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How I Think CIRA Should Evolve: Towards CIRA 2.0

There's been some good discussion here about possible policy changes which Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) could consider. But there's more to the CIRA Board election which is underway than simply arguing about whether a PO Box satisfies a "presence" requirement.

CIRA's done pretty well over the past decade, but it's not perfect. As a candidate for re-election to the CIRA Board (and currently Vice-Chair) here are some of my own personal thoughts regarding ways in which CIRA might improve. I call this (unoriginally, I know) CIRA 2.0.

In general my view is that CIRA has been fairly successful to date, growing from only about 100,000 .CA registrations when CIRA was formed a decade ago to about 1.5 million today and slowly increasing .CA adoption in Canada vis-à-vis .COM. We have a healthy and robust registrar community, a strong record of uptime and reliability and security, and CIRA has developed into a well-regarded voice in international context.

I also regard CIRA as being on a positive upswing, better today than a few years ago.

While I believe these things, I also believe we are due for a refresh, for an evolution towards what might (unoriginally) be referred to as CIRA 2.0. Stagnation is the enemy of creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship; renewal and evolution are the antidote.

Speaking personally I see this need for a refresh most particularly in the areas I've listed below. I underline I offer these to encourage discussion, rather than presenting them as any kind of presumptuous final word. These ideas will improve through discussion.

1. Governance: CIRA governance, as represented by the Board, must become more focused on genuine governance issues, and less on policy-making. The Board is a bit large and top-heavy, its agenda tends to become clogged with items which are not properly governance or Board matters, operational issues best delegated to staff, or policy issues which are better handled with a staff-supported, member-oriented policy process in which the Board plays more of an oversight role, finalizing policy decisions which have had the benefit of public and member airing. CIRA's Board is frequently too involved in micro operational detail, and too infrequently seized with the bigger picture strategic and financial questions which are properly a Board's domain.

As well, CIRA's methods of nominating and electing Board members are not effective and require substantial reform. The elections typically suffer from weak participation, the Nomination Committee (Nom Com) is confused as to the competing priorities of sound governance on the one hand vs representativeness and diversity of the other. Knowledge of the DNS, and/or familiarity with Board matters, has taken a back seat to more political characteristics, which is unhealthy. As well, the Nom Com seems not to fully appreciate the importance of continuity on a Board, and has engineered nominations which are producing a high degree of turnover, volatility and non-familiarity.

A robust member-oriented policy process, perhaps headed up by some new kind of policy committee or forum, is a better place to think in terms of representativeness and diversity. If governance (as opposed to policy discussion) were the Board's main preoccupation, recruiting of Board members could proceed along the lines of more traditional qualifications, which would be better for both governance and for policy-making.

Finally, if the NomCom is to continue to have a significant role in nominating director candidates, the composition of the Nom Com itself must become centred around people experienced with CIRA, the DNS and/or Board governance, and its work more closely integrated with the Board.

2. Member Engagement and Transparency: The internet community in which CIRA operates is an energetic, innovative, engaged, passionate community. CIRA must become must better connected to it. We must develop and pursue a stronger commitment to interaction with our registrants and members, on the web-related issues which concern them and us. We need open, public forums in which CIRA policies and procedures, as well as issues pertaining to the wider internet can proceed freely and openly, and these discussions, where relevant to CIRA activities, need be treated seriously in terms of community consensus-building.

3. Strategic Planning and Budgeting: Simply put, CIRA must become more streamlined even as we become more member-oriented. The organization spends too much time on duplicative and mind-numbing discussion of implementation detail which must properly be delegated to staff; not enough time on forcing a focus upon and resolution of the big questions; and zero time engaging our members in those big questions.

4. CIRA Policy Advisory Committee: I would like to see CIRA create a new policy advisory committee, a large and diverse committee established by the Board, including some Board members but with a majority of non-Board members drawn from the wider .CA community.

As with other committees, the Board would create its Terms of Reference, and from time to time request it conduct community-based policy consultations and make policy recommendations to the Board.

A policy advisory committee would serve as a useful ongoing Interface between CIRA and the .CA community, foster open discussion (through online lists, forums, etc) of wide-ranging issues of interest to the community. It would be a vehicle for community consultation (e.g. WHOIS, a CIRA mandate refresh, presence requirements, wholesale pricing), on topics requested by the Board or proposed by the community.

While I envisage the Board retaining final authority regarding the disposition of policy recommendations, the committee I envisage would have teeth in that the Board would not in future revise policies in a significant manner without involving the policy advisory committee and a community consultation.

5. CIRA Budget Committee: I would also propose that CIRA streamline its budget-making process, while making its finances even more transparent to the wider community.

Specifically, I would propose a new Board committee to oversee the annual budget process, composed of as many Board members as wish (could even be a committee of the whole).

