[Proposal] Defining An Ethos For The NNS

The NNS Needs Direction

The NNS is both the greatest strength and the most likely point of failure for the Internet Computer. Everything depends on getting it right.

Right now we are starting to mature as an ecosystem, so big questions such as creating an NNS Treasury are being debated. The problem is that we all have different views regarding what the NNS is, should be, and could be. We are debating something which currently has no unified purpose, ethos, or constitution. This means the validity of different arguments regarding the NNS are fairly arbitrary, subjective, and often based on individual preferences.

This situation is far from ideal. We should first work to define the driving ethos of the NNS, and from that, we can then navigate a clear path forward for its future.

There is precedent for this, the Ethereum Foundation makes its philosophy clear on its website. In short, we need something like this for the NNS, to unify the community around a set of shared principles regarding its purpose, usage, and future.

This Proposal & The Process For Ratification

This proposal is simply a vote on whether or not we should begin the process of ratifying an ethos for the NNS. After it’s accepted, each individual Guiding Principle making up the ethos document will be its own proposal. Over the course of a few months, the ethos will collect Guiding Principals until there’s a final proposal to ratify the ethos as “basically complete”.

EDIT 10/24
Actually, I think a time limit would be the best way to handle this, since it’ll never be “100% complete”. Basically, we’d start the process of creating the Ethos once this proposal gets approved, and from that point “Guiding Principles” can be added via proposals. At the end of December 2022, we can consider the Ethos complete enough for publication and general distribution/usage.

From that point, it’ll remain a living document that can be modified via proposals, but we can all move forward using its contents as the foundation for evaluating proposals. Once ratified the ethos should also be added to the DFINITY documentation, NNS App, and other front ends. This will let new users being onboarded into the ecosystem have confidence regarding how the NNS will be used.

EDIT 10/24

Is this a list of rules? How would it be enforced?

It’s not about making rules, it’s about clarifying the current consensus regarding the usage of the NNS. That’s all.

If the NNS had an ethos which directed it toward being a steward of the protocol, then it could still someday transform into something like a global digital government. I’m not saying we even could put rules in place to prevent that from happening.

The difference is that a transformation of the NNS can happen deceptively and slowly, and without an ethos that shift would go fairly unnoticed. If there’s an ethos in place, then shifts in the focus of the NNS would involve updating the Ethos during the process, and that’ll give community members like myself a clear indication if I’m starting to contribute to something I never wanted to be a part of.

As is a stands with the NNS right now, do any of us have any clear idea of exactly what the NNS is going to do with it’s control of the network? What exactly are we contributing to? I think it’s worth taking some time to try and define that.

Why “Ethos”? What will this provide?

Perhaps “Ethos” is the wrong word. If you know of a better one, please suggest it!

We need a way to set accurate general expectations for what the NNS will do with it’s power, so that token holders and projects can make long term decisions. Why would you build on a network where the NNS has the power to censor your canister, and you have literally nothing to go off of which could give you a clear indication of what might bring that situation about? How can you trust a token when more could be minted at any time, and there’s not even a general idea of how and why that might happen?

The Ethos can change too, and if it changes to misalign with the needs of specific stakeholders, then those stakeholders need to know so that they can leave to join other web3 networks which do fit their needs. For example, if the community did want an NNS that could act as a central bank, then many projects would leave. Right now some are leaving simply due to the lack of certainty, which is a pity because I don’t think the NNS Treasury thing will ever actually be implemented. If there was an Ethos opposing things like the NNS becoming a central bank, perhaps these projects would have less uncertainty in the future of the NNS and be willing to stay.

If the Ethos is largely ignored and problems arise, that can be called to attention to drive the promotion of either changes made to it (to generalize it further) or have more adherence to it. It’ll just be a tool for helping drive general alignment, which won’t be perfect but it can at least be an improvement on the current situation.

Possible Guiding Principles

I’d like to submit these as examples of Guiding Principles that we might consider adding to the NNS Ethos, should this proposal pass and we begin the process. However, as stated each guiding principle should be its own proposal and be collaboratively composed by the community.

