Architecting decentralized Gitcoin Grants with ChainSafe

Architecting decentralized Gitcoin Grants with ChainSafe

Authored by Timothy Hao Chi Ho

Gitcoin Grants will be decentralizing with the help of ChainSafe, Scopelift, and the entire team behind the Decentralize Gitcoin Workstream.

ChainSafe is proud to announce we have been enlisted by the Gitcoin team to research and build the spec for a fully distributed architecture of Gitcoin Grants alongside Scopelift.

The goal is to transform Gitcoin into a permissionless, forkable, and credibly neutral protocol.

This announcement is a natural progression in a flurry of initiatives by the Gitcoin team - beginning with the launch of its governance token GTC - to decentralize Gitcoin's governance and operation. ChainSafe couldn't be more excited to be one of many partners trusted in bringing Gitcoin towards decentralization, and empowering the community to carry the Gitcoin vision forward.

The Gitcoin vision

Gitcoin was created with the mission of providing a global and digital public good utility as a means of growing and sustaining open-source software (OSS) development. As Kevin Owocki points out in his blog post It's Time To Decentralize Gitcoin, some of humanity's most paradigm-shifting coordination tools - the internet and blockchain - was born from open source. However, just like clean air and an unpolluted ocean, it also suffers from the free rider problem - while the rest of humanity reaps the benefits of open-source innovation on the backs of giants like Tim Berners-Lee and Satoshi Nakamoto, many of these same developers and teams will never see their work financially rewarded. In response to that, Gitcoin was created to make sure open-source builders were paid, and digital public goods got built. This is currently accomplished through bounties, hackathons, and longer-horizon funding via Gitcoin Grants.

In particular, since the inception of the grants program and through community-driven quadratic funding, Gitcoin has bootstrapped some of the most popular open-source protocols and products, including DEX's like Uniswap and 1inch, as well as DeFi dashboarding interface On the other hand, Gitcoin has also funded prolific open-source community contributors like white hat hacker @samczsun, Week in Ethereum newsletter organizer Evan Van Ness, and ethers.js engineer Richard Moore. Needless to say, Gitcoin is an invaluable digital public good serving the open-source communities faithfully.

So why decentralize Gitcoin now?

On May 12th, 2021, Vitalik Buterin donated approx. $5 million worth of Akita Inu tokens to the Gitcoin Community Multisig wallet, which is used to offer matching funds for Gitcoin Grants rounds (See Announcement: Gitcoin Community Receives Generous Gift From Vitalik Buterin). The multisig wallet is controlled by a few trusted Ethereum community members. While supremely grateful for the gesture, this pushed the Gitcoin team to seriously assess important questions, outlined here by Kevin Owocki:

  1. What constitutes a public good, and therefore an acceptable grant?

  2. What is the definition of a malicious action against the Quadratic Funding mechanism?

  3. What consequences should befall malicious actors?

  4. Which grant collections should be discoverable on

  5. How large should grants rounds be, and who is eligible?

As much as Gitcoin tries to rely on the community writ-large to drive decisions about funding, questions of governance still ultimately fall on the core Gitcoin team. What were previously mere thought experiments now critical points to address.

It was time to entrust governance and direction of Gitcoin to the wider community.

The Decentralize Gitcoin Workstream

Alongside the launch of the GTC token and initial sketchings of the Gitcoin DAO, there was also Philip Hutchins' proposal on the Gitcoin governance forum proposing a Decentralize Gitcoin Workstream. Philip's proposal formally kicked off conversations for a decentralized Grants protocol.

Decentralizing Gitcoin will be a collective effort to transform the current Gitcoin Grants iteration into a permissionless, forkable, and credibly neutral protocol.

Alongside engineering consulting firm Scopelift, Philip Hutchins' team behind the workstream, as well as the larger Gitcoin community, ChainSafe is proud to be trusted as one of the many members laying the groundwork for the decentralized Gitcoin vision.

Both ChainSafe and Scopelift have been commissioned to spec out an initial architecture separately, before coming together to synthesize a final version of the spec (with guidance from the Gitcoin team) to give the new Grants protocol maximum breadth of coverage and research.

In helping to design the infrastructure of Gitcoin dGrants, we have set out several non-negotiable objectives for the blueprint:

  • Permissionless - Anybody can participate by creating a grant or funding an existing grant. This may require meeting some identity requirements but any valid human on earth should be able to participate without obstruction. Furthermore, anybody should be able to start and run their own matching rounds.

