Proposal 7 for ICANN: Increase Transparency by Using Open Data & Open Contracting

This is the seventh 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

For any institution to effectively operate in the 21st century, it should equip its decision-makers with the requisite information needed to help tackle problems the institution works on (in ICANN’s case the stability, security and operability of the Internet’s Domain Name System). This means that the institution should be transparent about its work and the problems it faces in accomplishing that work.

For ICANN, one means of achieving transparency could be to make all of its data from all sources, including its registry and registrar contracts, freely available and downloadable online in machine-readable, usable and structured formats, subject, of course, to privacy, confidentiality, security, or other valid restrictions.

What is “Open Data” and “Open Contracting”?

Open Data

Open Data refers to “data which is publicly available for anyone to use and is licensed in a way that allows for its re-use.”1 The concept of open data is not new – the U.S. government for instance has been promoting open access to information since it enacted the Freedom of Information Act in 1966. However, the open data movement as it’s understood today in large part took shape following the 2007 Sebastopol meeting when “thirty thinkers and activists of the Internet” joined in Sebastopol, California to “define the concept of open public data and have it adopted by the US presidential candidates.”2

The open data movement has greatly advanced in recent years due to the work of many advocacy groups, academics, technologists and governments around the world working to promote open access to a variety of types of information, from science and research data to weather data to health and education data.  “Big data” (the term given to the increase in volume, velocity and variety of data existing today3) has also played a role in fueling the open data movement thanks to the advances in technology that have emerged, which enable greater and faster storing, processing and analyzing of large amounts of structured and unstructured data.

Open Contracting

Open contracting refers to “the norms and practices for increased disclosure and participation in public contracting. It covers the whole contracting chain from planning to finalization of contract obligations, including tendering and performance.”4 The Open Contracting Partnership is a forerunner in this emerging space, and was set up as a result of a collaboration between the World Bank Institute and GIZ on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).5 In 2013, the Open Contracting Partnership put forth a set of open contracting principles, through a global consultation process that involved nearly 200 collaborators from government, private sector, civil society, donors, and international financial institutions. These 11 principles cover various aspects of “open contracting” from affirmative disclosure to participation to monitoring and oversight, with the aim of making contracting “more competitive and fair, improving contract performance, and securing development outcomes.”6

Notably, the intention is for these principles to “guide governments and other stakeholders to affirmatively disclose documents and  information related to public contracting in a manner that enables meaningful understanding, effective monitoring, efficient performance, and accountability for outcomes” in industry and community-specific contexts.7

Why Does Open Data & Open Contracting Make Sense at ICANN?

“Seeking and supporting broad, informed participation” in ICANN and “[e]mploying open and transparent policy development mechanisms” are two of ICANN’s core values.8 Furthermore, under the Affirmation of Commitments, ICANN is under obligation to ensure “accountability, transparency and the interests of global Internet users” and “adhere to transparent and accountable budgeting processes.”9

Notably, however, despite ICANN’s important and ongoing efforts aimed at enhancing transparency, the following issues have been identified (by independent review teams,10 ICANN structures, ICANN Accountability & Transparency Review Teams and other Internet organization) as areas particularly ripe for improvement:

  • Ensuring greater community access to information needed to understand deliberations conducted between the ICANN Board and the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC)11;
  • Developing and reporting on metrics for transparency of ICANN action12;
  • Budget & finance transparency13;
  • Enabling “active transparency” through improved “information and document handling.”14;
  • The handling of information requests related to information not proactively made available to the public and the broad exemptions applied to such requests15;
  • Reviewing transparency – i.e. ensuring transparency reviews do not result in “a set of check boxes to be ticked as a way to measure ICANN’s accountability and transparency.”16

Given these concerns, an embrace of open data and open contracting at ICANN could provide a mechanism to help increase transparency at ICANN and empower those within the institution and those outside who aim to research and understand the impact of ICANN’s decisions. Specifically these proposal ideas could help to:

  • Increase the level of sharable and accessible data and knowledge that exists on ICANN to enhance efforts aimed at holding ICANN and the ICANN community accountable to its contracted parties and to the global public;
  • Make the vast amount of public information on ICANN available to a wider audience of technologists and developers who can likely, based on that data, create new meaning and add insight (e.g., through layering multiple data sets and creating interactive visualizations);
  • Advance research and understanding around ICANN’s decisions and their impacts. For instance, layering open ICANN data with data from other Internet governance organizations could help provide new and meaningful insights for ICANN;
  • Expand policy networks for knowledge creation. In particular, structuring data enables interoperability and therefore people can more easily collaborate around data to the end of accomplishing common goals;
  • Devolve contract compliance monitoring to a wider and/or interested subset of the global ICANN community;
  • Broaden new forms of participation in ICANN by creating channels for developers, technologists, academics and interested individuals within and outside of ICANN to easily study ICANN;
  • Build on the trend toward data-driven, evidence-based decision-making by enabling easier access and use of complete, accurate and timely data on ICANN:
  • Create economic value by encouraging small businesses to use open ICANN data to create new apps and services;
  • Enable a deeper understanding over time of the roles of ICANN vs. contracted parties, problems or areas for improvement to the procurement process at ICANN, and opportunities and/or needs for contract evolution;
  • Improve ICANN procurement process by “[saving] time, increas[ing] value for money, and improv[ing] access to public contracting opportunities for small and medium sized enterprises.”17

Notably, releasing open data in structured formats18 also has the potential to help ICANN to:

  • Provide for easy sharing, referencing, indexing, discovery, linking, reuse, and analyses of documents by many;
  • Facilitate easy updating of documents;
  • Provide a common vocabulary for collaborative work;
  • Enable easier means of capturing and sharing feedback on strategic plans; and
  • Allow for easier and more diverse monitoring of contractual compliance

Implementation Within ICANN

While we believe open data and open contracting could advance ICANN’s efforts to become an increasingly transparent and thus effective organization – there are a number of steps that ICANN could take to help turn this proposal from principle to practice. Here are some initial steps ICANN could take to begin preparing for piloting this proposal:

Open Data

Phase 1: Identify Relevant Data Sets

Before ICANN can transform any of its data into open data, identifying all types of data that it creates or collects is key, as is identifying where to find that data and then determining which particular criteria ICANN should use to ensure that truly private and confidential information is excluded from release under any forthcoming open data policy. For instance, ICANN data could be separated at present into the following types:

  • DNS Registry data;
  • Public and already open data;
  • Policy data;
  • Strategy data;
  • Global stakeholder engagement data;
  • ICANN Meeting data;

Phase 2: Identify Techniques and Principles to Define Open ICANN Data

In drafting any open data policy with the ICANN community, ICANN should make sure to come to agreement regarding the key principles such a policy would promote. Notably, data is traditionally considered “open19 if it is:

  • Public – i.e., freely available to all to the extent permitted by law, though subject to privacy, confidentiality, security, or other valid restrictions.
  • Accessible – i.e., made available to everyone in open, modifiable and machine-readable formats so that data can be easily reached and reused;
  • Described – i.e., “described fully so that consumers of the data have sufficient information to understand their strengths, weaknesses, analytical limitations, security requirements, as well as how to process them.”20
    • Releasing data in structured data formats – those that employ a standardized ontology for use across all ICANN strategy and planning documents – can also help. For instance, strategic markup languages such as StratML (as suggested by Owen Ambur via the Panel’s online engagement platform) could help for these purposes;
  • Complete – i.e., published in primary form with the finest possible level of granularity that is practicable and permitted by law and other requirements.
  • Timely – i.e., made available to the public as quickly as possible so that the value of the data can be preserved and insights gleaned can be as close to real-time as possible.

Notably, these principles can also serve as metrics for which to gauge the success of any open data initiative within ICANN.21

Phase 3: Develop Open Data Policy

In drafting any official open data policy for ICANN, the organization can look to best practices as identified by organizations working to promote the adoption of such policies. For instance, the Sunlight Foundation – a non-profit working to “catalyze greater government openness and transparency” 22 – has developed a list of “open data guidelines” and sample language that ICANN could look to as appropriate as it formalizes any policy. Some guidelines of particular relevance for ICANN include:

  • Set the default to open;
  • Appropriately safeguard sensitive information;
  • Require code sharing or publishing open source;
  • Mandate the use of unique identifiers (i.e. use structured data formats);
  • Create a portal or website devoted to data publication;
  • Create public APIs for accessing information;
  • Create processes to ensure data quality;

Phase 4: Develop Implementation Plan

In order to prepare for implementing any open data policy within ICANN, the following considerations should be taken into account23:

  • Creation or appointment of oversight authority;
  • Creation of guidance for implementation,  developed with consultation from the community and public;
  • How to establish an appropriately ambitious timeline for implementation;
  • Providing sufficient funding for implementation;
  • Ensuring future and ongoing review for potential changes to the policy.