  • 1. The exclusive goal of the NNS is to be the steward of the Internet Computer Protocol

The NNS exists specifically to maintain the ICP network in a fair and decentralized manner. Despite what it can or could do, no other purpose or task should be applied beyond its responsibility of making sure the network is reliable, robust, and secure for all those who use it or build upon it. Users and developers need to know that the NNS will not take on other agendas beyond fulfilling the promise of a fair and decentralized world computer and that it will never become their competitor, enemy, or ally.

Other types of goals and tasks beyond this scope can be fulfilled by dapps built on top of the Internet Computer, and the NNS’s only job is making sure the network remains the perfect foundation for that to happen.

In other words, if the NNS starts doing anything which might make it a competitor to something which could be built on top of it, then its starting to exceed it’s scope of responsibilities. The NNS is the only entity that can maintain the ICP network, so that should remain its exclusive focus and responsibility.

  • 2. The NNS is inclusive, impartial, agnostic, and resistant to collusion.

NNS deliberation should be based on the merit and logic of proposals, and place no limitations or preferences for who can participate based on how much money, power, and/or influence a proposer does or doesn’t have. In other words, the NNS is a tool used, owned, and available to every neuron holder without restriction, prejudice, or bias.

Since collusion and majority control by a small group would break the accessibility and impartiality of the NNS, the NNS may adopt measures that contribute to reducing the risk, impact, and incentives of collusion.

  • 3. Politics, Morality, and Philosophy are outside the scope of the NNS.

The NNS must never become a political platform or tool for evaluating ethics. The NNS has no place in deciding what “the greater good” is in a situation that’s not directly related to the technical operation of the network. The NNS has no right to violate any human rights of any group or individual in any situation. The NNS should not be used to determine what organizations, projects, or people are “worth”, “owed”, or “for”.

The NNS stands for nothing except making sure the ICP Network remains strong and stable.

In the rare and unlikely situation that the NNS finds itself as the exclusive and necessary decider in something outside its scope (perhaps akin to the Trolly problem), it should delegate the dilemma to individual neuron holders, not allowing an outcome via a proposal. This is because proposals represent the official stance of the protocol, and the protocol should not take a stance on these types of issues.

In other words, in situations where it cannot be avoided, then neuron holders may be given a mechanism to individually evaluate the morality/politics of a situation, but the NNS shouldn’t take a stance or determine the outcome uniformly by using the proposal mechanism.

  • 4. The NNS will not risk the long-term stability of the network to address immediate problems.

Startups often need to follow advice such as “move fast and break things”. However, the NNS is not a startup, it maintains the foundation for an entire ecosystem of builders which need long-term reliability for their dapps to succeed. As such, the NNS cannot afford to “break things”, and must not let important matters with long-term effects be rushed by the impatience or urgency which will always be present. The NNS will be controlling a network that will exist beyond any of us, a network that may come to have powers beyond anything we currently realize, so we cannot know what sacrifices we would be making when putting the long-term stability of the protocol at risk.

  • 5. The NNS will protect & respect user autonomy, privacy, and participation

The NNS will not become a tyrant by controlling users and/or assets as a police force or justice institution. ICP was invented specifically to create a safe place for autonomy, privacy, and participation, so the NNS must respect, reinforce, and adhere to those goals.

  • 6. The NNS will safeguard tokenomic trust & security through non-interference

Manipulated economic systems are inherently unjust and untrustworthy. Users need to trust that, even over the long term, the tokenomics of ICP will not be manipulated via the NNS to promote the agendas of different community participants.

  • 7. The NNS will only censor to avoid the distribution and proliferation of gross physical human suffering or to protect the operational functionality of the network.

The NNS may choose to censor when something violates a law that is both common across most countries and known as an obvious wrongdoing that causes gross physical human suffering. This means child pornography websites, murder-for-hire marketplaces, human trafficking websites, and illegal military weapon dealing marketplaces are all eligible for censorship.

However, the NNS does not define or determine justice, it simply provides neuron holders with a mechanism for flushing out extreme examples of content that directly stem from or facilitate the physical harm of innocent people against their will.

For example, something may be illegal simply because it doesn’t fit the political agenda or propaganda of a particular government, but that doesn’t mean it should be censored. Likewise, a project may do something morally wrong, but it does not cause any physical harm and the NNS has no right to censor it (such as a website that let’s married people find someone to cheat on their spouse with). Other crimes involving willing participants, sensitive data, and/or intangible harm (such as emotional) are not the NNS’s responsibility or obligation to censor.

