Proposal 4 for ICANN: Get Agile & Innovative by Enabling Collaborative Drafting

This is the fourth of a series of 16 draft proposals developed by the ICANN Strategy Panel on Multistakeholder Innovation in conjunction with the Governance Lab @ NYU  for how to design an effective, legitimate and evolving 21st century Internet Corporation for Assigned Names & Numbers (ICANN). 

Please share your comments/reactions/questions on this proposal in the comments section of this post or via the line-by-line annotation plug-in.

From Principle to Practice

Everyone is affected by the Internet in some way, even those who do not have Internet access. Because the stability of the global Internet depends on the stability of its underlying technical resources – for which ICANN is responsible – ICANN’s stakeholders are global and diverse. They speak many languages, come from many backgrounds, and are located in every timezone. Hence opportunities for participation must be freely available in forms that acknowledge geographic, linguistic, and cultural diversity. Such diverse participation must include undirected opportunities to deliberate as well as engagement focused on solving a particular problem.

In order to open itself to broad-based and global participation, ICANN could leverage collaborative drafting tools (e.g., wikis), which allow many different people to work on the same document at different times and from different places and often keep a track-record of the history of revisions made to those documents. Such collaborative drafting tools can enable meaningful participation that allows a dispersed community to work together over time to accelerate the path to sharing responsibility.

Notably, deploying collaborative drafting at ICANN would likely complement experiments advocated for in our other proposals as well, e.g., Expert Networking.

What is Collaborative Drafting?

Collaborative drafting refers to written-work projects such as stories, project proposals, options memos, strategic documents, encyclopedic articles, etc., which are created by multiple people working together (collaborating). Collaborative drafting tools tend to be “cloud-based” online softwares [1] – well-known examples of which include Google Docs and Wikipedia, which enable collaborative work and deliberation across a distance. Using collaborative drafting tools, loosely connected, self-selected,[2] geographically separated and nearly always unpaid groups of people can accomplish complex tasks without a pricing or market structure.[3]

Notably, “deliberation” and “collaboration” are different principles with different goals, both enabled through collaborative drafting. Deliberation is focused on gathering and hearing participants’ opinions and determining the general will of a group in order to move closer to consensus, a desirable end unto itself. Collaboration is a means to that end. Hence the emphasis is not on participation for its own sake but on engaging a diversity of people with the concrete goal of working together toward the development of specific solutions for implementation.[4]

Collaborative drafting is especially useful where a problem involves interdependent expertise and knowledge that has to be combined and aggregated to create value. In these environments, “innovation communities” operate through processes that are interdependent.[5] Collaborative drafting can also create a foundation for subsequent efforts – the collaborative approach is useful for problem-solving that involves building from past initiatives and advances; where creativity and uniqueness have the highest priority; and where the problem is ongoing and unsuited to a one-off response.

Why Does This Proposal Make Sense at ICANN?

  • Enhanced Inclusivity – Much of ICANN’s current work is done asynchronously by people working around the world at different times or in short spurts during ICANN meetings. Not only is ICANN’s stakeholder community global, but so is ICANN’s staff (as evidenced by recent regional “hubs” ICANN has opened in Istanbul, Singapore, Beijing, and Montevideo). Collaborative drafting tools could be useful in this work environment because they allow many interconnected and diverse participants to “bring their values and perspectives to the system.”[6]
  • Agile Workflow – ICANN’s drafting work tends to happen in many different places at once. On the MSI Panel’s engagement platform Ideascale, “Chris” submitted that multiple people often work from existing documents and multiple drafts need to be merged as a result.[7]  Workflow can thus be redundant, especially when multiple supporting organizations (SOs) or advisory committees (ACs) are working on the same or similar issues that have overlapping concerns (e.g., WHOIS – “the system that asks the question, who is responsible for a domain name or an IP address?”[8] – has been reviewed by (at least) two separate groups: the Expert Working Group (EWG) on gTLD Directory Services and the ‘Thick’ Whois Policy Development Process (PDP) Working Group in ICANN’s Generic Names SO[9]). Interactive online platforms can enable all of these people and more to work together by deliberating online and drafting reports and documents that make use of everybody’s input while respecting their time and preventing duplicate work.
  • Identifying Dedicated Participants & New Talent – Finally, ICANN could benefit from participation in collaborative drafting in that many tools provide a means for capturing and tracking contributions. Monitoring workflow could help ICANN identify new talent for the organization as well as identify dedicated volunteers for community recognition.