  • Transparent - The ranking and curation algorithm and its input data must be visible to everyone and publicly verifiable.

  • Secure - Client should be confident they are interacting with the correct Gitcoin contracts and contributions are directed to the correct parties.

  • Affordable - Since some components of Gitcoin dGrants will inevitably live on-chain, creating grants - and more importantly contributing to grants - should not cost the user excessive fees.

  • Forkable - Anyone can fork the interface, update it, and host it.

  • Composable - Users of Gitcoin are free to choose their UI and curation algorithms, and are free to develop and share their own to evolve the ecosystem.

Components of the Gitcoin dGrants

With these objectives in mind, there are several components to the new Grants system ChainSafe is proposing that we will need to consider in order to sufficiently decentralize Gitcoin Grants:

  1. Creating an on-chain grant index from which users can query and retrieve grants and their details, with any person having the right to create a grant with the potential for it to be funded.

  2. Developing a service for users to opt-in to have their grants browsing experience curated by a party they trust. This would serve to hide spam and fraudulent grants, similar to Uniswap token lists.

  3. Implementing a Graph protocol indexer to enable cached querying and paging of on-chain data, necessary for providing a great user experience.

  4. Migration of the front-end web hosting to a distributed web service such as IPFS.

  5. Developing an on-chain "curation game" that will allow for community members to collaboratively participate in curation in return for value or reputation rewards. The game should be designed in such a way that produces an output ranking with properties such as: upranking quality projects; unearthing promising projects that have received little or no attention/funding; rejecting spam grants; reduced potential for manipulation by a single actor.

Notable items about ChainSafe's proposed architecture for Gitcoin dGrants

As this will be decentralized infrastructure, grant creation on Gitcoin dGrants will be 100% permissionless. Anyone can create grants for anything. This is why a service for filtering grants (similar to curated Token Lists) would be useful. This service would be opt-in, with the option for a user to opt-out and view "the wild west" of available grants. You will be able to delegate to one-or-more organizations to curate the grants for your viewing. From the start, likely only Gitcoin will be interested in doing this, but we envision other entities will want to provide this service as well.

All components of the Gitcoin dGrants protocol will be forkable and composable, since all data will be public on Ethereum and IPFS. Gitcoin will maintain the web UI and Graph indexer, but anyone is free to fork the code and customize the codebase. Similarly, our intention in designing the infrastructure is to allow anyone to create a matching round, not just Gitcoin. In this way, the creator of the matching pool gets to decide how they want to match (e.g. quadratic funding) and what the selection criteria will be.

Finally, Gitcoin dGrants will be an amalgamation of several different Web 3.0 tech stacks. It will leverage the existing Web 3.0 infrastructure, and showcase the full power of the decentralized web through Gitcoin by utilizing Ethereum, The Graph, IPFS, 3Box (TBD), Metamask, etc. In particular, The Graph protocol is a strong choice for its indexing services on EVM-compatible chains without direct (and often expensive) interactions with Ethereum; and IPFS for its content-addressable storage of data that is tamper-proof and distributed.


ChainSafe's Solutions Engineering team has already delivered a preliminary specification for this system. With the synthesis of both Scopelift's proposed architecture alongside ChainSafe's, Gitcoin and the workstream team has begun building according to the new specifications. They are aiming to facilitate a fully decentralized Grants Round 11 in Fall 2021.

Get involved

There's various ways to get involved with the decentralized Gitcoin project.

For starters, stay tuned for a Decentralized Gitcoin Workstream community call, w[[here](]( you will be able to partake in the conversation. The Gitcoin team has also created a #decentralize-gitcoin channel on Discord. They have also created a grant for funding this workstream. Contributions are welcome! The Github repo will be housed here. Finally, you can leave your comments in the Gitcoin Governance forum here and here.

Want to work with ChainSafe? COME JOIN US!!! Check out the new Careers section of our website and our open positions, and get in touch with us at if you are interested!

Learn more about ChainSafe by visiting our website, through our Medium, via Twitter, visiting the ChainSafe GitHub, or dropping by on Chainsafe's Discord.


Thank you to Willem Olding, Alex Voto, Philip Hutchins (Gitcoin), and Matt Carano (Gitcoin). Their contributions were invaluable to the making of this article.