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Finding Good ICANN Board Candidates

Ram Mohan

In the late summer of 2006, the ICANN Nominating Committee will convene to select three members to the ICANN Board of Directors, and four members to various councils.  Depending on the global visibility of the nominees, and the current political and technical currents pulling at the Internet community, these nominations will be both pilloried and lauded in different circles.

This process of selecting a good ICANN board member is astonishingly complex; I should know, having served on the founding NomCom in 2003, and the succeeding NomComs in 2004 and 2005.

By far the biggest challenge is finding good candidates.  The NomCom has strict selection rules to enforce geographic diversity; and each NomCom has also ensured gender diversity is not forgotten.  This can be a double-edged sword: all qualifications being equal, a Caucausian male North American candidate often has a lower chance of making it compared to an African American female.  On the other hand, the NomCom successfully took a mostly male board and brought much better gender diversity; it has also ensured geographic representation from both developed and developing nations.

But I digress.  The fundamental problem is enticing enough qualified, energetic and accomplished individuals to apply for the Board seats.

Here are the top 5 reasons why a potentially great Board member declines to participate:

  • Expectation of Success. In some countries, the candidate is so highly placed that they are traditionally invited to sit on prestigious boards ... the ICANN "apply and expect" process requires a significant swallowing of pride. If not selected, they suffer a loss of face. NomCom never provides reasons as to why someone was not selected, a policy that losing candidates find deeply unsatisfactory.  Not only does this dissuade them from re-applying, it also motivates them to spread the word of the dissatisfaction from applying.
  • Inability to brag. Not all candidates like to brag about their career or lifetime achievements, substantial though they may be.  The NomCom application system can reward those who market their achievements better over those who may have achieved more.
  • Spectre of overwork. Inadequate testimonials from ICANN board members scare away prospective candidates.  Many candidates hear "devote 60 days a year to Board activities" and "pro-bono" together, and their enthusiasm drops
  • Lack of understanding of what Directors do.  Most candidates have no idea what Directors do, other than sitting on stage for 2 days thrice a year in various locations around the world. (Most folks don't have a clear understanding of what ICANN does, so this compounds the problem)
  • Lack of time. The best candidates sometimes just don't have the time to spare two months a year to sit on a non-profit board.

People of this caliber agree to apply because they want to contribute to the Internet, like the ability to decide the future of the domain name system, provide a unique voice or just wield great influence.  To persuade someone good to apply, they have to believe they can get at least two of these four reasons fulfilled.

This year, I'm meeting with a number of very senior individuals in India who I think might make a good choice for the ICANN Board, and I run into each of the 5 problems stated above. No Indian has ever served on the Board in a voting capacity, and it's time the world's most populous democracy and one of the fastest growing Internet populations finds representation.

In addition to the roles in Ram Mohan's profile, he is technology advisor to the Indian Government for the .IN ccTLD, which has grown from 7,000 names in 2005 to 170,000 today. His recent focus is on multi-lingualizing the domain name system using IDNs, and improving DNS security.

Suggestions regarding great Board candidates may be sent to the author, or to ICANN's NomCom

By Ram Mohan, Executive Vice President & CTO, Afilias. Mr. Mohan brings over 20 years of technology leadership experience to Afilias and the industry.

Related topics: DNS, Domain Names, ICANN, Security, Top-Level Domains

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Re: Finding Good ICANN Board Candidates Karl Auerbach  –  Apr 12, 2006 2:25 AM PST

We really didn't have any trouble coming up with a number of good candidates when there were real elections back in year 2000.

In the election for the North American seat the candidates included the following people, all of whom were highly qualified:

Emerson Tiller, Barbara Simons, Harris Miller, Lawrence Lessig, Lyman Chapin, and Donald Langenberg.

(And myself.)

It was a very vibrant election, with real debates and real discussions.  It was quite unlike anything seen in ICANN today.

What I am suggesting is that internet users (and candidates) might be more willing to participate if ICANN were to return to its original committment to give the community of internet users a real vote for a real portion of the seats on ICANN's Board of Directors.

The nominating committee did come up with some very good people.  But we have to recognize that in the spectrum of mechanisms of governance, a nominating committee tends to reflect an oligarchic form more than a democratic one.  And as long as internet users are treated as passive subjects of governance and not as primary movers it ought not to be surprising that interest is low.

Re: Finding Good ICANN Board Candidates Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Apr 13, 2006 10:03 PM PST

Hi Ram

With all due respect to the people you had in mind when you wrote that -

1. The people who expect to be invited are absolutely wrong as candidates - they'll have more hubris / arrogance, and be more accustomed to deference than you'd really need,

That's especially true in an environment that depends on consensus, and also needs a lot of diplomacy, like ICANN.  I can think of one or two people like that in India .. in academics, industry etc, that I wouldnt consider very good choices, even if they appear to be technically quite sound.

2. The people who dont like to tomtom their abilities are probably the best.  But well, one thing you'll have to consider is that half the ISP CEOs in India have more of a business background than an ISP background, and that there are very very few ICANN regulars who are from india [regulars who are expats of indian origin is another story altogether]

If you find someone who is not familiar with ICANN and with the issues around, even if he's technically good or politically well placed, he isnt likely to be a good choice, even if he gets elected due to geographical considerations.

Just some food for thought.


Re: Finding Good ICANN Board Candidates Chris McElroy  –  May 17, 2006 7:44 PM PST

Returning to the elections that were promised is the only valid way to choose new Board Members. If the public is dissatified with the current Board Members how can they be satified with letting them choose the next set of Board Members?

Chris McElroy AKA NameCritic

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