Implementation Within ICANN

Here are some important considerations that ICANN should keep in mind in piloting the use of collaborative drafting tools over the course of the next year:

Deploy Collaborative Drafting During Solution Development

We recommend that collaborative drafting should take place after the “issue-framing” or “ideation” stage of a decision-making process because collaborative drafting is best used not as an open-ended brainstorming tool but as a knowledge-creation tool (e.g., participants have a common goal). We recommend, e.g., that ICANN use open brainstorming tools to widely and broadly engage the public in defining, framing, and prioritizing issues. We also recommend that ICANN leverage expert networking tools to bring specific and targeted expertise to bear on problems. When it comes to collaborative drafting tools, these could be deployed to make use of participants identified as experts during the issue-framing stage, or people identified as experts in ICANN’s expert network outreach – either to serve as “moderators” of the discussion or the “owners” of a project.

Identify Needed Functionalities Upfront

It’s recommended that ICANN identify what kinds of functionalities and assets would best enable collaborative work both across SOs and ACs and also with the wider public. There are a range of features collaborative drafting tools support that ICANN could leverage to address today’s challenges and requirements. In selecting any collaborative drafting software or tools and in formalizing deployment within ICANN, the following should be considered:

  • The need for broad-based, easy and equitable participation
    • User interface and language support. Any collaborative drafting tools deployed at ICANN should be easily navigable and intelligible. This especially includes language support; the system should acknowledge and respect the fact that ICANN’s stakeholders speak many languages.
    • “Soft” rules and social norms. Any collaborative drafting system put in place should be governed by “soft” rules and social norms, with agreement on a technology paradigm and technical jargon.[10] The system should encourage access to information, and emphasize transparency and sharing to enable meaningful participation by many.[11]
    • Reflexivity. Any collaborative drafting system formalized at ICANN should include a reflexive or self-analytical component, i.e., it should be able to reflect on and learn from processes used. People should be told in advance that the system will be used, and why, and they should be encouraged to report any problems or make suggestions.
    • Workflow design. Any collaborative drafting system should contemplate various workflow design models. For example, there may be the need for a “staircase of engagement” in which newcomers engage with ICANN with the help of a series of materials, resources, and mentors.[12] There may be some aspects of drafting that lend themselves to “serial” processes, e.g., where one “output” is necessary for the next stage of work, or “parallel” process, e.g., where work is carried out asynchronously.[13]

      Image credit: Mikey O'Connor

      Image credit: Mikey O’Connor

    • Mobile and offline support. Many of ICANN’s stakeholders live in places where Internet access does not provide the kinds of bandwidth demanded by some applications, and mobile and offline support should be a design consideration for any community-facing engagement channel ICANN provides.
  • The need to streamline redundant work done by isolated groups
    • Editing and version control. For many diverse and diversely located people to work together toward a common goal, the system through which they collaborate should capture the history of participation.[14] In particular, this means the system should enable editing and version control – the ability for an document owner to keep a “master document” and allow collaborators to “check-out” the document and submit their edits, which can then be accepted or rejected and merged into the “master document.”
    • Editing in real-time. This can streamline drafting processes, especially if various items that are proposed for inclusion in a draft can be separately deliberated.
    • Having a chat function. This is a useful tool for collaborators to discuss differences in opinion and to “break-off” from the main document to discuss peripheral topics or to come to consensus without having to stop the flow of the work on the master document.
    • File import and export and naming standards. Because much of ICANN’s work is readily subdivided and is currently subdivided within the various SOs and ACs, ICANN faces a document management challenge. The Panel will publish its considered views on markup languages that may more intelligently streamline document management; however, in this proposal, the more simple recommendation is that the collaborative drafting system consider file import and export and naming standards for those files so that they are easily discoverable.
  • The desire to identify expert individuals who can further contribute to ICANN and its mission
    • Incentives and motivation. ICANN may wish to consider ways in which collaborators can be recognized for their contributions. Incentives may bring expertise from unexpected places that can be valuable for solving a problem,[15] and would help ICANN populate any proposed “expert network.
      • Because collaboration around problem-solving should emphasize open exchange over private property – new ideas should be “free to flow through the network as they are generated.”[16] To help ensure this is the case – there could be non-monetary incentives such as intellectual stimulation, opportunities to demonstrate expertise, and – especially in gamified situations – fun to motivate open participation by participants via collaborative drafting tools.[17] Highlighting the opportunity for individuals to develop skills and establish reputation, which can lead to subsequent employment may also help motivate participation.

