Web3 Foundation Grants Program: Building the Future of Web3

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By Erika Rosenstein

The Web3 Foundation was created to nurture and steward technologies and applications in the fields of decentralised web software protocols, particularly those which utilize modern cryptographic methods to safeguard decentralisation, to the benefit and for the stability of the Web3 ecosystem.

I had the pleasure to interview Bill Laboon, Head of Education and Grants at Web3 Foundation.

Bill, tell me more about the organization.
Web3 Foundation is helping to shepherd the decentralized web into existence. This means that we fund research and development of software that helps bring that about, focusing on the development of Polkadot and the related ecosystem (including its canary network Kusama and the blockchain development framework Substrate). 

This involves several interrelated responsibilities. First, we have a team of researchers who help develop the fundamental aspects of Polkadot, prove the correctness of different algorithms, optimize the security of the system, and similar topics. You can find more information about the research team and what they are working on here: https://research.web3.foundation/
Perhaps the aspect of the Web3 Foundation that is most visible to others is the Grants Program. We operate a very prolific grants program that has funded over 450 projects, with teams based in over 50 countries. The Grants Program focuses on helping teams develop software that will be useful to others in the ecosystem. We have seen many projects start in the grants program, and end up becoming very productive members of the ecosystem, and many projects are used by many other teams in the ecosytem. You can see more details on the Grants Program here: https://web3.foundation/grants/
We also have a Technical Education team that produces technical education and documentation about Polkadot. The crowning achievement of this team is the Polkadot Wiki, a one-stop source for the “ground truth” of how Polkadot works. With over 3’100 commits to the Polkadot Wiki repository, the team keeps the public updated about the latest changes and features added to the protocol. The team also produces courses teaching people about blockchain fundamentals and Polkadot, produces videos explaining different aspects of the system and how to use it, gives talks and presentations at various locations around the world, and provides other assistance to people building on Polkadot.
Another important public-facing team is the Anti-Scam and Support team, which provides a place for users to get help on using the system and reduce the number of scams in our ecosystem. The Support Team also manages the Knowledge Base, a troubleshooting guide for just about any problem that one may find themselves having with Polkadot.


How does your grants program work? 
Web3 Foundation has an entirely open grants process, which is done transparently on Github. We have explored making it even more open by doing more work on-chain, so you may see this in the near future. Our goal is always to be as open as possible, to let people from the community provide input and see how things are done).
Final decisons on whether to fund a particular problem are made by the Grants Committee, which is a group of people that are knowledgeable about the Polkadot ecosystem. This list is mostly, but not entirely, Web3 Foundation and Parity personnel. You can see a list of Grants Committee members here: https://github.com/w3f/Grants-Program#w3f-grants-committee. Note that community members can also view and even participate in the discussion around a grant, they just cannot make a determination of whether or not a grant is accepted. The Grants Committee takes quite a few things into consideration when deciding to fund projects, such as the background of the team and their perceived ability to complete the project, the usefulness of the project to the ecosystem, and the number of similar projects already being worked on. They also look into whether a different funding mechanism may make more sense for that particular team (such as the on-chain treasury – https://wiki.polkadot.network/docs/learn-treasury – or the Substrate Builders’ Program – https://substrate.io/ecosystem/substrate-builders-program/)
There are really two ways that someone can start on the grants process, by coming up with their own idea that would be useful for the ecosystem, or seeing an RFP that they would like to work on (you can see a list of RFP’s here: https://github.com/w3f/Grants-Program/blob/master/docs/rfps.md). They can then submit a grant application as a pull request to the Grants-Program repository. Depending on the size of the grant requested, it will require a certain number of approvals from Grants Committee members. There is often a bit of back-and-forth first, as team members ensure they understand the request, that the milestone deliverables are well-defined, how the project is different from similar ones in the ecosystem, etc.
There are now two possibilities: the grant is accepted by a sufficient number of people on the Grants Committee, or it is not. In the latter case, generally, the team writes why exactly the grant was not accepted, and perhaps ideas for future grants by that team. For example, a grant proposal may not be accepted because other teams are already working on something similar. We may note that we’d be interested in funding projects that build on top of one of the existing solutions, or a related idea that might be useful for the ecosystem. If a grant is accepted, the team can then go off and start building.
Generally, projects are divided into several milestones. After delivering a milestone, it will be evaluated by grant evaluators on the W3F Grants Team. We also allow external evaluators to provide evaluations of projects, which are then reviewed by the W3F Grants Team. Evaluators often have additional ideas to improve the project, or find bugs in the deliverables. When a project has reached a level of quality that meets the evaluator’s standards, they can receive the funding agreed upon in the initial request.


What are your plans for 2023?
We are planning to produce quite a bit more educational content, to teach people about how to develop on Polkadot. One of our focuses is providing more material for teams interested in building on Substrate, a blockchain development framework that allows one to easily develop their own blockchains, both independent and connected to Polkadot as parachains. This will involve additional MOOCs, as well as more videos and work with the Polkadot Blockchain Academy.
With the move to OpenGov on Kusama, soon coming to Polkadot, a more democratic on-chain world is possible. Web3 Foundation is helping people understand this new system and what is possible on it, and exploring ways to further decentralize responsibilities that may have been done in the past by a centralized entity. For more information on OpenGov, please see https://wiki.polkadot.network/docs/learn-opengov.
Of course, Web3 Foundation will continue to support the growth and development of Polkadot by continuing to do what we have always done. Additionally, we will likely see some new ideas sprout by the end of the year that we haven’t even thought about yet!
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