Again, the NNS should not be the police, small claims court, or judge of the network, it’s censorship power is a tool of last resort to only be used against atrocities.

Regarding the aspect of “or to protect the functionality of the network”. This is meant to protect the NNS’s ability to remove any canisters with harmful code that threatens the functional integrity of the network/protocol. This is because the NNS’s primary task is keeping the network stable.


Thanks for starting this discussion @aiv we clearly needs it.

I would add that the NNS should aims to become as decentralised and accessible as possible.
There should never be any barrier built in the system to participate (expect the cost of $ICP & an Internet connection). In the future, there might be special types of neurons (named, KYC?, certified?) but those new features should never suppress the possibility of having a totally anonymous & basic neuron participating in the governance process.


You’re excellent. You will achieve great things!


In order to achieve this, involving politics is unavoidable
Only by becoming a government can have real management power, otherwise the so-called voting weight will look pale in front of the traditional authority


“Politics” regarding the technical aspects of subnet management, and politics regarding controlling and policing participants of the community are vastly different things.

There needs to be scope for the power of the NNS.

In any regard, the individual guiding principles are up for debate, but this proposal is about starting the process to begin defining them in the first place, by kicking off an ethos ratification effort.

For example, if the NNS is to simply be a protocol steward, then it should be handled vastly different than if it’s to become a governing global power (like a digital country). Until we all decide what it’s purpose is, we’re all going to just waste time pulling it in different directions with no unified vision or purpose. In that case, it’ll become nothing but a mis-managed mess.


This is a great conversation.

I wonder… to vote competently on all proposals requires knowledge of many disciplines. It is highly unusual for one person to possess multi-disciplinary knowledge.

There are 11 Governance Domains, currently one can “follow” others for ALL Domains.

What if this were to change, ie one can “follow” neurons for up to 8 topics, leaving 3 that have to be voted on manually IF one wanted to earn the full staking return.

It would seem reasonable to suggest people would choose to vote manually on topics they have some knowledge of, or which they are interested to learn more about.

Perhaps also, one cannot follow the same neuron for more than 4 Domains. This would encourage Named Neurons to declare an interest in particular Domains and prevent a small number of neurons from dominating/influencing all 11 Governance Domains.

I appreciate this is a deviation from the idea of establishing an Ethos through agreeing Principles. I hope it stimulates thought on how a positive and practical Principled Ethos can be encouraged by using the system as it is.


I think governance subtopics for more granular following would be cool, but I don’t see how that would remove the need for an Ethos which defines and scope the power of the NNS.


Ah, I wasn’t suggesting this would remove the need for an ethos. But it would support the practical application of an ethos. Without such a mechanism, one would never know if people were applying the ethos, or simply paying lip-service to it in public and doing something completely different in practice.

An ethos cannot be enforced, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be encouraged :slight_smile:


Ah, yeah I get you!

The Ethos cannot be enforced, but it would be a clear indicator of which neurons do and do not adhere to the best interests of the NNS. It’ll be a useful framework for evaluating proposals and neurons for following, and a foundation for arguments to be rooted on the agreed upon scope of the NNS.

Basically, if a known neuron refuses to follow the Ethos, and cannot get approval to change the Ethos to fit how it wants to guide the NNS, then it’s misaligned and that’ll be easily made obvious to everyone.


You have stated a good conversation and I look forward to it developing.

I’ll add more if appropriate :slight_smile:


I love this as core basic ethos of the NNS. I fully support having some guiding principles. If they could enforced by codes that would be even better. For example, anything that requires change to the tokenomics or censorship of a canister should require a threshold of votes to adopt.


This point is itself political and very questionable because, at the very least, all economic systems are manipulated. So much debate about inflation is based on a misunderstanding of the economics of nations and the misapplication of that misunderstanding to the cryptosphere which does not operate the way nations do.
Rather than remove politics from the NNS, this approach would freeze it in a shape reflecting a specific political viewpoint.

The US dollar is the world’s reserve currency. It’s solid and getting stronger, right? But did you know that for the world and the global economy, that’s not too good if kept unresolved.

Hypothetically, let’s say we are in 2025….and

The IC is the world’s leading blockchain technology. It’s solid and getting stronger right? But did you know that if the current inflation mechanisms can not be solved then the global blockchain economy would be in a bad condition. (Inflation)

Hear me out…

First, have you heard of the phrase the “DOLLAR DOOM LOOP!”

