One of the things that has most surprised me since getting involved in the internet governance arena is the importance of face-to-face (F2F) contact and meetings. Certainly the internet should reduce the need to meet in the flesh, yet the longer I am involved in this field the more meetings there appear to be to attend. That doesn’t make me happy: I don’t like travelling. Yet to be effective as an advocate for those we represent I find I have to.
ICANN’s accountability and transparency are issues very close to my heart. The concepts are actually quite simple: for this institution to have legitimacy we need to know what and why actions are taken (transparency) and whom they are taken by (accountability). The past few months, along with others, I’ve immersed myself in the Cross-Community Working Group (CCWG) on Accountability. This is our one chance to create an ICANN that is truly responsive and accountable to internet users worldwide, and I want to do my part to help make it happen.
The NCUC “Member” (that is, official representative) on this CCWG is Robin Gross. I’ve learned so much from her as she bobs and weaves and leaves colleagues from other constituencies in the dust wondering what just happened as the positions we favour prevail. Robin is most everywhere in the CCWG, but even she, working with Avri Doria and Matt Shears (who both are doing CWG-Stewardship and CCWG-Accountability double duty), can’t cover it all. On occasion I’m able to step in and cover for her and us. From early on, I was our sole NCUC representative on the Stress Test (ST) subgroup. It was there that I first learned the hard way the importance of F2F meetings.
Getting stress tests done right is crucial to the success of this working group and of the overall IANA transition. It’s something that both Congress and the NTIA have repeatedly suggested and called for. It’s a bit like a game: you take a future scenario where ICANN corporate is not acting properly, test it against the accountability mechanisms we’re proposing and see if we have it covered. It’s innately political. Those on the ST team are able to cause changes in the accountability measures proposed at the front end by suggesting scenarios that other subgroups then need to respond to by developing mechanisms to cover. It’s a place NCUC needs to have a presence.
The first CCWG face-to-face meeting was held in Frankfurt in late January 2015. I didn’t go as I couldn’t afford to go, but in retrospect I should have gone. I attended remotely but a lot of things happened in Frankfurt that weren’t on the remote webcast. I know this because a few of the stress tests that I had fought for on list seemed to disappear into thin air over the weekend: merged with other tests or dropped all together. I still don’t know what happened to them. The pace of the CCWG is so fast the only thing one can be concerned with is what is in the future, not with what has happened in the past. What I did learn, though, is the importance of attending F2F meetings. It’s essential–and this is particularly true in the context of the ongoing IANA transition.
The increase of F2F meetings in the context of ICANN working groups is a challenging one for the noncommercial community. ICANN funding for attendance at these meetings is limited, largely nonexistent for participants not classified as “Members”. The noncommercial community has one Member who is funded (Robin). Fortunately Avri Doria was able to get funding to attend the F2F meetings as the ATRT (Accountability and Transparency Review Team) expert. It does seem to be easier for commercial interests to fund participation at these meetings than it does for our community.
When the second CCWG F2F meeting was announced, in Istanbul, I turned to the NCUC for help. I couldn’t afford to fund myself yet I thought it was important we had additional representation there. Fortunately the NCUC Executive Committee (EC) agreed with my assessment and I was funded to attend the meeting.
At this late date it doesn’t make a lot of sense for me to describe the content and outcome of the CCWG meeting. It’s old news. For those interested, the co-chairs statement summarising the meeting may be found here. Rather I want to report back to the EC, and by extension the entire NCUC, what I was able to help make happen by virtue of being physically in Istanbul. In particular, I want to thank the donors to the NCUC to understand how important their financial support was and is to our community and how essential it will be going forward as meetings like these happen with greater frequency.
