Proposal 10 for ICANN: Become More Inclusive by Moving from “Stakeholder” Engagement to Global Engagement

This is the tenth 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 two broad mandates where it comes to engagement: 1) to conduct global outreach and promote awareness of ICANN and its role in the Internet governance ecosystem,[1] and 2) to create participatory mechanisms that leverage and sustain engagement at ICANN.[2] Both of these requirements are enormous challenges for ICANN and for any global organization operating via a bottom-up, distributed process in an environment where everyone is a stakeholder of the Internet.

Given the multilayered engagement structure at ICANN, it makes sense to establish participatory mechanisms where people are invited to participate even if they are not intimately aware of what ICANN does and how it affects them, and also if they are highly aware of what ICANN does and its effects.

ICANN should therefore experiment with establishing supplementary engagement mechanisms in addition to existing stakeholder group participation processes. For instance, ICANN could pilot alternate or complimentary channels for participation (e.g., topic-based or decision-making stage-dependent) rather than participation as channeled through the currently existing stakeholder groups. These channels would pay less attention to people’s stakes as stakeholders per se and more attention to their specific interests in specific issue-areas, as well as how they can contribute their talents in ways that speak to their passions and abilities. Within such an experiment, various crowdsourcing practices can be used as complements to existing stakeholder group practices. ICANN could then test empirically how different organizing principles work together to achieve more legitimate, inclusive and efficient outcomes, and may possibly lessen the need for gatekeepers or decision-makers as opposed to facilitators or coordinators.

What Does it Mean to Move From “Stakeholder” to Global Engagement?

ICANN’s stakeholders interact through the complex multistakeholder (i.e., collaborative, distributed and bottom-up) model. In this model, each ICANN structure (e.g., the Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO), the At-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC), or the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC)) comes to consensus through its own internal bottom-up processes. Each structure also breaks down into its own components, featuring different constituency and stakeholder groups defined by interest (e.g., Intellectual Property or Internet Service Providers). The complexity of these structures create many jurisdictional boundaries that newcomers to ICANN tend not to understand quickly or easily, and thus dissuade new participation. This proposal therefore must address two challenges:

  1. How to enable people’s meaningful participation once they “arrive” to ICANN and, related, how to sustain and build on active participation as people gain knowledge skills and expertise; and
  2. How to create frameworks for engagement that allow people to “find” ICANN and allow ICANN to proactively find those affected in the first place.

ICANN Organizational Chart

In order to ameliorate some of the confusion generated by ICANN’s jurisdictional boundaries, and in order to address the dual need of ICANN to both a) broaden its base of participants[3] and b) leverage participation in the execution of ICANN’s work,[4] the Panel recommends an incremental outreach strategy based on:

  1. Effectively leveraging various levels of expertise in ICANN’s policy-development work by organizing by stage of decision- or policy-making process (e.g., issue identification, agenda setting, solution development, implementation, evaluation and review) or around topic or issue as opposed to interest or existing structural norms;
  2. Presenting ICANN and the work it does clearly and framing that work for very diverse audiences; and
  3. Creating a “tiered” engagement model in which newcomers depend on incumbent participants for mentorship and guidance.

Why Does This Proposal Make Sense at ICANN?

Because ICANN’s prospective stakeholder base includes nearly everyone on the planet in some capacity, the participatory and collaborative mechanisms that ICANN institutes to invite to the table and embrace insights from these stakeholders must have simple rules that can allow for complex interactions.[5] At ICANN, the whole is almost certainly greater than the sum of its parts, and this means stakeholder engagement and collaboration must produce cross-disciplinary and cross-boundary competencies to solve problems.

Raising awareness and meaningfully capturing engagement are mutually reinforcing activities, and ICANN must develop engagement strategies that synchronize its outreach and policy-development functions. Any stakeholder engagement strategy should be able to raise awareness and build capacity for meaningful participation in ICANN and provide a structure/process that leverages engagement as part of ICANN’s policy-development process, toward more effective and legitimate outcomes. These activities should clearly be developed synchronously as they are in some sense co-dependent.

These challenges suggest that the roles of outreach, engagement, and policy-development are intricately linked at ICANN and require strategic frameworks that raise awareness on the one hand, and engage specific expertise and interests on the other. This is what we mean by “crowdsourcing wisely and widely.” Crowdsourcing is not a one-size-fits all strategy; there are crowdsourcing principles appropriate for broad-based outreach and generalized engagement (say, for newcomers) and crowdsourcing principles appropriate for highly targeted requests of diversely located individuals with diverse interests and expertise.

By introducing non-stakeholder-based strategic frameworks for conducting and sustaining engagement in ICANN’s work, ICANN may be able to more effectively leverage participatory mechanisms that allow greater and more diverse numbers of people to participate at ICANN. In particular, this proposal seeks to remedy that ICANN is “too complicated”[6] for newcomers; that people tend not to understand who is truly “part of ICANN”; that some feel they do not know enough about ICANN’s work to participate effectively; and that ICANN lacks the mechanisms by which they help train individuals to become effective participants, should they want to.

