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New gTLDs and the Power of "Because"

Despite numerous false starts over the last decade it appears that 2011 will be the year ICANN finally implements a new generic Top-Level Domain (gTLD) process that will lead to the responsible expansion of the domain name space. One of the important remaining steps in this process will be the upcoming meeting between the ICANN Board and the Government Advisory Committee (GAC) intended to resolve a number of outstanding differences. Because these discussions will likely result in a number of substantive changes to the Applicant Guidebook, both the Affirmation of Commitments (AoC) and the research of Harvard Professor Ellen Langer may provide a road-map for how ICANN can communicate these changes and address the concerns of the community.

The AoC represented an evolution in ICANN's path to becoming a true private-sector led, bottom-up, consensus-driven organization. In fact, there are several important provisions in the AoC that point toward the path of a responsible closure to the new gTLD process, including ICANN's commitment to:

  • Engage in "fact-based policy development";
  • "Ensure that its decisions are in the public interest, and not just the interests of a particular set of stakeholders";
  • "[P]erform and publish analyses of the positive and negative effects of its decisions on the public"; and
  • "[P]rovide a thorough and reasoned explanation of decisions taken, the rationale thereof and the sources of data and information on which ICANN relied."

The research of Professor Langer also provides some potential enlightenment for ICANN as it prepares for its upcoming discussions with the GAC. By way of introduction, Professor Langer was the first woman named a tenured professor in psychology at Harvard, and a pioneer in the concepts of mindlessness and mindfulness. One study conducted by Langer, Blank & Chanowitz explored how people making photocopies responded to these to the requests from others seeking to "jump the queue":

1) "Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I'm in a rush?"
2) "Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?" ; and
3) "Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I need to make some copies?"

Respondents to the first inquiry granted the request 94% of the time. Its not surprising that only 60% granted the request when that individual provided no reason/explanation as in example number two. However, the most interesting result was the affirmative response rate to the third query, where 93% of the respondents granted the request in that case. Even though the "reason" the person needed to use the photocopier was similar in all three inquiries, the failure of the person to explain their request (e.g. because) in the second resulted in more than a 30% variation in the approval rate.

After eleven years in the ICANN crucible, I am not so naïve to believe that the extensive use of the word "because" in the next version of Applicant Guidebook will result in over 90% of the ICANN community being completely content with its contents. However, both Professor Langer's research and the AoC illustrate how ICANN might explain its decision making process in order to build a more trusting relationship with the community, especially when decisions are less popular.

While ICANN has taken a number of constructive steps over the years to increase its transparency and accountability the Accountability and Transparency Review Team (ATRT) final report provides clear guidance for further work needing to be done.

Still much effort remains if ICANN is to mend its broken relationship with the ICANN community and restore it to one based on mutual trust. The journey can start with a simple gesture — as the words of the Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu remind us that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

By Michael D. Palage, Intellectual Property Attorney and IT Consultant

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Comments

Michael,There are fundamental structural flaws in the By Paul Tattersfield  –  Jan 12, 2011 10:45 am PDT

Michael,

There are fundamental structural flaws in the current GNSO new gTLD proposal and as such, a responsible ICANN would be sending the DAG/AGB back to the GNSO rather than trying to gloss over these failings by trying to out point the GAC.

Theses structural flaws could have been identified much earlier had it not been for multiple serious failures of process during the last two years. Implementation of the recommendations of the ATRT report would be a good start to perhaps resolving many of the failings of process that have been allowed to occur.

However, at the moment the implications of these failures of process seem to have compounded each other and until there is any evidence that ICANN has a commitment to systematically correct theses failures it’s very difficult to see how they can begin to regain the necessary trust so vital for an effective bottom up consensus driven organization.

“Because” would be a great start but there also needs to be a process where people can say “hang on a minute, that because just doesn’t cover all the problems that will ensue”.

The ATRT report is very good in this area and identifies that there also needs to be a very structured and timely process model to implement beyond a “because” delivered from on high.

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