Other guidelines promoted by the Sunlight Foundation that ICANN could also consider during implementation include:

  • Tying contract awards to transparency requirements; and
  • Creating or exploring partnerships between ICANN and outside organizations (e.g., research organizations, think tanks or academic institutions) in order to increase, for example, participation in identifying gaps in ICANN service delivery.
    • ICANN, could, for example, formalize an ICANN hackathon and award prizes or opportunities for further engagement in ICANN to participants who create useful applications and tools out of the data ICANN releases.

Phase 5: Operationalize Through Creation of Open ICANN Portal

Successful implementation of an open data policy within ICANN should include offering the community and public access to all data in a single and easy to find location, such as an “open ICANN portal.” The new website, for instance, could be used as a platform to house open data in user-friendly and accessible formats to allow the public to use and share ICANN data to help generate new insights and inspire creation of new apps and services.

Notably, ICANN has already begun to make progress on opening up its data; for instance, it has placed its Bylaws into StratML.

Open Contracting

Embrace Open Contracting

  • The stages by which ICANN could begin to pilot open contracting could mirror those laid out in the October 2013 draft “ Guide to Open Government 2.0: Public Contracting”24:
    • Initial Steps:
      • Recognize the right of the public to access public contracting information;
      • Develop a framework for public contracting that ensures a transparent and equitable process;
    • Intermediate Steps:
      • Routinely disclose core classes of documents and data about public contracting
      • Provide capacity building to support stakeholders to disclose, understand, monitor and act on contractual information
    • Advanced Steps:
      • Create mechanisms for participation in public contracting
    • Innovative Steps:
      • Facilitate funding to support public participation in public contracting
  • Using the above steps and the Open Contracting Partnership’s principles as a guide, ICANN could put in place an open contracting plan. This requires determination of which ICANN contracts could be subject to an open contracting policy, including registry contracts, registrar accreditation agreements as well as ICANN’s procurement contracts.25
  • In doing so, ICANN should, of course, take into account privacy, intellectual property and security considerations.26 Notably, ICANN should consult with the public and its community to determine what agreed-to processes should be followed to ensure any redactions completed are both responsible and limited.
  • Furthermore, in order “for contracts to be universally searchable and comparable, open contracting data standards must be developed and joined up with other transparency initiatives.”27 Therefore, any agreed-to structured data plan should account for contracting data standards.

Experiment With an Open Procurement Platform28

  • When it comes to procurement contracts at ICANN, to help minimize waste, inefficiency and any possibility of corruption, ICANN could experiment with creating an open procurement plan and platform.
  • Applying open principles to procurement (see, e.g., The Sunlight Foundation’s example guidelines29) could help ICANN increase the transparency with which it contracts with outside vendors and entities and increase competition and evidence-based decision-making in ICANN contracting.
  • Such an open procurement platform could be designed in a manner that invites the ICANN community and public to rank, vote on and evaluate procurement options within ICANN. Notably, any such system would need to be clearly explained to the community, and those participating in helping to vet procurement options should have a clear understanding of how their input would be used by the ICANN staff and/or Board (e.g., be it additional/instructive consideration or binding input).

Case Studies – What’s Worked in Practice?

Some successful open data initiatives and platforms that ICANN could look to and learn from include:

