Last week, the independent nominating committee of ICANN choose three new Board members: Bertrand de la Chapelle, Erika Mann and Cherine Chalaby. It was the European round of the organization’s top-body renewal.
Rather frustratingly, no details were given of the new members’ background or skills in the official announcement so it’s been a bit of guessing game in ICANN circles about who two of the three actually are and whether they’re a good choice.
Add to that the fact that the three retiring European members of the Board (Dennis Jennings, Jean-Jacques Subrenat and Harald Alvestrand) are thought to have put themselves forward for re-election – and so actively weren’t chosen – and you have the latest scandal in the Internet governance world.
I could go on a long and boring analysis of all this but there’s never any harm in being concise and getting to the point, so here’s what I think in five bullet points:
- It’s a good selection.
- Bertrand is a well-known face and one of the few government reps in ICANN that has fully embraced the “multi-stakeholder model” that the organisation espouses i.e. he is happy to engage with non-government people. Friends good-naturedly mock Bertrand for talking too much and always having a pet theory about how to change things, but he is a valued and respected member of the Internet community. And he works hard. I just hope he doesn’t regret leaving his GAC post.
- Erika Mann is a German ex-European MP, kicked out at the last election due to her party’s poor performance. From the limited accounts I’ve heard, she’s a good politician. She will be valuable as ICANN edges further into autonomy, and the IANA contract is put out for renewal, since the European Parliament has made it clear it intends to get more involved in ICANN issues. It will be good for ICANN to have a relatively high-profile politician on its board.
- Cherine Chalaby (a man, in case you’re wondering) is from the Middle East (Egyptian) although he has spent most of the past decade in the UK. He’s from a hard-driving business culture – which will also be good for the ICANN Board to have – although from a quick perusal of his CV, he does tend to jump jobs quite frequently. Having someone with a Middle Eastern background, and who speaks Arabic, is a big plus – particularly with IDNs coming online.
- It’s a shame that Dennis (who had made it to vice-chair and was clearly eyeing the chairmanship) and Jean-Jacques (who often stood up for unpopular issues because it was the right thing to do) are off the Board in December, especially when, after three years, they were finally in the position where they had got a real grasp of how ICANN worked. Would they have been good for a second term? Well, we’ll never know. But I think it does demonstrate that – yet again – the independent review of the Board by the Boston Consulting Group over two years ago had it right. They recommended [pdf] extending Board terms. It would have been ideal in this case.
- The quality and status of Board members is gradually increasingly. And while the two unknown new members clearly applied because they are not in a high-profile position and want to keep stepping up i.e. we’re not yet at Tier 1 applicants – it shows a line of gradual progress in getting big people with varied skills at the top of this crucial organisation. If Dennis and Jean-Jacques had demonstrably achieved more in their time on the Board, maybe they would have been re-elected. Perhaps their loss will push current Board members to do more and talk less (new gTLDs, anyone?).
- The Nominating Committee took a fairly brave position in these choices and are to be commended for that. However, they still did the whole thing in secret and have not communicated their choices well – so what could have been trumpeted as a further maturing of ICANN is being eaten up a little by gossip. Will the NomCom ever learn?
- The proof is always in the pudding. Will the new members bring in some high-quality, seasoned negotiation and discussion – and stop the Board looking like 21 geeks on an international free food, drink and travel jolly? Or will they try to force their culture and views and end up creating more problems than they solve? Only time will time.
So, in conclusion, painful progress. ICANN has lost some good Board members. But on paper it looks as if they have been replaced with ones more useful to the organisation over the next three years.
I will try to get both Erika and Cherine on the phone soon and do an interview – see what they’re made of. As for Bertrand – I have no doubt he will tell me what he thinks and what his plans are when I see him tomorrow in the bar in Vilnius.