Overview 4 – What Policy is Set at ICANN?

There are multiple kinds of policy within the ICANN ecosystem:

1. Domain Name System (DNS) Policies are developed through formal policy development processes, as set forth by the ICANN Bylaws. These policies become part of the contracts signed by Registries, Registries and Registrants – part of the rules of the global Domain Name System. Examples include the New gTLD Program, the Inter-Registrar Transfer Policy, and the Expired Registration Recovery Policy, among many others. Our work in this area often focuses on protecting privacy, freedom of expression, human rights, fair use, and due process. This is what we are primarily involved with.

2. Operational Policies define how ICANN works as an organization. These include an array of Cross-Community Working Groups associated with enhancing ICANN’s accountability, transparency, and diversity. In addition, operational policies include those matters not subject to a formal policy development process, but where community input has been sought via public comment or other means in shaping them. Examples include a recent revision to the criteria for awarding an ICANN Fellowship, the language services policy for determining which meetings receive translation, and the conflict of interest policy for Board members.

3. General Practices. ICANN relies on established practices that ‘just exist’ and have not necessarily gone through a formalised approval process. Examples include acceptable behaviour and conduct from community members when asking questions to Board at a public comment forum.
In our world, we are mostly involved in DNS policy. These are the recommendations that are developed and refined by the ICANN community through the various Supporting Organizations and influenced by the Advisory Committees.

How is Domain Name System Policy Developed within the GNSO?

DNS policy is developed in different ways across the Supporting Organizations, but within the GNSO (where the NCUC sits), the process usually flows as follows:

– Firstly, the GNSO Council or ICANN’s Board will identify the issue. It is up to the GNSO Council to determine whether or not the issue will result in consensus policy.
” If yes, the GNSO Council will request a Preliminary Issue Report to scope the issue.
” ICANN Staff will produce and publish the Preliminary Issue Report for public comment. Following public comment, this feedback will be reviewed and incorporated into a Final Issue Report.

– The GNSO Council will consider the Final Issue Report and decide whether or not to initiate the formal Policy Development Process.
” If yes, the GNSO Council will develop and adopt a charter for the Policy Development Process working group.
” The GNSO Council will issue a call for volunteers to join the working group.

– The working group is formed. The working group participants will meet regularly and consult with the community to develop their Initial Report. This Initial Report will be opened for public comment.
” After reviews and once community consensus is reached, the working group will submit its Final Report to the GNSO Council.

– The GNSO Council will deliberate the Final Report.
” If the recommendations are adopted, the GNSO Council will submit the Final Report to the ICANN Board.

– The ICANN Board will then consult with various Advisory Committees, and will generally put the recommendations out for comment from the wider Internet community. Taking into account the advice received, the ICANN Board will vote on the Final Report recommendations.

They key thing to note, here, is that policy development in the GNSO takes place at the working group level – so that’s where you need to be to get involved!

What are Policy Development Process Working Groups, and What is so Exciting About them Despite their Boring Name?

There are many ways in which you can become involved in ICANN’s multistakeholder, bottom-up, consensus-driven model for policy development.

The most effective way in which you can voice your position about an issue is to shape the dialogue and the deliberations of the policy topic. You can do this by joining a Working Group created by the GNSO Council.

These working groups are formally chartered within the ICANN structure to address policies and other issues facing the Internet community and the various stakeholders. They are composed of interested community volunteers with various types of interests and expertise.
Most working groups have a membership which is geographically dispersed, so the primary means of meeting is via teleconferences and online resources two to four times per month. The phone calls use toll-free audiobridge numbers to many countries, or the Secretariat can dial out to you. Many use the Adobe Connect platform, which is free, to participate in the meetings online.

If you are new to the community, it is generally easiest to join a working group as it is forming, but you can also join a working group that is already in progress. Doing so requires that you catch up with the work, research, and discussion that the group has already covered. You can do so by going through the recordings, briefing and transcripts of the previous meetings. You can also reach out to an NCUC focal point who can tell you more about how to get engaged.

Joining the Working Group: Procedures

If you wish to join a working group, email the GNSO Secretariat at gnso-secs@icann.org to indicate your interest in doing so. You must include your full name, time zone, preferred email address for correspondence, and indicate whether you wish to be a member or observer of the working group (you can change this status at any time).

You will then be invited to complete a short 90-minute course with ICANN staff to learn how to use the different online resources. In this tutorial you will be introduced to ICANN Learn, an e-learning platform with a growing number of tutorials on different community topics.
Shortly thereafter, you will be asked to complete a Statement of Interest (SOI) form. In this document, you publicly disclose who you work for and any other business relationships that might affect how you influence the working group. You cannot be disqualified from the group based on your SOI. It is posted so that others in the working group can understand what factors may influence your viewpoint. You will also be able to see the SOI of every other person in the working group.

What are my Responsibilities if I Join a Working Group?

Working groups address challenging and complex issues, and require a high level of collaboration with people from all types of backgrounds and different cultures. You will probably enjoy the work more if you stick to areas of particular interest, and seek to participate actively in only one or two working groups (at least at first).

No one can force you to take on more work than you choose to – we are a community of volunteers – but for maximum impact, you will need to participate in as many of the conference calls as possible. Attendance on calls is taken by ICANN staff and is publicly posted. In addition to attending meetings, you may be asked to assist in specific tasks such as:
” Developing and drafting working group documents,
” Contributing ideas and knowledge to working group discussions on the mailing list,
” Acting as a liaison between the working group and the NCUC and NCSG,
” Ensuring that NCSG statements are developed in an informed and timely way,
” Actively and constructively participating in the consensus decision making process
You should be aware that working groups are normally expected to operate under the principles of transparency and openness, which means that mailing list conversations are publicly archived, meetings are normally recorded and transcribed, and the public will be able to listen to or read your contribution. This is how the public can hold the ICANN community accountable for its work.

What Do I Get in Return?

As a volunteer, you will gain greater insight into how domain name policy is formed; a keen awareness of near-future developments that affect millions of users worldwide; and will have the opportunity to meet volunteers of similar interest from many different countries.

“You also get to see how the multistakeholder process works in action other than just reading about it. You will form a sense of collegiality with others from our, and other, stakeholder groups. You can fight for what you believe in, and be effective in making a change (however minimal). You can fight for more transparency and accountability. You can fight for freedom of expression in domain name policies. You can build a network of people who are the top experts in their field. You can become a leader or take an official position in the constituency and feel rewarded by serving the members and the community.”
– Farzaneh Badii, Chair of the NCUC

I Don’t Have Time to Join a Working Group, How Can I Help?

Many in the community who are short on time voice their positions about issues when a working group or operational matter has a call open for public comment.

The Public Comments page on the ICANN website lists every issue that is currently open for input from any Internet user around the world. It also has a calendar where you can find a list of upcoming issues that will be available for comment in the near future. Here you will find instructions on how to submit comments and read other comments that other stakeholders have already submitted.

The NCSG, on behalf of the members of the NCUC and NPOC, work hard to prepare comments that faithfully represent our joint concerns and recommendations. In order for the comment to be endorsed as the position of the NCSG, there should first be consultation with NCSG members, and it must be approved by the NCSG’s Policy Committee. Often there is discussion on the NCSG list on the different issues, but if there is not or there is a comment that you would like to help coordinate, please let the Chair know.

Throughout ICANN’s history, policy recommendations have been modified in order to incorporate the feedback received through public comments. As a recent example, the Applicant Guidebook that explains how to apply for a new gTLD was posted multiple times and drew more than 1,000 comments across six revisions, until the ICANN community reached consensus on it. It is crucially important that we weigh in on issues great and small.