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Public participation: my ICANN leaving report

Category : ICANN, Internet, Internet governance · by Dec 1st, 2009

I wrote a leaving report for my job as ICANN’s general manager of public participation. It’s posted on the organization’s website at

I could have written something 10 times longer but I figured it would be more useful to produce something that more people are likely to read so it stretches to just 20 pages. If you’re interested in ICANN, or in how to involve people online and in organizations, or in general participation trends it is probably worth reading.

The two things I would highlight – and have posted below are: my nine recommendations (for ICANN people) and five “rules” for effective remote participation (for participation people). I should also take this opportunity to add something that I forgot to add in the report – namely, that the use of “remote hubs” in the IGF context was born out of the Remote Participation Working Group, which you can find at

If anyone has questions or queries about any aspect of my report, please raise them as a comment below.

Input omission

One thing that I have already wished I’d included was a recommendation that ICANN produce a range of simpler input mechanisms – such as polls – that are not reliant on people reading whole reports and responding to specific wording.

An enormous problem is the fact that precise wording is introduced too early on in the process – so it can often become all about word-smithing rather than getting the broad approach correct (it also encourages the production of ICANNese that makes little sense to anyone but insiders).

I also note that Stephane van Gelder – now a GNSO vice-chair – has picked up on part of the report and pondered aloud about how to deal with the core issue of volunteer work within ICANN.

The five “rules” of effective remote participation

  • There has to be a dedicated person in charge of engaging with remote participants in each session, who explains the situation surrounding engagement. That person needs to be given equal importance to physical attendees i.e. sat on stage and entitled to interrupt.
  • Remote participants should be given priority over physical attendees since there are unable to adapt as quickly to real world discussions and so their input loses relevance faster.
  • The more participative approaches there are, and the easier they are to find and access, the greater the effective participation. Particularly useful is a single space where video, audio, chat, questions and presentations can be presented.
  • The earlier you can advertise participation tools, their location, and the way they will be used, the more effective subsequent participation will be.
  • If someone is presenting or commenting remotely using their voice, it is crucial that the sound quality of that input within the room itself is very high. Otherwise, combined with the lack of physical presence, the impact of that participation will be low at best.

My nine recommendations to ICANN. (Note: in the report I made a mistake and denoted two recommendations as recommendation six.)

  1. That a community-led review of ICANN’s public comment process be carried at the soonest opportunity, with a recent memorandum from the ALAC used as the start-point for discussions on how to improve and update the process.
  2. That the position of General Manager of Public Participation be restated in ICANN’s bylaws, given the task of coordinating public participation across ICANN, and included as part of the Policy department while retaining explicit reporting rights to the CEO and President.
  3. That a new position of Director of Online Services be created and that person granted overall authority over all ICANN’s websites and related online services. The role may report to the Vice President of Communications but would need to be included in ICANN’s Executive Team to be effective.
  4. Through the website redesign, ICANN should actively engage non-English speakers to ensure that the opportunity isn’t lost to provide a clear route for finding information in other languages.
  5. That ICANN give active consideration to how its accepted norms act as a significant but invisible cultural barrier to participation, and work on changing working methods to accommodate different cultures. Most significant is the accepted low level of civility in online communications, which have a far more damaging impact that the organization realizes.
  6. That ICANN staff develop – with the full involvement of key members of the community – a series of pragmatic guidelines for effective use of online tools.
  7. That ICANN’s management accept, acknowledge and actively promote the need for staff to interact directly with community members of all types as a fundamental part of their job.
  8. That a review of meeting websites is carried out within the first six months of 2010, alongside a broader review and revamp of ICANN’s current web offerings.
  9. That ICANN stick with the current technological tools and focus its energies on creating guidelines and rules for the effective use of such tools before moving forward.

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