ICANN SF Welcome Ceremony

Posted by Paul Szyndler on 15 March 2011

[caption id="attachment_211" align="aligncenter" width="294" caption="Icann San Francisco Welcome Post"]Icann San Francisco Welcome Post[/caption]

Well, this morning’s ICANN Welcome Ceremony featured a series of interesting speeches peppered with reminisces of the past, glimpses into the future and a few clear (and occasionally pointed) words of advice for the ICANN Board.

The general themes were:

  • We love the multi-stakeholder model, both because it works and because we dare not consider where alternatives might take us;
  • ICANN has made great progress towards becoming the poster-child for multi-stakeholder engagement, though needs to improve in a number of areas; and
  • This improvement needs to include greater transparency in ICANN Board decision-making and communication of these decisions to the community.

First of the guest speakers was Ira Magaziner, former senior advisor for policy development to the Clinton Administration and key facilitator during ICANN’s formation. Mr Magaziner was the first to acknowledge that “ICANN has its faults”. His advice for ICANN: become more international (and multi-stakeholder), don’t become too large an empire and be as incorruptible and transparent as possible. ICANN needs to accept that there will be disagreement and controversy and that the transparency and explanation of Board decisions are a critical part of managing those controversies effectively.

Vint Cerf, former ICANN Board Chair and Google “Chief Internet Evangelist”, echoed Magaziner’s call for transparency, extoled the virtues of the multi-stakeholder model and encouraged ICANN to fit into the international policy ecosystem in a collaborative, effective way. He also weighed in on the discussion around the NTIA consultation on the IANA functions, proposing that the current procurement contract between ICANN and the US Government was too rigid a structure and should make way for a collaborative agreement…..interesting idea.

Speaking of the USG, next on stage was Larry Strickling, Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information at the Department of Commerce. Strickling, the USG’s signatory on the Affirmation of Commitments with ICANN, left no one in doubt as to his (and therefore the Obama Administration’s) expectations of ICANN. Yes, he reaffirmed the USG’s commitment to the multi-stakeholder model and to ICANN, but he also called for much greater transparency (citing examples), and let fire with some pointed commentary. His three main points were that ICANN should:

  • move rapidly to adopt the recommendations of the ATRT,
  • work towards the political sustainability of current arrangements by ensuring governments can work comfortably within the multi-stakeholder paradigm, and
  • clarify the distinctions between policy development processes and the executive functions of staff and the Board.

His showstopper was a call for the Board to revert to consensus-based decision making, as opposed to picking winners and losers by taking decisions where there were still differences of opinion among stakeholders. This last point would likely draw as much criticism as support from those present in the room. I suspect some stakeholders believe that this just hasn’t worked in the past and won’t work now. That said, he got the biggest round of applause.

Last up was Andrew McLaughlin, another former ICANN insider (VP, Chief Policy Officer and Chief Financial Officer) and possibly ICANN’s first ever staff member. Although he focused upon broader trends in growth and internet penetration, Andrew also reminisced about the ICANN of the past, what it could be in the future and the improvements that could be made to get there.

The session left me with a message often found on my high school report cards, and one ICANNistas would have heard many times before: “you are doing well, but you need to work on playing nicely with others and, overall, there is room for improvement in your performance”.