Update: Meeting going ahead.
There is a questionmark over ICANN’s upcoming meeting in Nairobi, Kenya again. This time it has more bite than the usual xenophobia: the COO has published a US Department of State report that lists the conference centre itself as a specific threat from a Somalian insurgency group, Al-Shabaab. In response, a number of Internet companies have already announced they are pulling their people.
The Kenya conference was cancelled last year following election violence, and the meeting this year has been under a constant review – with the Board finally deciding the bite the bullet at a meeting on 22 January (my heart, incidentally, goes out to my former colleagues in the meetings team who have a near-impossible job of preparing for over 1,000 attendees at short notice). Now there is fresh discussion about whether to go ahead with the meeting – due to start on 7 March.
Maria Farrell has written an interesting post giving some background (although, I feel the need to point out that the attendees at ICANN meetings are: one third regulars; one third occasional; one third entirely new – my analysis online here). So I thought I’d write a post pointing out how this bad news can be turned around to be positive for the organization.
If the meeting goes ahead…
It is a terrific opportunity for ICANN to really work on remote participation since large numbers of ICANNers will not be physically attending. This fact has not been missed (thank god) by the Board’s Public Participation Committee, which has been pushing for participation guides at its past two meetings.
Most of the tools for effective remote participation are already in place. What is missing are the cultural and procedural guidelines to make the most of them. With lots of people unlikely to attend, this is an ideal opportunity for ICANN to step up a notch and start making remote participation a functional reality.
If the meeting is cancelled…
Then I sincerely hope that the Board decides to simply cancel the event and reinvest the $2 million it costs to run an ICANN meeting (or as much as it can recoup) into events that focus people’s attention on the issues that need to be tackled.
There are only really two things of importance that the Nairobi meeting is going to cover: the Expressions of Interest model for new Internet extensions (whether people have to pre-apply for their gTLD); and the registry/registrar separation issue (the rules surrounding the split between those who sell domains and those who run the Internet registry itself).
The Board is going to make the decision regarding the Expressions of Interest. And it has lots of comment from the community following a very active public comment period. I’d like to see the Board meet physically somewhere else (Los Angeles?) for a week and really tackle the issue and do what it needs to do – make a decision. The community has had its say, having another meeting on the issue is only chewing up valuable time.
And wrt registry/registrar separation – well, it seems that there is work being done on that by the Board, as made clear in the latest Board minutes (item k). So why not have the staff focus on producing the work the Board has asked for, and then have the Board spend a week discussing and reviewing the issue, coming out with firm recommendations for review – rather than engage in another largely pointless and time-consuming community discussion that is scheduled for Nairobi.
The other HUGE advantage to cancelling the whole meeting would be to overcome the status-quo fears of some in the community about moving from three to two international public meetings a year.
Over the past four years, first Susan Crawford (ex-Board member and former advisor to President Obama), then Paul Levins (ex-VP of Corporate Affairs and the man who negotiated an end to the Joint Project Agreement), and then the Board Public Participation Committee as well as the Head of Meetings have all argued that ICANN should reduce the number of large international meetings the organization runs each year.
Having studied this issue closely myself, I have absolutely no doubt that reducing the number of international public meetings would benefit both ICANN and the community. All it requires is the community to get over its fear of change. And cancelling the whole meeting will cause minds to focus, and provide some funds to think about what meetings do need to happen to move the organization’s work forward.
So, possibly, hopefully, this Nairobi problem will end up a blessing in disguise.