13 May 2018

by Ayden Férdeline

In March I had the privilege of representing the NCUC at the Internet Freedom Festival (IFF) in Valencia, Spain. The IFF is an annual conference that explores the threats to human rights enabled by the Internet, and the typical participants are persons who are using policy or technology to achieve social and political change. As many participants have backgrounds in gender empowerment, human rights protections, or in building effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions, the NCUC thought this forum might be a good platform to recruit new policy volunteers and to promote and assess the embodiment of ICANN principles in IFF processes. The NCUC kindly funded my participation in this forum for four days through the allocation of a Community Regional Outreach Program travel slot.

At the IFF, I performed three key activities on behalf of the NCUC: formal outreach, public participation in IFF sessions in order to raise the NCUC’s profile, and informal mentoring. First, I proposed and organised a workshop that introduced ICANN and the Domain Name System (DNS), and covered why it is important that civil society and individual end-users participate in the shaping of these policies. I was joined by other NCUC members who I invited along – Cláudio Lucena, Eduardo Carrillo, and Bonface Santos Witaba joined us face-to-face, and Renata Aquino Ribeiro made a remote contribution – where we spoke about how at ICANN we all write the rules for the DNS together, but we only have a voice in the process if we turn up in the first place and participate in the debates. We had a great turnout on the day, and the discussion proved very interactive, with audience members asking focused questions that proved they’d done their homework before coming along! We fielded questions about the status of the IANA Stewardship Transition (the process whereby oversight of ICANN was transitioned away from the US government and to the global multistakeholder community), whether there is pressure on ICANN to move outside of US jurisdiction to another location, and what concrete steps one could take to become involved in DNS policy. I am confident that participants left our session with an understanding as to how they could positively contribute to DNS policy through contributing commentary, advice, or alternative recommendations on ICANN policy proposals, deliverables, and decisions that reflect the views and needs of non-commercial users of the DNS. It has subsequently been brought to my attention that the NCUC has received membership applications from persons who attended this outreach event, and so I am proud that this workshop was successful in attracting new and diverse community members to the NCUC.

A second activity that I performed on behalf of the NCUC was to speak in other sessions. While I spoke in my individual capacity in these sessions, I was sure to prominently note my NCUC affiliation and spread our messaging. I was pleased to do this, and I spoke largely in sessions that did not have a great deal of civil society participation (civil society as we understand it; the IFF attracts a broad crowd, and many of the representatives of the technical community identify there as civil society, however do not always have an awareness of the concerns we in the NCUC typically see civil society as being cognisant of). This thus gave me the opportunity to increase awareness of the multistakeholder model, as I could be the ‘new’ stakeholder group present in the conversations, and I think it enhanced trust in ICANN as an institution in the eyes of others seeing us engage on their turf. In total, I spoke in six sessions on topics to do with privacy and data protection, how the Internet enables economic growth, development for empowerment, as well as an LGBT-themed diversity session. In addition to fighting appropriately for change and making contributions based on lessons learned at ICANN, I audited other sessions to expand my knowledge of these areas.

Finally, I spoke on the side lines and informally with other participants. In these conversations I framed the NCUC as a welcoming and open space where new voices can speak and be heard. I spoke about ICANN’s limited, but important, remit, and how I had been able to transition into a leadership role on the GNSO Council relatively quickly. I spoke knowledgeably about how the ICANN community has welcomed me and how I have been involved in NCUC and ICANN processes. I also took the time to mentor two NCUC members who were present at the IFF but were not yet active in our activities. I learned about the challenges they faced, and the questions they had, and I have subsequently tried my best to help them participate in our specialised but important workload. It need not be said that the NCUC needs more active volunteers commenting on policy issues. We’re at a critical juncture; volunteer burnout is high, but some of the important issues which impact DNS users are not now being debates – they’re being written. It is an operational priority for the NCUC that we attract new, active, long-term participation into our activities. I feel like the IFF enabled us to do just that; it has brought us new community members, widened our regional and international engagement efforts, improved our community standing, profile, and reputation, and enhanced trust in ICANN as an institution. It was my honour to be a part of this, and it is my hope that the NCUC will continue its engagement with the IFF in years to come.

Ayden Férdeline (@ferdeline) represents the Noncommercial Stakeholders Group and, by extension, the NCUC, on the Council of ICANN’s Generic Names Supporting Organization.




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