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Why ICANN Nairobi may be a blessing in disguise

Category : ICANN, Internet governance · by Feb 12th, 2010

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.

I am delighted to see this approach, especially since it was a main recommendation of mine in my leaving report as general manager of public participation.

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.


(13) comments

[…] Kieren McCarthy things these challenges may be a blessing in disguise. […]

Antony Van Couvering
11 years ago ·

Hopeful but unrealistic. The ICANN Board, which snaps to attention when its Government Advisory Committee speaks, was “advised” by that august body to make no decision regarding Expressions of Interest at its February 4, 2010 meeting, but to defer it instead to a public meeting — with which advice the Board duly complied.

The GAC advised the ICANN Board to, among other things:

“avoid taking a decision on the EoI at its February meeting and defer it until the next ICANN Public meeting. A premature decision could trigger requests for reconsideration and further derail the discussion”

and the GAC sends a

“request that staff facilitate a full cross-community deliberation on the EoI at the next ICANN Public meeting, prior to any final decisions”

The ICANN Board has always made its big decisions at a physical meeting, because it taking the vote with spectators (even if it is already pre-determined) implies some kind of buy-in from the community. If they make decisions by phone, there will be a hue and cry (such as that raised by the GAC) that procedures weren’t followed, there was a back-room deal, no-one consulted me, etc. etc.

With the GAC’s heavyweight “advice” thrown into the mix, there is no chance that a non-physical meeting will produce any results, lest the not-so-veiled threat of “reconsideration” should “further derail the discussion.”

I predict that if the Nairobi meeting is canceled (instead of moved), nothing will happen until Brussels, with serious consequences to the new gTLD program and — I would not be the first to suggest — to ICANN’s credibility.

I don’t disagree with your assessment of the utility of public meetings, or of the benefits of remote participation, but with the GAC insisting on public meetings for decision-making, and with the Board’s record of taking important decisions only at public meetings, this is not the time that ICANN will make that shift.


11 years ago ·

Good points Antony.

Of course there is another option: the Board hold a public meeting online. I ran one with the Public Participation Committee with just one helper and it worked surprisingly well.

If you put sufficient resources into running an open, online Board meeting, you could really achieve something. It would take seven people for really professional results: overall manager, MC, sound, media, web-cams, technical, moderator.

Jim Fleming
11 years ago ·


You are young and eventually may learn (who knows?) that there
is A Plan. ICANN is no longer part of any future plans. You could
make millions writing about the past. Future generations could
benefit greatly from a detailed history, person by person and day
by day history of the ICANN era. It is over.

With all due respect, attempting to use journalistic editorials
to steer the future is hopeless. If you want to steer the future,
then you should contribute something. It helps to know [The
Plan] to contribute something that will be a benefit to people.

There was once a dream that an ICANN-like structure would
be 100% on-line with 3D, TV, etc. You are correct, all of the
technology is there. The culture will never be there. We could
debate for hours why it is really a bad idea to try to mix, merge
or converge the two cultures. You could do great damage to
the on-line eco-system doing that. Do you consider the damage
you could do?


11 years ago ·

Bit of a weird comment, Jim. Not sure what you’re getting at.

Is this Plan sufficiently robust to withstand a public airing? If so, I’d be happy to contribute to anything that helps to strengthen the Internet and allow its revolution in communications to continue unhindered for years to come.

[…] Kieren McCarthy things these challenges may be a blessing in disguise. […]

Jim Fleming
11 years ago ·

Is this Plan sufficiently robust to withstand a public airing?

Bit of a weird comment, Kieren. Not sure what you’re getting at.

The Plan has been public for a long long time and continues to
withstand the diversions and distractions and delays of devils.

11 years ago ·

Okay, Jim. So here is a link to The Plan film; here is a book written by Obama’s chief of staff called The Plan which is for America; and here’s another The Plan – this time for dealing with oil.

Is it any of these plans? Or is there a different plan? If so, could you provide a link similar to the three above?

11 years ago ·

About remote participation, it is really ironic that who will probably use it are those aren’t primarily targeted by those tools.
I want to say also that all those discussions are insulting and offending (that which need really the “civility” conduct ), sounds that all meeting in developing country is problematic for ICANN community, in fact it is just a small proof among many others showing the reluctance of many to do progress on the geographical diversity in ICANN.
I disagree about running events because practical point: they will be probably held on DC or LA and many people cannot go or even enjoy the treatment provided by TSA to list of “VIP” countries citizens.
it is not clear what you are advocating for reducing the number of meetings?


11 years ago ·

Hi Rafik,

Wrt reducing the number of meetings – that is almost a separate issue to the geographic rotation of meetings. The reality is that ICANN as an organization cannot function efficiently with three large international public meetings.

The time between meetings is not sufficient to make decent progress, and the time demands on a volunteer community mean that the model is skewed toward vested interests. It is a lose-lose for 90 percent of the Internet community.

I agree that it would be ironic if remote participation were improved only through the interaction of those that need it least. But ultimately, who cares? So long as remote participation tools do not exclude the majority of people, I say take improvement no matter how it comes about.

Re: civility – I noted in the Board minutes (section “i”) that some consideration was given to the Ombudsman report on this important issue. That said, there was a worryingly vague resolution that the Board would “consider the other proposals by the Ombudsman” – rather than promise to act.

As you probably know, I think civility (as well as various other cultural issues such as forcing people to stand at a public microphone and talk to a desk above them) is a crucial issue with effective participation in ICANN. And I hope that the silent majority will get together to develop some basic rules that they can then hold the minority accountable to.

[…] McCarthy thinks these challenges may be a blessing in disguise helping to increase the ability for remote participation. In a letter addressed to the Chairman and […]

Jim Fleming
11 years ago ·

1. ICANN is no longer part of any future plans. It is over.

2. If you want to steer the future, then you should contribute something.

3. With ICANN baggage, you could do great damage to the on-line eco-system.

11 years ago ·

So, that’s a “no”, then. Please go bother other tin-foil-hat-wearing nuts.

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