Let me explain the impact this has in the world and then by comparison the same would happen to ICP if inflation in not safely contained.

Since 1944, when 44 countries voted to create the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and World Bank, the US dollar has been known as the world’s reserve currency. This agreement is known as the Bretton Woods Agreement and officially made the US dollar the most trusted currency and allowed the US to export its debt much more effortlessly.

In 1971, President Nixon ‘temporarily suspended’ the convertibility of US dollars into gold, completely separating the dollar from gold and voiding the gold standard completely. This means that every time the US government prints money to pay its debt, it’s like writing an ‘IOU’ on paper. There’s no guarantee that the government will ever have the money to pay that IOU back.

Follow me here…

I’m looking through the lens of the future, and here is how I think uncontrollable inflation would negatively impact the community.

As of today, national debt in the US has surpassed &31 Trillion. To my eyes, we’ve entered a new ‘dollar doom loop’ cycle. Forcing the US dollar to be strong, makes foreign countries sink further into economic troubles. In other terms, it takes more of their specified currency to make one US dollar. Zimbabwe a country in Africa, is suffering from such incredibly high inflation, topping a significant 200%, that their central bank has started printing gold coins for public purchase to try and steer clear of the US dollar.

This can directly be reflected in the IC ecosystem. Say the price of ICP is suffering from inflation, how can projects pegged on ICP change?

Fixing inflation can be solved in two ways. The first is for the Fed to cut interest rates to a level that allows for more purchasing power for the US dollar, causing foreign countries to regain some of their local currency’s value.

In the ICP this can be seen as letting neurons dissolve

The second option is for growth outside the US to recover. However, with inflation sweeping the globe, this isn’t likely to happen, considering the US is sitting pretty to weather this inflationary period, and we’re still seeing record inflation numbers.

The third option is for China to stimulate its economy. This option has worked in the past to break a doom loop cycle and could hypothetically work again.

In the ICP it may be time to approach the African market and sell your products :kenya: This would stimulate growth but no one is willing to have that conversation at the current time. And you can not avoid politics because politics creates law with created order that is needed for business to be in check. Just my thoughts.


Thanks for writing this up! This is a great summary…

My specific question is around how we enforce this “constitution” without hard systemic controls?!

We can pass all the motions we want and that won’t stop any future attempts to expand the scope.

We need to think about if we want to implement systemic controls and what they could look like.


Well it’s premature to discuss enforcement before the Ethos even exists and is defined.

Some aspects (such as locking certain tokenomic functions) may be enforceable in code, but others may not be.

The point of the Ethos is for being a non-subjective foundation from which we can all evaluate proposals and known neurons, from which we can judge their alignment to the scope of the NNS.

If someone pushes an agenda that violates the defined Ethos, then unless they can first change the Ethos to fit their agenda they are objectively wrong.

In other words, coming to consensus over an Ethos would itself be useful, even if all of the guiding principles of the Ethos cannot be strictly enforced via code right from the start.

An example would be the unofficial “allow time for deliberation on the dev forum before publishing a proposal” community expectation.


Well the individual guiding principles are still up for debate, this proposal is more about starting the process of defining them to ratify an Ethos.

Even if you don’t think we should freeze the tokenomics, then we should still define the scope for tokenomic policy.

Even if some types of politics will remain relevant to the NNS, it’s probably wise to not include every form of politics. There’s a big difference between the politics of tweaking a neuron reward parameter and defining a new human right.

I think this is a deliverable of the Governance working group that is currently in progress. One of the leaders is @lastmjs and he could add clarity on objectives and advise how to incorporate your ideas.