Implementation Within ICANN

ICANN’s engagement efforts should be agile enough to identify and accommodate both the expert and the novice, and everyone in between. In some instances, as people become successively more knowledgeable and experienced, they also become successively more effective participants in ICANN’s working processes. In other instances, people unfamiliar with ICANN may have discrete expertise that could help solve problems, but not know to get involved or know how to do so meaningfully.

ICANN’s global engagement should therefore be strategically linked with ICANN’s policy-development processes, which depends on bottom-up processes for volunteers to reach consensus on policy-issues. Exploring which types of decisions and which stages of decision-making better accommodate experienced participants vs. newcomer experts (where expertise is defined broadly) will be vital for ICANN to retain its effectiveness and legitimacy going forward.

Here are some initial considerations for piloting this proposal:

Invest in framing ICANN’s work for various audiences

  • ICANN’s work can and should be framed in terms of interest/stake, but not exclusively by this means. Framing opportunities for engagement based on issue, specific decision-making task, general relation to ICANN’s mission and mandate, and its relation to broader Internet governance topics or issues may also prove useful. In general, people are more aware of Internet governance issues at large than their specific “stake” in those issues via ICANN.
  • Framing ICANN’s work well and for different audiences also involves paying attention to regional and cultural differences, paying attention to ICANN’s institutional presence in different places, acknowledging different types of “expertise” or competencies that may be useful to ICANN at different stages of its work, and paying attention to the extent to which people actually know about ICANN and what it does. There may well be specific individuals who are ICANN-experts living in regions where there is generally very little participation in ICANN (this suggests an orthogonal outreach strategy).

Experiment with different organizing principles to determine how best to “plug people in” to ICANN’s work

  • Issue-framing, for example may be a much more open-call process than report-drafting[7] – one where people are able to leverage mechanisms like open brainstorming tools or Liquid Democracy voting, and can participate by either submitting insight directly or through affirming or rejecting another’s ideas rather than formulating their own. As people gain expertise, it might make sense to use the same wide techniques to identify specific individuals who should act as moderators of a report-drafting process, or as decision-makers further down the decision-making timeline.
  • There are also some questions/issues that ICANN works on that lend themselves well to both broad-based and targeted participation, and in which a topical-organizing approach may be effective as a complement to a stakeholder-based organization. Alternatively, one that embraces different outreach techniques depending on the stage of decision-making may also prove beneficial in certain contexts. There should be controlled experimentation in devising and presenting these frameworks. Designing any new approach should make certain that current participants can meaningfully participate in any experiment and that interest-based approaches and alternative approaches for organizing ICANN participants do not directly compete with each other and thus undermine the value presented in these frameworks. Ideally, a goal would be to help identify how each organizing approaches could be balanced effectively so that each could be deployed where deemed appropriate based on the problem or task at hand.
    • As an initial example for topic-based organization, an alternative organizational framing might embrace separating ICANN’s work into the following buckets:
      • Broad Internet governance principle affecting ICANN, for example, defining “public interest,” establishing “digital rights,” practicing good “Internet citizenship”;
      • Technical design issues to be solved by experts;
      • Economic issues around things like trademarks where there are winners and losers;
      • Value-politics issues.

Develop knowledge loops to share experiences across all levels of engagement

  • As people gain knowledge and experience and become more effective participants in ICANN’s working processes, it makes sense that they share their experience with newcomers. This could help to create, as Mikey O’Connor has proposed, a “staircase” of engagement:
Image credit: Mikey O'Connor

Image credit: Mikey O’Connor

  • People first discover ICANN online, through an event, through their university, or through some “first point of contact.” They are free to explore available materials, which are organized in ways that assume no prior knowledge of ICANN and which guide people in the direction of their interests, the goal being to raise people’s awareness of various roles ICANN serves how ICANN decisions and policies may affect them.
    • Note: when people first “come to” ICANN, it makes sense to leverage a set of tools that are designed for easy participation, such as open brainstorming and online learning platforms, including community-run FAQs and Wikis.
  • Newcomers could be matched to “orientation guides” – much like what happens when students first go to university – who advise newcomers as to what activities they may be interested in or might want to pursue, based on what the newcomer already knows and has read. ICANN Labs’ Peer Advising Network could be expanded to support these purposes as well.
  • As newcomers find subjects and areas that interest or affect them and turn from newcomers into novices, other more experienced ICANN community members may invite them to be part of low-risk activities that build capacity. A good example of such an activity is drafting teams that draft comments during ICANN’s Public Comment Periods.
    • Note: matching people to their interests and to the activities which suite their interests may well be complemented by expert networking tools which measure and assess expertise in systematic ways and thereby identify individuals who are best-suited to talk about specific subjects.
  • As novices gain experience and confidence by working with more experienced community members on substantive work, they may gradually become experts themselves in a given area of ICANN’s work. This means they can move to higher-risk and more binding activities, such as participating in Working Groups or even considering Council-level positions within ICANN’s structures.
  • Experts then, in turn, can accommodate newcomers to ICANN, and this process repeats. Notably, an expert in one subject area at ICANN may not be an expert in another subject area, and so this engagement model assumes people can occupy different roles along this engagement spectrum simultaneously.
  • This engagement process will incrementally prepare people to effectively participate in ICANN’s working processes, while mitigating the risks associated with people’s lack of knowledge.

