance, set commercial standards and support the community of users .
- Input Output HK (IOHK) is an engineering company that builds cryptocurrencies and blockchains for academic institutions, government entities and corporations. IOHK is contracted to design, build and maintain the Cardano protocol.
- EMURGO, a multinational blockchain technology company providing solutions for developers, startups, enterprises, and governments. It is the for-profit arm working to boost the Cardano ecosystem through commercial ventures.
The three entities are wholly separate in ownership and leadership.
Currently, governance design and implementation are functionally all under IOHK. These aspects are intended to be gradually decentralised to control by the community with the Cardano Foundation as the custodian of the Cardano blockchain.
The base participants are typically token holders - the token being ADA. Being a token holder involves having a public/private keypair and the associated wallet structure. Primary wallets used for storage are Daedalus(IOHK) and Yoroi(Emurgo).
Cardano’s proof of stake protocol relies on a network of server nodes called Stake Pools to process transactions and create new blocks under the management of a Stake Pool Operator. ADA holders can choose to delegate (without locking it) to one or many Stake Pools of their choice and reallocate their delegation if and when desired.
Stake Pools nodes that are elected randomly to have the opportunity to produce a block during a specific time frame (5 days, otherwise called an Epoch) are called Slot Leaders.
Stake Pool nodes that are not elected as Slot Leaders during an Epoch serve as full non-block producing nodes which are responsible for servicing the Cardano blockchain by: executing the Ouroboros consensus protocol, validating and relaying blocks, storing the blockchain and associated information, providing proto-oracle services to local clients about the state of blockchain
The current Funding allocation/disbursement mechanism known as Project Catalyst is an on- chain process that allows a stake-based participation on voting for the funding of specific proposals, or the review of proposals well-formedness to receive rewards.
Project Catalyst currently hosts the following type of participants:
- Challenge setters: primarily set by IOHK in collaboration with the Cardano Foundation, challenges are also proposed and voted on by the community - eg. Grow Africa, grow Cardano challenge. Current model is 40% voted by the community, 60% initiated by IOHK. This percentage is shifting more and more towards the community with each new funding round.
- Project Proposers: one or more individuals that respond to challenges that have been set for respective project catalyst funds. They seek to align their proposal to Catalyst’s metric of ‘Return on Intention’ which consists of specific metrics that are tracked.
- Project Reviewers/participants: provide feedback to project proposers to better align their proposals to Catalyst’s ‘Return on Intention’ metric and the aims of the challenge
- Community Advisors: volunteer at the beginning of each Catalyst Fund (for a potential ada reward) to review the proposals and rate them according to their alignment with ‘return on intention’ and whether they respond to the aims of a particular challenge
- Expert Community Advisors: have already participated as community advisors in previous funding rounds and monitor the reviews of community advisors to ensure quality and valuable feedback, whilst flagging any counterproductive behaviour
- Voters: use the catalyst app linked to their wallets to vote on proposals with a voting power proportional to their staked ada.
- Circle: the most recent Catalyst Fund saw the introduction of the Catalyst Circle as a “human sensor array” that monitors the current state and future plans regarding governance in Project Catalyst. The Circle consists of a single representative elected off-chain from the following community segments: stakepool operators, Cardano Foundation, Input-Output, Community Advisors, funded proposers, tool makers and maintainers, as well as general voters.
There is no hard delineation and the project is intently moving towards full decentralization - but it is understood that that in itself is a process. Currently, IOHK is the developer of the software and is coordinating with the rest of the ecosystem. However the nodes themselves are nearly fully decentralized so hypothetically some other entities might step up and propose competing directions. We’re already seeing competing improvement proposals via the Cardano Improvement Proposals or CIP process (detailed in the answer to question 10). Meanwhile, Project Catalyst, controlling a significant portion of the funds is still being disbursed through IOHK leaving some significant centralization element, while working toward its decentralization itself.
The original vouchersale had a 95% Asia (Japan) distribution.
Goals and Implementation
Participation in the funding disbursement process is financially incentivized (Catalyst). Staking and token locking is incentivized. Decentralization is encouraged. Community participation in driving adoption and developing use cases is also encouraged, eg. active discussions take place though a weekly townhall with about 100 active participants and approximately 5000 views per week.
Project Catalyst is the first experiment launched to advance on-chain governance and accelerate community-driven innovation to self-determine priorities for the development and growth of Cardano. It enables participants to fund and receive funding for proposals which tackle challenges and capitalize on opportunities that arise in the life cycle of Cardano. It has grown to become the world’s largest decentralised innovation fund that puts potential grass-roots projects on the same playing field as multinational organisations. Project Catalyst includes components off-chain on Ideascale (which hosts the challenges, proposals and comments), as well as several other online communication channels.
Since September 2020, successive grant funding rounds which started with US$250k worth of ada have progressed to US$2 million worth of ada in the latest fund (F4). Using the IdeaScale innovation platform with 25,500 members, Project Catalyst’s F4 involved 23,000 unique wallets and 2.3billion ada participating in the last vote. It has more unique voters (216’000) than the world’s top 100 Decentralised Autonomous Organisations (DAO’s) combined! As more come to learn about the potential, continued momentum and further expansion is expected.