  • U.S. Government – Efforts to embrace open data within the United State began during President Obama’s first day in office in 2008 when he signed an Executive Order on Transparency and Open Government, requiring all federal agencies to work together to establish a government-wide “system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration.” Advancing that initiative, in May 2013, the Obama Administration published an Open Data Policy, which defines the term “open data” and provides that agencies should make available their data in structured ways that enable the data to be fully discoverable and usable by end users, consistent with the following principles:
    • Public
    • Accessible
    • Described
    • Reusable
    • Complete
    • Timely
    • Managed Post-Release
    • Notably, federal agency data is published as open data on the platform.
  • Kenya Open Data Initiative – On July 8, 2011, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki launched the open data initiative in order to make “key government data freely available to the public through a single online portal.” The Initiative aims to share government data, an asset, with citizens. As of November 2011, “there are close to 390 datasets that have been uploaded to the site.”
  • Australia Open Data – Australia’s open data initiative includes the platform, which provides users “an easy way to find, access and reuse public datasets from the Australian Government.” Currently, the site offers 3.1k data sets from over 125 organizations. Notably, Australia’s open data portal directly encourages users to “use government data to analyse, mashup and develop tools and applications which benefit all Australians.”
  • The United Kingdom Open Data Initiative – On May 31, 2010, the U.K. Prime Minister directed that the U.K. government release specific data to the public in open formats “so that it can be re-used by third parties.” The central open data hub for the U.K. Federal Government is provides downloadable, searchable datasets to encourage public participation in and monitoring of government.
    • The UK’s open data initiative also includes Open Spending, whereby “[a]ll spending transactions over £25,000 made by UK central government” are published by the departments monthly to
  • World Bank Open Education Data Initiative – In January 2014, the World Bank released an open education data tool, the “Systems Approach for Better Education Results (SABER),” which “helps countries collect and analyze information on their education policies, benchmark themselves against other countries, and prioritize areas for reform, with the goal of ensuring that all children and youth go to school and learn.” The initiative has already met success, for example in Nigeria, a country where “11 million children remain out-of-school,” SABER helped to identify “policy bottlenecks, including the lack of standard information on student learning, and a mismatch between teacher skills and student needs.”

Some successful open contracting initiatives that ICANN could look to and learn from include:

  • World Bank Institute (WBI) – Teaming up with World Bank’s Africa Region, WBI created a “contract monitoring initiative to bring the different groups together to strengthen oversight of the award and implementation of contracts” in relation to the extractive industries such as oil, gas and mining. As a result of this effort, “[i]ndividuals from the private sector, government, civil society and journalists began to form coalitions that promote access to contract information, foster common understanding of the agreements and help ensure the terms of the deals are met in practice.”
  • Burkino Faso – In a push toward compliance with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), the Burkino Faso government is publicly releasing its contracts with the mining sector online and inviting the public and researchers to pore over them to make sure companies are complying with regulations. Thus far, this increased access to mining contract data has led the Revenue Watch Institute (RWI) to implement a “contract monitoring project to assess compliance of contract obligations with regard to employment of nationals in mining projects.”30
  • Case Study in Slovakia – A case study of the Slovakian disclosure regime aimed at combatting corruption by making various procurement data widely available and easily accessible through e-procurement and contract repositories. The case study has decreased the cost of oversight, allowing watchdogs and journalists to examine procurement proceedings. This has in turn increased the likelihood that improper processes will be uncovered.31

Finally, some example applications emerging from the open procurement movement that aim to lower barriers to participation in contracting include:

  • RFP-EZ – Created out of the U.S. White House’s Presidential Innovation Fellowship program, RFP-EZ is a federal experiment in procurement innovation that helps companies learn about and compete for government contracts, especially smaller firms who may be less able to take advantage of the government’s Request For Proposals (RFP) process. This pilot project has delivered promising results; bids received through RFP-EZ were 30% lower on average than FedBizOps.
  • (or ScreenDoor) – A system developed from lessons learned from the RFP-EZ pilot project, aims to make government buying simpler, and more transparency and to increase government’s access to technology. The project currently aims to accomplish three goals:
    • Set up an intergovernmental library that hosts Statements of Work that anyone (residents, vendors, experts, activists) will be able to comment on and help craft;
    • Fully develop as a platform that works from source or cloud, with scoring and award systems and an easy bidding process, while also providing documentation for cities that would like to implement this technology and finding cities that can implement it; and
    • Build out tools to help businesses register for contractor certifications.
  • Peer to Procure – A graduate capstone project at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University, Peer to Procure put forth a “Proposal to Improve the Quality of Procurements Funded by The World Bank by Enabling Online Feedback on Draft Procurement Documents.” In this project, the capstone team recommended a new, online, peer-based procurement process that features the following characteristics32:
    • Require a low-barrier, validated professional account (e.g. LinkedIn) to log in;
    • Mandate acceptance of terms and conditions with disincentives or penalties for misuse;
    • Publish users’ identities transparently;
    • Allow users to add high-level or specific feedback on draft procurement documents; and
    • Enable users to comment on, rate, or ‘flag’ other users’ feedback.

