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ICANN Gets Crazy… Again!

Stéphane Van Gelder

The same thing happens before every ICANN meeting. It starts raining. Not men, as the song goes, or droplets of H2O. It starts raining documents.

In the run-up to one of its three-a-year international meetings, ICANN goes into hyperdrive. And this time, days before the Prague meeting (from the 24th to the 29th), the usual downpour has turned into a veritable deluge.

Let's just take June 4th as an example. On that single day, ICANN has published the following:

  • An independent report on ICANN Board conflicts of Interest (22 pages).
  • An update to the Registrar Accreditation Agreement (RAA) negotiations (10 documents, a total of 87 pages).
  • A roadmap to the implementation of a new technical policy (SAC 051) on WHOIS (19 pages).
  • A preliminary issues report on protecting International Governmental Organisations (IGOs) in the new gTLD program (55 pages).
  • An update to the new gTLD Applicant Guidebook (338 pages).
  • A request for community input on ICANN's strategic plan from 2013 to 2016, which at minimum requires reading of the 17 page current strategic plan document covering 2012 to 2015.
  • A report on the feasibility of a survey on WHOIS proxy and privacy (2 documents, a total of 158 pages).
  • An initial report (yes, there's more to come!) on a new policy for transferring domain names between registrars (61 pages).

Do the maths. That's at the very least 757 pages of stuff to read! Given those facts, any sane person can only have one reaction: that's no way to run an organisation! Especially one tasked with overseeing the technical well being of the Internet!!

Because I chair one of ICANN's major policy making bodies, the GNSO, I have been raising the alarm on this for a while now. But my cries of "stop, please stop… no more, we can't take anymore" have apparently fallen on deaf ears. In fact, as Prague shows, the trend is actually towards more and more, not less and less.

This puts Internet policy at risk.

ICANN works through volunteers. The 22-person GNSO Council is made-up of people giving up their free time. Same goes for the Board (although Board members are eligible for a small compensation), the other policy making bodies and the "advisory committees" that also participate in the ICANN process.

Volunteers all. Volunteers who have real jobs, real lives… and who will be tempted to just skim over just some of the documents that I have listed above. Yet most, if not all of the above are crucial to the policy decisions that ICANN makes.

The result, policies risk being drawn up by people who simply cannot process all the information that's thrown at them in the few days before an ICANN meeting.

And let's face it, the fact that ICANN cannot get itself organised to have a steady feed of documents throughout the year, rather than a major rush of them in the two weeks before an ICANN meeting, doesn't say much good about the organisation that's supposed to make sure the Internet's addressing and naming systems are a-ok.

It's time to fix ICANN's pre-meeting verbal diarrhoea. Before it makes the organisation as a whole, and not just the corps of volunteers that make it work, retch in permanent disgust.

By Stéphane Van Gelder, Chairman, MILATHAN

Related topics: Domain Names, ICANN, Internet Governance, Policy & Regulation, Top-Level Domains, Whois

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Comments

My thoughts, exactly. Thanks Stéphane.Olivier (personal thought, Olivier MJ Crepin-Leblond  –  Jun 05, 2012 8:06 AM PST

My thoughts, exactly. Thanks Stéphane.

Olivier (personal thought, not the ALAC)

Just a bit unfair Avri Doria  –  Jun 05, 2012 8:08 AM PST

As you know, some large parts of these documents are appendices that one only has to refer to, not read.  A good half of the pages you mentioned are in an updated document (though one could scratch their head at the update of the Application Guidebook after the close of the application window).  A large part of every document is the provenance of the recommendations, and can be skimmed with no loss of policy content.

Yes, it might be better if things dribbled out, but knowing the nature of people, most of us do not read the docs for a meeting before the last minute.

This time they have given us 2 weeks to get this reading done.  That is so much better than it was in the past.

Crazy, indeed Mike Cohen  –  Jun 05, 2012 9:40 AM PST

Who wants to guess how many more documents there will be released before the actual meeting? :)

The structural changes are there, no culture change and intelligent pre-planning needed Kieren McCarthy  –  Jun 05, 2012 2:08 PM PST

I agree with you Stephane, but I can also see progress.

It is worth noting that the reason there is a glut on a particular day is due to the Document Publication Operational Policy (http://www.icann.org/en/groups/board/participation/document-publication-operational-policy-30oct09-en.pdf) that was approved by the Board in October 2009.

That policy notes, among other things, that: "The Board has approved a single deadline for international public meetings of 15 working days before the official opening of the meeting." And so, ICANN being ICANN, everything is held off until the last possible minute. I can predict with some confidence that 24 September this year will see a similar glut.

But to the good news: as far as I can see all of these documents have come with a functional executive summary. That is a step forward and makes it much easier to make sense of everything. It could be improved of course, but it is certainly helpful.

Also, the documents have arrived within the deadline. After the last meeting when ICANN slipped back into providing documents literally just a few days before the start, and having been berated by the community and Board for doing so, it would seem that this effort to slowly change the work culture of ICANN is moving in the right direction.

Now the downside.

There is still a huge cultural problem, which is what you are alluding to. ICANN staff allows itself to work in permanent crisis mode. Pre-planning is extremely weak. And the biggest problem is bottlenecks in senior management who micro-manage and so end up only focussing on something when there is literally no time left. Hence the sudden wave of documents.

I would note that the Document Publication Operational Policy is very hard to find, and doesn't appear on the organization's document page (http://archive.icann.org/en/documents/). As the person who pushed the policy through three years ago, I know that it was very far from popular internally, and I have long wondered whether it would survive or be relegated to 'just another document' that ended up being ignored. It would seem that the larger need for ICANN to professionalize has won out, so far at least.

Which leads to the next stage in improving document production - which hopefully the new CEO will recognize and work hard to implement - stepping away from deadline culture to intelligent pre-planning.

There is absolutely no need for everything to be published at once. All of the documents produced could have been produced days if not weeks earlier.

In fact, if ICANN were to start acting more coherently as a single organization, rather than a series of departmental fiefdoms, someone would be in charge of document production and would manage the release of information over time.

Breaking that culture and introducing intelligent pre-planning would also enable translations of documents to be much more effective i.e. published at the same time as the English document. And, more importantly, it would start thought processes working on how important the actual information within each document is. And then how to provide information stemming from ICANN in a more consistent and standard manner.

It would allow for staff to pre-consider who may be most interested in a given topic or document and so prepare the ground for reaching out to them and highlighting the content in the most effective way. Such a process would make ICANN more accountable and transparent in a real, functional way. And of course it would stop people's heads from bursting 15 working days out three times a year.

So, at least the glut means that staff have recognized that they need to stick to the rules. Once it no longer become possible to ignore that fact hopefully some thought will be given to a more intelligent production and release of the organization's work product.

ICANN has yet to post the IRS Form 990 George Kirikos  –  Jun 06, 2012 5:45 AM PST

Despite the deluge of documents that ICANN released, one is missing, namely the latest IRS Form 990. I made a formal request, and they've still not scanned and posted it.

+1, Stephane. ICANN needs to be more Carlton Samuels  –  Jun 06, 2012 8:34 AM PST

+1, Stephane. ICANN needs to be more mindful of volunteer's time and availability here.

Carlton Samuels

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