Each Project Catalyst fund seeks to elicit ideas in the form of proposals from both technical and non-technical participants. Each proposal focuses on particular challenges issued by the Catalyst team or the Catalyst community itself. The proposals then go through a community refinement process similar to peer reviews, where they are vetted for feasibility, auditability, and impact by a group of community advisors. Once the proposals have been finalized they are voted on by the community and funds are made available in the form of ada to successful applicants.
Participation in Project Catalyst is open to all, from curious and innovative newcomers to long-term ada-holders. In Cardano’s spirit of inclusivity, the team behind Project Catalyst works their technical magic tirelessly to reduce the stake (a form of decentralisation) someone needs to hold in order to vote without compromising on voting security from 8000 ada initially to 500 ada currently. All funded proposers report on progress and indicate the key metrics they have achieved every two weeks; these reports are shared transparently with the community.
Cardano’s treasury functions as a mechanism setup from the start to enable support and growth of the protocol. Out of a 45B MCap, ~13B were set aside to slowly support the network through its decentralization. The treasury slowly disburses funds through staking rewards, and funds are unlocked at a gradually diminishing rate depending on the remaining size of the treasury itself.
The Governance structure is working towards being itself flexible and as such has not yet been set in stone. While the development has been taken on by IOHK, some would say that the project can be taken over by others. Governance of the protocol is arbitrary. Mechanisms exist for surfacing or discussing proposed changes, notably in the CIP Process, while other mechanisms focus on the funding mechanism (Catalyst), There are also efforts to tie the two with a decentralized software updating process (Priviledge). The Foundation is promoting a neutral stance on the governance and supporting research. Some hypothetical “constitutional votes” might be tried through the Catalyst framework later on, but the assumption is that the “governance” process does not yet have a formally accepted consensus mechanism.
In Cardano, every token holder holds a stake in the network, and is entitled and incentivized to vote on proposals to develop or upgrade the blockchain and ecosystem. For Funding Proposals, this is done through a dedicated voting app - and, for CIPs, via the CIP GitHub repository.
The following proposal mechanisms exist within Cardano:
A Funding Proposal (FP) is a proposal submitted by members of the community to enhance the ecosystem or in other words a formal request or proposal to build something that is not yet covered by the Cardano protocol. An example may include funding future platform development, developing new capabilities or integrations.
Cardano Improvement Proposal (CIP):
A cardano Improvement Proposal (CIP) is a structured proposal - publicly visible to the community for discussion, located in the Cardano Foundation Github CIPs Repository. CIPs are one of the first examples of off-chain governance led by the Cardano Foundation. A single Cardano Improvement Proposal, is a formalized design document for the Cardano community. Each CIP provides information or describes a new feature for the Cardano blockchain in a concise and technically sufficient manner.
CIPs begin life as an idea about how to improve the Cardano blockchain or its surrounding processes, with one or more individuals who are willing to propose and discuss the idea with the Cardano community.
There are three kinds of CIP:
- A Standards Track CIP describes any change that affects most or all Cardano implementations, such as a change to the network protocol, a change in block or transaction validity rules, or any change or addition that affects the interoperability of applications using Cardano. Standards Track CIPs consist of two parts, a design document and a reference implementation.
- A Process CIP describes a process surrounding Cardano, or proposes a change to (or an event in) a process. Process CIPs are like Standards Track CIPs but apply to areas other than the Cardano protocol itself. They may propose an implementation, but not to Cardano's codebase; they often require community consensus; unlike Informational CIPs, they are more than recommendations, and users are typically not free to ignore them. Examples include procedures, guidelines, changes to the decision-making process, and changes to the tools or environment used in Cardano development. Any meta-CIP is also considered a Process CIP.
- An Informational CIP describes a Cardano design issue, or provides general guidelines or information to the Cardano community, but does not propose a new feature. Informational CIPs do not necessarily represent a Cardano community consensus or recommendation, so users and implementors are free to ignore Informational CIPs or follow their advice.
After initial discussions and feedback from the community, the CIP is then formalized into a properly formatted proposal and submitted as a pull request to the CIP repository, through GitHub.
Each CIP thus goes through the below process before it’s approved:
As a form of off-chain governance, CIPs do not employ a community-led voting process like Catalyst (see below). However, they do require some degree of consensus among the community before being proposed.
Once a CIP is formalized, CIP Editors will decide on its status—as shown in the process flow above. CIP Editors are key participants in the Cardano ecosystem who support and progress CIPs, and they may approve or reject a CIP. Therefore, CIPs are a highly democratic process requiring consensus from multiple stakeholders, ensuring that Cardano protocol changes occur only after careful consideration by key community members.
Everyone can contribute to the Cardano Improvement Proposals here. A great resource to get started with CIPs can be found in CIP-0001 here, which defines the process of submitting a Cardano Improvement Proposal.