Case Studies and Tools – What’s Out There and What’s Worked in Practice?


  • Hackpad – A cloud-based collaborative note taking tool that supports data and files sharing; commenting in real-time; authoring in real-time; identifying contributors; setting privacy permissions; breaking projects into subtasks and assigning them; and photo, sound, and video embedding. Hackpad also supports the use of hashtags to help search and sort content.[18]
  • Draft – An online tool for collaborative drafting that supports version control and commenting; cloud services like Evernote, Dropbox and Google Drive; in-browser extensions; audio/video transcription tools; markdown to-dos; engagement analytics (with several data fields, including the Fleisch reading level for words); and data and file sharing.[19]
  • Evernote – A popular cloud-based note-taking and archiving system that supports cross-device synchronization and updates; in-browser extensions (for saving pages or sections of content from pages); file sharing; and the ability to tag content.
  • Google Drive – A cloud-based file storage, file sharing and document collaboration service offered by Google. It contains Google Docs, an office suite that supports collaborative editing on documents, spreadsheets, presentations, surveys and drawings. Users can choose privacy settings for various levels of access and can also publish Google Docs to the Web.
  • Mediawiki – A free, open-source wiki package that supports collaborative editing of content without any obvious owner or editor (though contributions can be tracked by administrators) and without any “implicit structure.”

Case Studies

  • Wikipedia – Wikipedia is a collaboratively edited online encyclopedia.  The goal of the project is to benefit readers by acting as a comprehensive written compendium that contains information on all branches of knowledge.[20] The platform allows for people to make edits to any page they want without the need to create an account. Collaborative editing is facilitated by the free and open source software, MediaWiki (described above). As of January, 2014, Wikipedia has had 1,792,501 contributors[21] across all languages. Today Wikipedia contains over 30.5 million articles.[22]
  • Innovator’s Patent Agreement, Twitter – Twitter has developed a type of patent agreement between an inventor and a company, the “Innovator’s Patent Agreement” (IPA), wherein the inventor assigns patent rights to a company and the company warrants to the inventor that it will not use those rights to sue anyone “unless for a defensive purpose.”[23] Twitter posted the legal language on GitHub [24] and released it under a Creative Commons license, so anyone can incorporate the the IPA’s clauses into their patent agreements by using a GitHub “pull request.”
  • MixedInk – MixedInk is a collaborative writing platform that was used by Slate magazine to invite readers to collaborate on writing President Obama’s 2009 inaugural address[25] – 457 members of the Slate community contributed.[26] The platform was released under a Creative Commons Share-Alike Attribution License 3.0 and supports a variety of features, such as authorship tracking, rating contributions and keyword-matching – where “MixedInk’s technology will search for similar words and turns of phrase… and tell you if anyone has had similar thoughts.”[27]

Open Questions – Help Bring This Proposal Closer to Implementation?