This committee would be constituted each year, to operate only during the budget cycle, from November 1 to February 28, to produce a recommended budget for year starting each April 1. Its meetings would be open to all Board members (committee members or not).

Each October, at the outset of the following year's budget cycle, the Board would strike the annual Budget Committee. It would also provides high-level general budget guidance for next the next fiscal year.

I envisage a committee operating in a transparent fashion, with the Board's opening guidance published to the community, and with a summary version of each draft budget likewise published online for community comment.

The budget committee would work to a deadline of recommending a draft budget to the full Board by February 28, with an expectation that Board consensus will have been obtained through the process in a more streamlined fashion than today, and with greater community transparency along the way.

6. Security and Reliability: The domain name system is now a vital part of Canada's (and the world's) information, economic and social infrastructure. As more and more critical functions rely upon the Internet, it is less and less permissible that the Internet's Domain Name System go down, become corrupted, or fail in other ways. CIRA must work towards designing, deploying and achieving best-in-class standards in this area. To oversee this more responsibly, CIRA's Board must have ongoing access to strong third-party benchmarking of CIRA vis-a-vis other leading registries in the areas of security and reliability. The Board does not have this today.

7. Customers First: We all have big hopes and expectations that the time and resources invested in the "registry rewrite" which is about to launch will go a long way to easing how hard it is to do business with CIRA.

Once this is launched, let's (a) create new methods of engaging our community, including ongoing sampling of our 750,000 customers, in an ongoing process of identifying areas where service improvement is needed, and (b) dedicate sufficient resources to acting on those promptly. The Board and staff should always know the Top Five customer concerns - and these should not be tolerated remaining as areas of unaddressed complaints for months or years on end.

8. Registrar Partnership: CIRA provides services through a channel strategy, based upon service partnerships with registrars. The quality of the registry partnerships has improved in recent years. Let's continue upgrading those registry partnerships, and find better ways to exploit them to expand adoption of .CA usage, and to identify and address customer concerns.

9. Product Strategy: First, let us answer the strategy question - is CIRA a one-product organization (.CA registrations)? Or should CIRA develop additional (presumably related) products?

Second, whether CIRA pursues a one-product focus or develops additional products, does the core product of .CA registrations have all of the features which users require?

10. Value for Money: Above and beyond the standard financial audits performed each year, the Board on the advice of the Audit Committee should select one or another area of major expenditure and subject that to a independent performance audit, the results of which would be published in the subsequent annual report.

Such audits would address questions such as: what was the objective of this activity? was the objective clearly defined, and if so was it met? was there good value received for money expended? what recommendations are there for improvement?

11. Use of Surplus Funds (if any): CIRA should pursue a community-wide discussion to determine the best use of whatever revenue CIRA might have in a given year which may exceed what is needed for immediate operating requirements and for investments in areas such as those described above?

  • should such surpluses, if any, be returned to registrants and/or registrars through lower wholesale fees or end of year rebates?
  • should such surpluses, if any, be devoted to accelerating investment in CIRA's technology or service improvements?
  • or, to investing in the development of additional domain name-related products and services of value to registrants and registrars and other stakeholders?
  • or to funding training and development grants supporting the launch and development of new .CA websites?
  • or to funding other leading-edge causes and activities relevant to our community?

As stated at the outset, the foregoing are my own personal views, as a serving member of CIRA's Board. They are the kind of things I will propose, and work towards, and seek input on, should CIRA's members decide to once again re-elect me to CIRA's Board.

Best wishes.

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Share your comments

Thank you Rick for this excellent starting Kerry Brown  –  Sep 23, 2010 6:17 AM PST

Thank you Rick for this excellent starting point for discussing the future of CIRA. I believe that CIRA, indeed all ccTLDs, will see the landscape change significantly over the next few years and must position themself accordingly to remain relevant. You've convinced me to vote for you.

CIRA is at a turning point. A hard decision needs to be made. Do we become an organisation that runs the .CA registry and does nothing else or do we become a thought leader finding out what our stakeholders want from the Internet and helping them achieve this. Your suggested course here if implemented would help CIRA determine which direction to go in and how to do that once the decision is made. My belief is that to survive CIRA needs to go in the direction of becoming a thought leader. At the same time the .CA registry needs to be run with the highest standards. This will be a delicate balancing act. Discussing, refining, and implementing your suggestions will help CIRA accomplish this.

Full Disclosure: I am a current director on the CIRA board.  Any opinions stated here are my opinions alone. I am speaking as a private member of CIRA. I do not speak for CIRA or the CIRA board.

Thanks Rick Anderson  –  Oct 05, 2010 11:29 AM PST

Thanks to all who supported my re-electon to the Board, and thanks to all who participated in a robust CIRA election.  I look forward to advancng the CIRA 2.0 ideas and working with you all on hopefully implementing them in the form supported by the wider community.

Best wishes.

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