Establish mechanisms clearly delineating between various levels of complexity and expertise in ICANN’s work

  • Newcomers should be able to quickly get a sense of what ICANN is and what it does, and what role it occupies in Internet governance writ large.
    • Note: ICANN could tap the experiential knowledge of its existing community to produce simple and legible content to be shared online or at regional or global meetings to help newcomers to quickly get up to speed.
  • Materials and resources can be effectively leveraged for people with different levels of knowledge. The way these materials are presented should bear the principle whereby the person who knows the most can independently pursue their interests, and the person who knows the least does not fall behind. These materials should therefore best be leveraged for the individual, possibly through mechanisms of tutelage.

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

  • The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) – The IETF is structured by topical working groups –essentially there are no stakeholder bodies. It is “open to any interested individual.”[8] Working Groups are led by Area Directors and there are eight “areas,” including security, transport, routing, etc.. Working Groups convene to solve a problem and dissolve when the problem is solved. The IETF also has a mentoring program for newcomers.
  • Stack Exchange – Stack Exchange comprises a network of question-and-answer sites on a wide range of subjects. Anybody can submit questions to a Stack Exchange site, where the questions are reviewed and revised by other users, who also propose answers. Answers are also reviewed, revised and ranked. Stack Exchange essentially comprises many expert networks who use deliberative processes to bring diverse expertise to bear on specific problems.
  • The Internet Society (ISOC) – The Internet Society “engages in a wide spectrum of Internet issues, including policy, governance, technology, and development” to ensure “a healthy, sustainable Internet is available to everyone.”[9] It “advances its work on a cross-organizational, geographically broad basis”[10] primarily through a global network of “chapters,” of which there are currently 80 across six continents.[11] ISOC has both organizational and individual memberships (which are free and provide members primarily with access to events, conferences, and other talks).

Open Questions – Help Bring This Proposal Closer to Implementation?

  • How can ICANN measure the impact of its outreach and engagement efforts on the participatory element of its policy-development processes, as well as measure how different kinds of participation have different impacts on policy-development?
  • What kinds of incentives and participatory structures does ICANN need to institute or leverage to raise stakeholder awareness in diverse communities around the globe, and how can ICANN best present these incentives and structures?
  • How can ICANN streamline global engagement so that there are relatively simple rules to follow “on the path” to becoming an effective participant in ICANN?
  • How can ICANN measure the effect of topic-oriented participation as compared to participation through the stakeholder group structures, e.g., the effects on policy-development and/or effects on levels of participation?
  • What tools and functionalities should ICANN leverage in conducting outreach to broaden its base of participants, to involve and sustain the involvement of effective participants, and to create mechanisms by which experienced participants orient newcomers?


1. Global Stakeholder Engagement.
2. “Policy Mission.”
3. Planning: ”Internationalization & Regional Development.”
4. Planning: ”ICANN Community.”
5. Andrus, Calvin D. “The Wiki and the Blog: Toward a Complex Adaptive Intelligence Community.” Studies in Intelligence. Vol 49, No 3. September 2005.
6. Ndonnang, Victor. “Transcript: ICANN Public Forum, ICANN 46, Beijing.” April 11, 2013 at 130.
7. Brown, Tim, and Wyatt, Jocelyn. “Design Thinking for Social Innovation.” (Winter 2010).
8. “About.”
9. “What We Do.”
10. “Who We Are: Our Global Approach.”
11. “Get Involved: Volunteer With a Chapter.”

The Tags . . .

One Response to “Proposal 10 for ICANN: Become More Inclusive by Moving from “Stakeholder” Engagement to Global Engagement”

  1. Chuck Gomes March 8, 2014 at 4:19 pm #

    In my opinion, there are lots of good ideas in this proposal that would be valuable to test. But to do so will require a lot of time and resources including ability for volunteers who are already stretched thin. Also, one of the suggestion that community participation should be based on topic rather than stakeholder interest seems to be based on the assumption that “people are more aware of Internet governance issues at large than their specific “stake” in those issues via ICANN.” It is not obvious to me that this is a true assumption; it may be but probably should be validated before proceeding with this proposal because the entire proposal seems to be based on this assumption.

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