Towards a More Fully Accountable and Transparent ICANN
ICANN held its second international meeting of 2012 last week in Prague, Czech Republic. While the agenda focused heavily on issues related to new gTLDs and on welcoming incoming CEO Fadi Chehade, ICANN also conducted a community consultation on its accountability and transparency reviews. That session’s transcript and presentations are available here.
For the past 18 months, ICANN has been working towards implementing the recommendations of the Accountability and Transparency Review Team (ATRT). This select group of 15 industry, community and government representatives was charged, under the September 2009 Affirmation of Commitments between ICANN and the U.S. government, with assessing ICANN's commitment "to maintain and improve robust mechanisms for public input, accountability, and transparency." In late December 2010, the ATRT published, and the ICANN Board of Directors shortly thereafter accepted, 27 recommendations related to the governance and performance of the Board; the role and effectiveness of the Governmental Advisory Committee; public input and policy processes; and review mechanisms for Board decisions.
While a lot of work has been done, and the ICANN Board and staff are to be commended, it's clear that implementation of the ATRT recommendations remains a work-in-progress. In fact, ICANN staff report that only about half of the recommendations have been implemented to date. Further, on issues like use of reply comment periods and ensuring that public inputs are fully considered in decision-making, community feedback suggests that additional effort is warranted. Perhaps more importantly, unresolved key issues continue to complicate ICANN processes and negatively impact both the community and the corporation. In particular, the vital issue of clarifying the distinction between policy work that requires public input versus “executive function” issues that ICANN staff can independently develop and execute (Recommendation #6) remains unsettled.
It appears unlikely that ICANN will finish implementing all of the remaining recommendations before the end of 2012. This deadline is important because the Affirmation of Commitments requires a follow-on ATRT to assess how fully ICANN has made the original recommendations an integral part of its corporate culture. Such an assessment would be nonsensical, however, if many of the recommendations weren’t even applied. While the repercussions of failing to meet the timeline are unclear, it should be obvious that missing yet another deadline will not help ICANN burnish an already bruised image.
We all welcomed Mr. Chehade’s Prague pledge to be "extra transparent" as he underscored the importance of decision-making in the public interest. In fact, it looks like he intends to set the bar very high. Truly, the qualitative aspects of the recommendations are as important as implementing them in a timely manner. ICANN’s current leadership team should take these commitments to heart—now. At the least, they should be more transparent about who is ultimately accountable for the implementation of the full set of ATRT recommendations— and ensure that such “ownership” produces timely results.