So I have an unresolved sadness about ICANN at the end of this Brussels meeting, so I figured I would type it out to figure out why.
Like so many people in the “community”, I feel a strange sense of loyalty to the organization and yet spend about half my time being critical of it. I know how infuriating this is to the people trying to make it work and yet feel compelled to continue to point out where it is failing – at least in my expectations.
It’s not because I feel I can necessarily do a better job – if you’ve been on the inside you know that everything is an impossible balance of judgments. And it’s not because I feel slighted or determined to impose my will – I left on good terms and at the right time. But it’s sad that ICANN just isn’t living up to its potential and because it keeps making bad mistakes, while being incredibly defensive about them.
The organization should be firing on all cylinders at the moment: it is coming to the close of a process for new Internet extensions that will revolutionise the Internet; it has very recently introduced a range of non-English extensions, making the Internet truly global; it has a newish CEO and some energetic new faces; it grows larger and stronger by the day.
And yet, every avenue that has been opened to fix one of ICANN’s biggest issues – accountability and transparency – the organization is utterly self-interested and fights against its own community. It has lost senior people – lots of them – and more are heading out soon. Doug Brent as COO helped restructure a hugely complex and messy internal situation and gets a few saccharine words and a blue jacket. The Board still comes across as resistant, uncommunicative and untrusting of those outside its bubble of legal fears – it only appears relaxed when it is congratulating people for leaving.
The budget is improved but supporting organizations still can’t get the information they ask for; plans put out by the staff are handled badly (DNS-CERT) and good ideas nearly lost through poor communication; the CEO is completely withdrawn and burning political capital at a worrying rate; the staff as a group still don’t grasp how to be open and helpful; the community keeps recognising the same problems but are never able to find solutions.
All of these are things that I recognise from my time at ICANN: I had hoped to find they were being fixed. I want to be proud of this multistakeholder organization that brings together an extraordinary array of people who are almost all determined to work together. And yet I feel disappointed and a little sad.
It will all be fine of course. The organization is solid enough to survive even a direct attack by others. But it is never inspiring. It is workaday and riven with inconsistency that occasionally edges into incompetence. And all this despite a huge amount of work and of goodwill by many, many people.
I’m not sure I really want to go to the next meeting in Cartagena. Having take a gulp of fresh air from outside, the circulation within ICANN feels a little stale.