During the CCWG meeting I was able to help in the following way:
- Get transparency back on the agenda
A review of the DIDP (Documentary Information Disclosure Policy) has been one of my principle goals for the accountability effort. An information disclosure policy with over a 95% request rejection rate is simply not acceptable. Early requests to get a DIDP review going was supported by one of the subgroup chairs remotely but was ignored by others. Being in Istanbul I was able to work with one of our more supportive Commercial Stakeholder Group colleagues to 1) get a DIDP review mentioned in the general program, and 2) use that mention to get the three CCWG co-chairs to commit, during hallway conversations, to support such an effort.
- Re-do the review of the ICANN Ombudsman’s Office
A review of the functions of the ICANN Ombudsman was initially scheduled to be led by the Ombudsman himself. While I like the current Ombudsman Chris LaHatte very much I didn’t think it was appropriate that he led the review of his own office. I was able to work with others to get that changed in Istanbul. We’ve just booted up the subgroup and would love to have new members. Our webpage may be found here. My thanks to Farzaneh Badii and Michael Romo for joining the subgroup and starting up the discussion!
- Get a new stress test introduced
After the Frankfurt meeting the number of stress tests stabilized at twenty-five. During the Istanbul meeting the efforts of NCUC members working together added an additional stress test: stress test number twenty-six (p. 15). This stress test was suggested by David Post and was brought to my attention by Robin Gross. It’s an important one: it deals with situations, which we’ve experienced, where during implementation staff changes the policy developed through approved policy processes. My thanks to Robin and David for recognizing the deficiency in the existing stress tests and giving me the ammunition to help rectify the problem.
- Helped bring a new member to Istanbul
Robin had flight difficulties and was stranded in San Francisco for the meeting. Quite a nice place to be stranded! Initially it did not appear as though ICANN would fund a replacement participant. I was able to work on the ground as NCUC Chair Bill Drake, NCSG Chair Rafik, Robin (and I’m sure a few others) worked remotely to ensure we had the bodies on the ground we felt we were entitled to. It was a pleasure to welcome NCUC member James Gannon to Istanbul on short notice to help Team NCUC.
Those were my principle areas of impact. Other NCUC members did much more than I. Matt has done an amazing job in one of the most important and complex projects of all: incorporating the Affirmation of Commitments into ICANN’s Bylaws. Avri and Robin have depth and expertise in such a wide range of issues the CCWG would be lost without them.
I’ve noted my areas of greatest impact in this post as a way of thanking our donors for funding the trip. In Frankfurt by not attending the F2F meeting I lost several stress tests I had previously fought for. In Istanbul I helped get one added. That would not have happened had our donors not stepped up and given the NCUC the ability to fund trips such as this one. Thank you.
The most interesting and perhaps most enjoyable part of the trip for me actually occurred the day after the CCWG adjourned. David Olive, ICANN’s Vice President of Policy Development, invited me to spend some time visiting him at ICANN’s Istanbul hub (in the picture). David and I spent a few hours together talking about a range of issues including human rights and the future of policy development at ICANN.
I was also invited to meet, speak with and ask questions of members of the Istanbul compliance team. I now have a much better understanding of ICANN’s field operations which hopefully will assist me in better fulfilling my duties on the GNSO Council. I was very impressed with what I saw in Istanbul and the atmosphere David has created in that hub is substantially superior to that I’ve experienced in the ICANN offices of Los Angeles and Singapore. I left the hub office with a much better feeling about ICANN and it’s potential than I had when I entered the facility.
I’d say the same about the trip as a whole. The amount of time people are donating to the CCWG-Accountability and CWG-Stewardship efforts is quite amazing. We may and do have differences on policy and goals but I did leave the meeting feeling confident that in the end the vast majority of members and participants are committed to reaching consensus, a consensus that will create accountability structures worthy of internet users worldwide. Let’s hope I’m right!
About the author
Edward Morris (Ireland/Uk/USA) is a member of both the GNSO Council and the NCSG Policy Committee. He previously served as a member of the NCUC Executive Committee. He is a participant in the CCWG on Accountability, active in both working parties and in several subgroups.