  • What institutional and cultural barriers – such as the sensitive or perceived confidential nature of certain work – could pose challenges to implementation?
  • What techniques could we use to measure the impact of collaborative drafting tools against existing drafting models at ICANN?
  • What does the framework of accountability for collaborative drafting processes look like?
  • What are the incentives for sharing drafting responsibility?
  • What set of features supported by various types of existing collaborative drafting tools are most useful to ICANN as it carries out its work?
  • Where in ICANN – e.g., which topics or issues, or which venues (i.e. SOs or ACs) – could a collaborative drafting tool best be experimentally implemented?
  • What kinds of roles and responsibilities would need to be created to leverage a collaborative drafting system?
  • What limitations has ICANN encountered in previous efforts to deploy collaborative drafting tools and how can we mitigate those in future experiments?


1. McGaugh, Tracy L. Pedagogic Techniques: Using Collaborative Writing Technology to Teach Contract Drafting 10 Tenn. J. Bus. L. 189 (2009): 189.
2. Benkler, Yochai. Practical Anarchism: Peer Mutualism, Market Power, and the Fallible State Politics & Society vol. 41, no. 3 (September 2013).
3. Bauwens, Michel. P2P and Human Evolution Foundation for P2P Alternatives, July 3, 2005, p. 5.
4. Beth Noveck, Wiki Government: How Technology Can Make Government Better, Democracy Stronger, and Citizens More Powerful, (Washington D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2009).
5. Pisano, G.P. and R. Verganti. Which kind of collaboration is right for you? Harvard Business Review. December 2008.
6. Johnson, Steven. Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age. (New York: Riverhead, 2012) at 25.
7. “Chris”. Ideascale Idea Submission: “Document Management. The GovLab MSI Panel Ideascale. January, 2014.
8. “About Whois.”
9. Notably, the EWG’s charge is to “help resolve deadlock within the ICANN community on how to replace the current WHOIS system with a next-generation gTLD directory service that better meets the needs of today’s & tomorrow’s Internet” (see Expert Working Group on gTLD Directory Services (EWG) Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)., while the PDP WG is reviewing the whether the possible requirement of “thick Whois” should apply to all gTLDs (see PDP ‘Thick’ Whois Policy Development Process.
10. O’Mahony, S. and Ferraro, F. “The Emergence of Governance in an Open Source Community.” Academy of Management Journal 50, no. 5. (October 2007) at 1079-1106.
11. Baldwin, C.Y. and Clark, K.B. “The Architecture of Participation: Does Code Architecture Mitigate Free Riding in the Open Source Development Model?Management Science 52, no. 7. (July 2006) at 1116-1127.
12. O’Connor, Mikey. “ Comment on ‘Supercharged Outreach: Improve Accessibility of ICANN Issues’.” January 2014.
13. Kittur, Aniket et al. “The Future of Crowd Work (December 18, 2012).” 16th ACM Conference on Computer Supported Coooperative Work (CSCW 2013): 12.
14. Erol, Selim. “Practical Insights into Collaborative Drafting of Organizational Processes.” Institute of Information Systems and New Media, Vienna University of Economics and Business. (CollabViz 2011) at 48.
15. Unrau, Jack J. “The Experts at the Periphery.” Wired Magazine. July 10, 2007.
16. Johnson, Steve. Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age. (New York: Riverhead, 2012) at 25.
17. Van Breda, Nick and Spruijt, Jan. “The Future of Co-creation and Crowdsourcing.” Edcom Annual Conference 2013. June 27, 2013.
18. “About Hackpad.”
19. “About Draft.”
20. Wikipedia:Purpose.
21. Wikipedia Statistics (Contributors).
22. Wikipedia Statistics (Articles).
23. Lee, Ben. “Twitter’s Surprising Solution to the Patent Problem: Let Employees Control Them.” Wired Magazine. February 21, 2013.
24. “Innovators Patent Agreement.”
25. Lee, Ben. “Help Obama Write His Inauguration Speech.” Slate. January 16, 2009.
26. “Lincoln, Kennedy & YOU: The People’s Inaugural.”
27. Lee, Ben. “Help Obama Write His Inauguration Speech.” Slate. January 16, 2009.


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