Envisioning a 21st Century Organization to Coordinate the Internet Addressing System: A Shared, Global Public Resource

Last week the seven, international members of the ICANN Strategy Panel on Multistakeholder Innovation convened online. The panel includes:

The Multistakeholder Innovation Panel is an external advisory group formed to bring fresh insights and outside perspective to ICANN’s ongoing process of planning its own evolution.

Image credit: www.icann.org

Image credit: www.icann.org

It has been almost 15 years since the creation of ICANN in 1998. At that time,  ICANN was perceived as an experiment in translating the principles of participatory democracy – or what is known in Internet governance parlance as “multi-stakeholderism” – into practice. Since then the Internet’s usage has exploded and the process of managing the unique identifier system that enables communications to flow seamlessly across a unified, global Internet is facing numerous challenges. At the same time, innovations such as big and open data, open innovation, open contracting, open peer review, crowdsourcing and expert discovery that allow for more participatory, open, and transparent processes of governance have emerged.

 The Innovation Panel supported by the GovLab is working to make recommendations to the ICANN community for how to evolve the ways ICANN manages and coordinates the domain name space.  Starting with the principles of multi-stakeholder governance – including transparency, accountability, accessibility and inclusiveness1 – the goal of the panel is to address new ways to realize this vision more effectively. “The aim of the panel isn’t to tackle global issues of Internet governance but to articulate what a 21st century ICANN, whose functions are quite narrow, could look like and how it could operate given the innovations in governance happening across the world,” added Panel Chair Prof. Beth Simone Noveck.

During the call, members discussed how to capture the principles, platforms, practices and strategies for opening up ICANN and how to make its processes more effective and more legitimate at each stage of a policymaking process from issue-identification to agenda setting to solution-development and implementation to evaluation and review.

 Members agreed that the seven of them alone do not possess all the wisdom, know-how and insights necessary but, rather, their highest and best role is in stewarding a broader conversation around the question: what might it mean to manage and coordinate a shared, global public resource in the 21st century?

 To that end, the Panel wants input as it starts to map:

  • The technologies and platforms that exist for identifying know-how and enabling participatory decision-making across stakeholders.
  • The best models for leveraging collective intelligence, open innovation and open data around the world – that could be applied to the ICANN processes.
  • The variables that are important to consider when designing innovative ways to manage and coordinate – using new technologies.

To help frame the discussion, members also discussed three current topics on which ICANN is working. The goal being to help frame how to experiment around participatory decision-making on these issues:

  • Next-Generation Registry Directory Services/“Thick” Whois:
    • The Next­Gen Registry Directory Services is a proposed successor for today’s Whois database (a publicly searchable repository of data on domain name registrations). This proposed new system would collect, validate and disclose generic top-­level domain (gTLD) registration data for permissible purposes only, with some data elements accessible only to authenticated requestors.
  • Name Collisions:
    • During implementation of ICANN’s decision to open up and allow for new generic top-level domains (gTLDs), the likelihood that name space
      Image credit: http://gcn.com/.

      Image credit: http://gcn.com/.

      collisions between existing gTLD strings, applied ­for new gTLD strings, and non­-delegated TLDs became apparent. Specifically, local top ­level domains used internally by private enterprises may potentially conflict with names yet to be allocated.

  • Internationalized Domain Name Variants:
    • Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs) use character sets such as Chinese, Arabic, Cyrillic or other non-­Latin characters. An IDN variant TLD can be defined as one that may look like or be considered exchangeable with another TLD by a user of the related writing system. For example, a string in traditional Chinese characters commonly has an equivalent string in simplified Chinese characters. The issues that need to be resolved around supporting IDN variants in the root zone include how to avoid “visual confusion” and how to construct a “look­up table” in the root so that all variant queries are properly directed.

We’ll soon be launching an online platform to gather input and ideas and reach out widely to the global audience focused on innovations in governance. The Panel will also host a live training workshop during the ICANN 48 Meeting in Buenos Aires November 17-21, where we will provide resources to members of the ICANN community to host their own conversations in their communities, channeling ideas and insights back into a shared database of proposals for innovative structures, processes, platforms, and experiments.

1 See Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). “OECD Council Recommendation on Principles for Internet Policy Making.” (Dec. 13, 2013). Retrieved from http://www.oecd.org/internet/ieconomy/49258588.pdf.

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