While I agree with this statement, I think it comes from a sense that there is a dire problem based on misconceptions about how the NNS works. For some reason, people think the NNS is a platform for expression of free speech and they are willing to propose whatever they want without deliberation. That gets people riled up thinking the NNS is fragile and can change willy nilly. This is simply not true. There are no governance motion proposals that will ever implement code changes. Most voting power that is cast on the Governance topic is able to recognize which proposals are worthy of passing and even if something is passed it doesn’t mean it will get implemented. All implementation today occurs by DFINITY, including development of the technical solution, security reviews, as well as merging the code. No matter how good an idea and how much NNS support exists, it won’t get implemented unless DFINTIY puts it on their roadmap and makes it happen. When it comes to tokenomics, there is no change that has ever occurred that was not originated by DFINITY and implemented by DFINITY in an effort to address real decentralization problems. They were all implemented consistent with the NNS governance and tokenomics design and none of them were willy nilly changes. Yes, there were side effects, but those side effects are tolerable relative to the problems they solved. I think our memories are short as a community. We forget how far we have come since genesis when it comes to decentralization and it is solely because of efforts that have been made by DFINITY to push the community in the direction of decentralization on the Governance topic.

To be honest, the NNS exists so a large body of people can make decisions based on what they think will individually benefit them financially the most so that, in aggregate, the decisions that are made are in the long term best interest of the IC. Even if there were a community supported ethos, there will be people who disagree and will do their own thing. The only way to prevent it is to gate keep in some way, which is counter to the proposed ethos.

In addition to the enforcement problem with having an ethos, I think it may be important to consider whether this ethos is intended for the community or for DFINITY. The precedent cited is the Ethereum Foundation, which implies this ethos is really intended for DFINITY Foundation. DFINITY Foundation is not the NNS and as decentralization occurs over time this will become more apparent to the community. However, the reality is that today only DFINITY controls the NNS with the one exception of the Governance topic, which is partially decentralized and has no effect on the internet computer except for community perception of decentralization. So there is perception that the community has power, but in reality it does not have power today. Hence, it almost seems like there is no point in creating an ethos for the community and I don’t think it is appropriate for the community to try to create an ethos for DFINITY.

Those are my initial thoughts, but to be honest I don’t know the right answer. It seems this idea should be considered under the umbrella of the Governance working group. I suggest pursuing it in that way.


Your ideas are clearly well intended but personally I think it’s a bit too early in Internet Computer’s development to be talking about ratifying stuff, in my humble opinion this needs to be delayed until the NNS becomes reasonably decentralized which is clearly not the case at the moment.

Just my 2c

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After some consideration, I think it makes sense for individual neurons to have guiding principles behind how they vote but I’m undecided on having something that applies to the NNS itself.


Great! But we can still discuss it here. The last two Governance working group meetings didn’t fit my timezone/schedule, sometimes things are best discussed in this setting.

The NNS is both fragile and powerful, and to pretend anything different is misguided.

Sure, up until now most proposals have been harmless motion proposals, but the NNS controls the ICP tokenomics, the subnets, the fate of node providers, and the fate of dapps. You and David have been leading talks about trying to use it’s tokenomic power to “create more DFINITY’s”, what is that if not power?

It’s also fragile specifically because DFINITY currently controls all of the actual state-changing proposal types. The community needs to take control of this over time and decentralize the role of DFINITY, and this will be an inherently difficult process with lots of potential pitfalls. If we fail to fully decentralize the NNS, and DFINITY maintains complete control over the long term, then we fail to actually become a web3 network. If this isn’t a fragile situation I don’t know what is.

Politicians are free to oppose the constitution of their country, and sadly sometimes they are even successful. A stated Ethos/constitution isn’t about about gate keeping, it’s about providing a common ground for determining alignment with the stated parameters of a governance power.

For example, if the Ethos states that the NNS is to be focused on stewardship of the protocol, but a known neuron tries to push it into becoming a digital government, then “doing it’s own thing” is clearly against the Ethos and it’s opposition can draw attention to that fact to drive support for voting down their proposals. If there is no Ethos, it’s just a bunch of people with completely different visions for the NNS throwing their opinions back and forth, not coming to consensus on any defined path forward and having no external shared reference they could use for drawing the community into alignment.

The example was from Ethereum foundation, but it was just an example. The Ethos would be for defining the purpose and scope of the NNS, so it’s not intended for the community or DFINITY.

However, to your point, if we define an Ethos and DFINITY violates it, then we can call foul, demand they make things right, and use the situation to continue work towards replacing their role. We don’t need to define an Ethos for DFINITY as an organization, but we do have the right as neuron holders to demand they act according to our guidelines when using the influence we delegate to them.

Working groups are great, but this needs more exposure than that. I’ll be submitting this proposal to the NNS next weekend, after the community has had about a week to discuss.