Proposal 8 for ICANN: Increase Accountability Through Participatory Budgeting

This is the eighth 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

ICANN has an imperative to leverage mechanisms for devolving accountability and infusing public interest considerations more directly into ICANN’s work, for example in its budgetary decisions. Learning from best practices from participatory budgeting movements around the world, ICANN could test different approaches for eliciting community input on identifying and prioritizing community needs and for enabling public voting on spending decisions. Using participatory budgeting, ICANN could experiment with different methods for directly involving the global public in certain budgeting decisions.

What Does it Mean to Use Participatory Budgeting?

Participatory budgeting (PB) is a process which allows citizens (“members,” “stakeholders”) of an area (region, organization, or some kind of defined group) to participate in the allocation of part or all of the organization’s available financial resources.1 PB began in Puerto Alegre, Brazil in 19892 and has since expanded to over 1,500 cities worldwide. PB has also been used “for counties, states, housing authorities, schools and school systems, universities, coalitions, and other public agencies.”3

Why Does This Proposal Make Sense at ICANN?

Each year, ICANN develops its planning and operation budget in consultation with the community. Notably, [d]uring the second six months of each fiscal year, ICANN develops the operating plan and the budget for the next fiscal year. Each of these elements of the planning phase is developed through a thorough, multi-phase process of consultation with the ICANN community.4

Despite this consultation with the ICANN community, there have been calls for increased accountability when it comes to ICANN budgeting and financial management.5 Most recently, the ATRT2 Draft Report recommends that:

  • ICANN publish review team budgets, “together with a rationale for the amount allocated that is based on the experiences of the previous [ATRT] teams”6;
  • The ICANN Board “improve the budget consultation process” in order “to ensure that the budget reflects the views of the ICANN community”7;

Notably, the ATRT2 Draft Report also found that “[c]ommunity comments on the FY14 Draft Operating Plan and Budget reveal numerous concerns about ICANN financial issues, including calls for more clarified reporting and/or a different approach to the organization’s budget setting processes.”8

We believe that deploying PB techniques could help to address some of these challenges. Specifically, PB can help to:

  • Encourage more equitable resource distribution9 and promote funding for innovative and responsive projects10 ;
  • Increase community knowledge and strengthen relationships between participants and “elected officials” and their communities11;
  • Increase community understanding and insight into budgeting decisions and their consequences;
  • Devolve certain public-interest-focused spending priority determinations to the global public.

Implementation Within ICANN

Here are some initial ideas for how ICANN could frame and design any PB pilots over the course of the next year:

Structuring a PB Pilot

  • Either through consultative multistakeholder processes or through a Board decision in consultation with the staff, ICANN should determine which kinds or portions of funds may be appropriate to subject to PB.
    • A very promising example is the funds that ICANN will collect from the “Auctions of Last-Resort,” which are becoming an increasingly contentious component of the new gTLD program, and around which community members have already suggested separate and novel uses for the funds.12
  • Once a given portion of funds is identified, ICANN could create some sort of “steering committee” to help dialogue with the community about setting process rules. Such a committee could be responsible for deciding:
    • the eligibility criteria for participation in PB processes;
    • the rules of engagement;
    • what the min or max monetary limitations for any one proposed project could be; and
    • the timing and schedule of events

The Process

  • The process thereafter should involve inviting community members to identify their needs and deliberate on possible solutions that could meet those needs  – i.e. brainstorm, rank and dialogue around possible spending ideas.
  • This deliberation can easily be supported by a variety of open, online tools and techniques the Panel recommends that ICANN use in other proposals.

Adopting Outcomes

  • As community deliberations occur, PB participants could either volunteer (or be chosen through innovative voting techniques) to work as “budget delegates” with the steering committee, ICANN staff and community leaders who are actively involved in budget decisions at ICANN.
  • “Budget delegates” could work to develop concrete proposals for the spending ideas that come out of the broader community deliberations. The entire ICANN community could then vote on these community-developed proposals, with ICANN committing to implement the top proposals (most likely following Board approval) using the funds that have been specifically allocated for PB.