As a community-based project, Cardano leverages the strength of its diversity to guide it forward towards achieving its vision and missions. These processes are currently driven by:
- Funding Proposals: as described in question 7
- Cardano Improvement Proposal: is described in question 10
Funding proposals are overseen by IOHK at fund ends and MIR Transactions allocate funds on the Cardano chain itself to proposals that won the support of their peers. CIPs are reviewed by a set of Editors from the 3 governing entities and published to the Foundation’s Github - while the most significant and active proposals get fast-tracked/pushed by Cardano’s architect and CIP Editor - Duncal Coutts - who might flag to researchers or implementers as needed. Internal IOHK decision structures are standard, but Academicians and Engineers work hand in hand.
Successful proposers of challenges for Project Catalyst funds receive ada equivalents of requested dollar budgets to execute their proposals through a series of treasury disbursements - whose size and periodicity are determined by the needs of a specific project.
The Cardano Foundation functions as the Custodian of the Cardano blockchain. Specific processes for dispute resolution might depend on the varied items of dispute - IOHK might be responsible for some of the parts it maintains, while Emurgo on others. There have been points of disagreements between the three governing entities, and one of the mission of the Foundation is stakeholder accountability.
Cardano Ambassadors, especially moderators play an important role in resolving disputes linked to communication channels, which could include banning of online users, key words, etc.
The Cardano Foundation is set up as a neutral Swiss entity, and one of its missions is focused on stakeholder accountability. Cardano is set as an open-sourced project and its code is published on Github by IOHK, for anyone to peer in. Updates are constantly pushed out in the public space: IOHK has monthly updates to inform the ecosystem, and Charles Hoskinson a very active Youtube channel, focusing on Cardano and its vision.
Cardano’s vibrant community’s online activity (eg. 538k Cardano Subreddit and other online channels) which also includes Cardano Ambassadors could be seen to exert systems of accountability both on the founding trio and other community members. Examples of this include moderating of various communications channels, advocating for individual ada holders to stake with smaller community pools rather than exchanges, and supporting projects that have an impact in Africa - among others.
Catalyst is slowly experimenting towards a mechanism that might be considered by the greater ecosystem as a “constitutional” vote. This is not in place yet - although the standard voting mechanism might be considered a subset of a governance decision - making it significantly plutocratic until a better option arises.
The Catalyst Circle as a “human sensor array” that monitors the current state and future plans regarding governance in Project Catalyst. The Circle consists of a single representative elected off-chain from the following community segments: stakepool operators, Cardano Foundation, Input-Output, Community Advisors, funded proposers, tool makers and maintainers, as well as general voters. The Circle detects and discusses concerns, objections and opportunities arising within the Catalyst eco-system. The activity outputs a transparent view into the hopes, wants, needs and concerns of the community, IOG and CF with project Catalyst. It is also responsible for defining the election processes for Catalyst Circle V2.
Part of the Cardano Foundation’s 2025 strategy is to set up a variety of steering committees which will advise, inform and support the Cardano project on verticals which include: industry, science and technology, operators, community, and regulatory outreach.
Although those are not yet in place, this is the direction things are going. The aim is towards Liquid democracy, a concept pushed out where a democratic base enables users to delegate their voting power to some subsets that would be identified as experts - or to use their power themselves. The system is slowly being evolved towards this - but at this point is mostly direct voting. The current software changes are still driven by IOHK’s engineering group, and the mechanisms for fine-tuning the process are still being refined.
(unsure) By nature, we expect anything can change - the axioms that might be unchangeable would be outside of the governance process itself.
The stake-based voting mechanism and Proof of Stake consensus could be argued as slowly moving the overall protocol towards some sort of centralization - and is something that is delicate to manage.
Research has been conducted, experts are involved, and a conversation continues in the public space: What one entity wants might not be what the overall ecosystem desires, and so that dialogue continues to happen and its result get to be reflected in the active development - it has happened in the past that polls were asked of the ecosystem where proposed solutions IOHK wanted to implement were rejected by the users, and were not ultimately included. Further, Cardano is piloting decentralised software updates, parameter updates and policy decisions through community voting.
The Cardano blockchain platform has a roadmap organised into five eras: Byron (foundation), Shelley (decentralisation), Goguen (smart contracts), Basho (scaling), Voltaire (governance). Each era is centered around a set of functionalities that are delivered across multiple code releases sequentially, as the work for each era happens in parallel, with research, prototyping, and development often in progress all at once across the different development streams.
The Voltaire era will provide the final pieces required for the Cardano network to become a self-sustaining system. With the introduction of a voting and treasury system, network participants will be able to use their stake and voting rights to influence the future development of the network. For the Cardano network to become truly decentralized, it will require not only the distributed infrastructure introduced during the Shelley era but also the capacity to be maintained and improved over time in a decentralized way. To that end, the Voltaire era will add the ability for network participants to present Cardano improvement proposals that can be voted on by stakeholders, leveraging the already existing staking and delegation process. To fund the future development of the network, Voltaire will also see the addition of a treasury system, whereby a fraction of all transaction fees will be pooled to provide funds for development activities undertaken following the voting process.
The first iteration of the Voltaire era is Project Catalyst.