Open Questions – How Can We Bring This Proposal Closer to Implementation?

  • What institutional and cultural barriers could pose challenges to implementation?
  • In addition to the core “open” principles, what metrics could ICANN use to measure the impact of open data and open contracting initiatives?
  • How could ICANN facilitate an environment that promotes the use of ICANN open data by third parties (e.g., through challenges)?
  • How can ICANN take a benchmark of current data release practices in order to facilitate meaningful comparison with any novel process?
  • Are there other types of ICANN data that we have missed in this proposal that should be included in any open data policy?


  1. Guerin, Joel. Open Data Now. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2014).
  2. Chignard, Simon. “A Brief History of Open Data.” Paris Tech Review. March 29, 2013.
  3. Dumbill, Edd. “Volume, Velocity, Variety: What You Need to Know About Big Data.” Forbes. January 19, 2014.
  4. Open Contracting.”
  5. The World Bank. “Open Contracting: A Growing Global Movement.” December 5, 2012.
  6. Open Contracting Global Principles.”
  7. Ibid.
  8. ICANN Bylaws, Art. I. Sec. 2.4, 2.7.
  9. Section 7.  “Affirmation of Commitments.” September 30, 2009.
  10. For example, by One World Trust in 2007 and by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society in 2010.
  11. Accountability and Transparency Review Team 2. “Report of Draft Recommendations for Public Comment.” December 31, 2013 at 4.
  12. Ibid. at 12.
  13. Statement on ICANN Transparency and Accountability.” At-Large Advisory Committee. May 16, 2009.
  14. Accountability & Transparency at ICANN: An Independent Review.” The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. October 20, 2010 at 25.
  15. Ibid. at 26.
  16. Internet Society Responses to Questions to the Community on Accountability and Transparency within ICANN.” Internet Society.
  17. World Bank Institute and Open Contracting Partnership. “Open Contracting: A New Frontier for Transparency and Accountability.” (October 2013) at 4.
  18. See, e.g., “StratML.”
  19. The below principles are laid out within: United States, Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget, Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies, “Open Data Policy – Managing Information as an Asset,” May 9, 2013.
  20. Ibid.
  21. See alsoDeclaration.” Global Open Data Initiative.
  22. Our Mission.” Sunlight Foundation.
  23. Open Data Policy Guidelines.” The Sunlight Foundation.
  24. Draft: The Guide to Open Government 2.0: Public Contracting.” Open Government Partnership Hub. (October 2013).
  25. See also World Bank Institute and Open Contracting Partnership. “Open Contracting: A New Frontier for Transparency and Accountability.” (October 2013).
  26. Bacon, Laura. “Open Contracting is a Game-Changer: Opening Up Governments & Busting Silos.” The Open Government Partnership. October 28, 2013.
  27. Ibid.
  28. SeeOpen IT Procurement in the UK Public Sector.” Open Forum Europe. (November 2010).
  29. See “Procurement Open Data Guidelines.” The Sunlight Foundation.
  30. Deme, Ousmane and Kluttz, Carey. “Open Contracting addresses employment in the Burkina Faso mining sector.” Open Contracting. October 3, 2013.
  31. Fumas, Alexander. “Case Study: Open Contracting in the Slovak Republic.” Open Contracting. August 14, 2013 (Notably, however, the case study also uncovered the need for improvement in regards to the format of released procurement data as the need for formal and informal enforcement mechanisms to ensure procurement transgressions are penalized or avoided.).
  32. Frew, Katherine, Juan Pablo Giraldo, Rika Gorn, Kevin Hansen, Daniel Saat, and Alexandra Skayne. “Peer to Procure: A Proposal to Improve the Quality of Procurements Funded by The World Bank by Enabling Online Feedback on Draft Procurement Documents.” The Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University, June 03, 2013.

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One Response to “Proposal 7 for ICANN: Increase Transparency by Using Open Data & Open Contracting”

  1. Chuck Gomes February 28, 2014 at 10:24 pm #

    Overall, I think the ‘open data’ idea has some good potential to improve ICANN’s accountability and transparency. I also think that ‘open contracting’ approaches could yield some benefits for procurement contracts but it is not clear that the same would be true for registry and registrar agreements.

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