Examples & Case Studies – What’s Worked in Practice?

  • Participatory Budgeting in NYC (PBNYC) – In 2011, four New York City Council Members launched a PB process to let New York City residents allocate part of their capital discretionary funds. Since then, five more City Council Members have joined the initiative. Between September 2013 and April 2014, nine Council Members will invite residents to directly decide how to spend “at least $1 million of their discretionary capital funds in each of the participating districts – a total of around $12 million.” Each district’s residents will propose and vote on local infrastructure projects. The Council Members will then submit the projects with the most votes to Council.13
  • Porto Alegre, Brazil – In 1989, years before widespread use of the Internet, Porto Alegre, Brazil launched the first “Participative Budget.” In this city of just over one million people, as many as 14 thousand citizens showed up in person to budget deliberations. These city residents chose where investments were directed, determined the amount of money spent on different areas of public works, and prioritized certain government plans and actions. Far from mere tokenism, participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre has had real impacts. For example, the citizen-led prioritization of basic sanitation works led to a significant increase in the number of households served by the water and sewerage systems.14
  • United States Open Government Partnership (OGP) National Action Plan – This year (2014), the Obama Administration will work in collaboration with the Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) Initiative – “a unique partnership between the federal government and mayors of chronically distressed cities that have faced significant long-term challenges in developing and implementing their economic strategies”15 – to “create tools and best practices that communities can use to implement projects; raise awareness among other American communities that participatory budgeting can be used to help determine local investment priorities; and help educate communities on participatory budgeting and its benefits.”16

Open Questions – Help Bring This Proposal Closer to Implementation?

  • What institutional or cultural barriers exist that could pose challenges to implementation?
  • How does ICANN decide whether there has been sufficient engagement with the public in budget consultations at present?
  • What would be the best way to administer a fair and legitimate community-wide vote on ideas proposed through PB processes?
  • How can ICANN scale PB so that large and diverse groups of people can meaningfully engage in certain ICANN spending decisions to the end of being effective participants at ICANN?
  • What should the parameters be for allowing, inviting, or enabling participation in a PB process?
  • How can ICANN develop common criteria and metrics to evaluate the impact of PB, especially as compared to existing public comment and consultation processes?
  • How can PB at ICANN allow for variation of interests or regions?


  1. “What is Participatory Budgeting.”
  2. The Experience of the Participative Budget in Porto Alegre Brazil.”
  3. What is PB?” PBP: Participatory Budgeting Project.
  4. Accountability and Transparency Frameworks and Principles.”
  5. To learn more about ICANN budgeting, seeFinancial Information for ICANN.”
  6. Accountability and Transparency Review Team 2. “Report of Draft Recommendations for Public Comment.” December 31, 2013 at 7.
  7. Ibid. at 8.
  8. Ibid. at 62.
  9. Gilman, Hollie Russon. “The Participatory Turn: Participatory Budgeting Comes to America.” Harvard University. December 12, 2012.
  10. Participatory Budgeting Project Updates.” New York City Councilmember Brad Lander. (2013).
  11. Gilman, Hollie Russon. “The Participatory Turn: Participatory Budgeting Comes to America.” Harvard University. December 12, 2012.
  12. Chalaby, Cherine. “Transcript: ICANN Public Forum.”  November 21, 2013 at 18.
  13. About.” Participatory Budgeting in New York City.
  14. The Experience of the Participative Budget in Porto Alegre Brazil.” UNESCO MOST Best Practices for Human Settlements.
  15. White House Council on Strong Cities, Strong Communities. “Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative: 1st Annual Report.” (April 2013).
  16. The Open Government Partnership. “Second Open Government National Action Plan for the United States of America.” December 5, 2013.

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