Sorry to always be harping on about ICANN; it’s the not exactly the most important organisation in the world. But it is the one bureaucracy I have come to know really well and so just can’t help but rail against all the things that infuriate people the world over when they come up against unthinking bureaucracies.
I just saw a tweet from some bloke talking about outreach efforts by the GNSO. Since it was my job for a number of years to engage people in the ICANN processes (often despite those already involved), it was intriguing to see that a report has been produced that is now out for public comment about exactly how to do this. This might be one of the those times where ICANN actually impresses.
The work began in January 2009, so they have had over two years to get this right. And the result is… absolutely horrifying.
How do you engage people? Well, the first thing you *don’t* do is begin the document with a long explanation about the process you followed to get to the report. And fill it full of acronyms. This is, literally, the first paragraph:
The ICANN Board Governance Committee (BGC) created a working group (the BGC WG) to consider the results of the reviews and recommend a comprehensive proposal to improve the effectiveness of the Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO), including its policy activities, structure, operations and communications. This BGC WG produced a comprehensive set of recommendations: the “Report of the Board Governance Committee GNSO Review Working Group on GNSO Improvements” (hereinafter the BGC Report) that were approved by the full Board in July 2008.
If you ever wondered why there was a need for outreach in the first place, it is rather neatly encapsulated in this opening paragraph: who the hell would want to get involved in an organisation that promotes its own lingo and processes above all else – even when a report’s entire focus is on reaching out to others.
That’s just the start. But I won’t go on because, frankly, what’s the point? It’s a complete dog’s dinner full of management speak, vague nice-to-haves, and plans for action that could have been drawn up on a bar napkin in five minutes 24 months ago. But here is the most stark reminder that the people inside of a bureaucracy are the absolute worst at recognising what they need to do to pull in outsiders:
The report has two sections of recommendations. Just two. Both stress, heavily, that language – particularly the almost exclusive use of English – is a major factor in excluding people. Here are the descriptions of the two sections:
- Section 2.1: Recommendations for a global outreach strategy to relevant members of the public, particularly non-English speakers and those from developing countries/regions; and
- Section 2.2: Recommendations for development of global outreach programs aimed at increasing participation both from current members of the ICANN community as well as potential members, particularly non-English speakers.
- The announcement is available in English only
- The paper [pdf] is available in English only
- The public comment period is in English only
And it’s not even as if ICANN’s doesn’t have the translation capabilities to deal with this. I know because I set them up. And they have been hugely expanded and professionalized by Christina Rodriguez. Did it honestly not occur to anyone to translate this document and the accompanying announcement before publishing it? Because I think herein you, the GNSO, have located the answer to your problems: YOU!
The [bang!]s in the title of this blog post are me smacking my head against my desk. Please wake me up when the nightmare is over.