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ICANN begins to find its feet with published Board materials

Category : ICANN, Internet, Internet governance, Journalism · by Oct 29th, 2010

Credit where credit’s due, the disclosure of Board materials of the organisation that oversees the domain name system, ICANN, has greatly improved since its first and woeful effort.

The materials for a special Board meeting held in September over the “new gTLD” process are clear, organised and understandable. They also help to publicly demonstrate the large amount of professional work that goes on at ICANN. The issues in front of ICANN are clearly and concisely laid out, complete with arguments and recommendations with rationale. ICANN should be rightly proud of this sort of work.

The September materials also show clear improvement over those for the previous meeting in August – which are not as well structured and suffer from many of the same fault as previous months. That said, and despite a clear improvement for September, several significant procedural problems remain with the publication of Board materials, namely:

  1. There is no notice that the materials have been published. This is important and very easily rectified
  2. There is no explanation or apparent timeline for publishing the materials. This is unprofessional
  3. Entire sections – including their titles – continue to be redacted. There is no explanation for this redaction, and no mechanism for querying the redaction. So long as this unaccountable process is allowed to continue, there can never be full confidence in the publishing process as at any time, staff are in a position to redact whatever material they wish with no requirement to justify that redaction. The Board should be in charge of the redaction process – and they should be in a position to justify any redaction publicly. There should also be a process for publishing redacted material after a certain period of time.
  4. The materials are published in a very unhelpful format: long PDFs on a page four pages deep on the ICANN website. This hugely limits the ability to find and digest the information. If ICANN were to spend a little more time making its most important documents available as text on webpages, it would benefit significantly from all the tools that exist on the Internet. As a result, its work would find a far greater audience.
  5. There are some errors in the work product. If ICANN were to learn to relax its control mechanisms, it may find that the broader community is in a position to *improve* the Board materials, and so improve decisions made by the Board
  6. There materials continue to demonstrate a very insular approach to information provision – everything given to the Board comes through a staff filter. What is lost is a broader context. There is plenty of high-quality commentary and analysis on issues before the ICANN Board; the Board should be in a position to see this. If the staff work product is sufficiently high, it will stand on its own. Without a mechanism for external material, Board members will continue to be lobbied on a personal basis, encouraging the insider culture that remains entrenched within ICANN and continues to damage its reputation on the broader stage.

But back to the positives.

The materials for the new gTLD special meeting are a very useful summary of where we are up to with the process for new Internet extensions. It is encouraging to read the materials and overall they give a much greater sense of confidence in the staff, Board and overall organisation.

It is inevitable that there will be complaints from those who did not get their way – in this case the the Registry Constituency made several requests that the staff makes clear it does not accept. But by publishing the documents, everyone can follow the rationale of staff and – if the Board meeting minutes are improved – see the Board’s thinking as well.

This process – the open, transparent approach that ICANN is supposed to be ideologically wedded to – is what allows ICANN to make difficult decisions. By being open, decisions can become easier, not harder.

Here’s hoping that this improvement in Board materials will continue, tackling some of the remaining issues outlined above, and with luck it is possible that ICANN will start to rediscover its original philosophy and wisdom in being open after many years in the darkness.


Board materials:
September: Part One | Two | Three | Four | Five
August: Part One | Two

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