Civil Society Democracy Project (CivSoc)
CYBER-FEDERALIST No. 6 September 21, 2000
ORGANIZING THE ICANN MEMBERSHIP:
Civil Society Democracy Project (CivSoc)
The Internet Democracy Project
Last week the ICANN At Large membership activation ended, with the final member count at 76,504. Beginning on October 1 those 76,504 members will elect 5 At Large Directors.
How will this membership function? How will 76,504 voters connect with 5 Directors? Can democracy in cyberspace work?
Even as our attention now turns to the October elections, it is important to think of the long-term organization of the At Large Membership.
In this essay I discuss INTERMEDIATE INSTITUTIONS to connect voters with directors. Intermediate institutions would allow the At Large membership to function even after the election.
The most pressing need is to define regional forums. These would
allow members and Board candidates to easily interact. More importantly,
they would provide the means for further self-organization by ICANN members.
What Functions Need to be Performed?
Elections perform two basic functions: input and accountability. On the one hand, voters can elect directors who bring their concerns and values to the Board. On the other hand, voters can vote out those directors who do not represent them effectively.
However, elections occur at two-year intervals. In the interim, these functions need to be performed by other means. Two other possible mechanisms for connecting members and directors are an "At Large Assembly" and an "At Large Forum."
At Large Assembly
Between the voters and the directors there could be a representative organization similar to the "councils" in the ICANN Supporting Organizations (SO). The SO councils propose policies and ultimately elect directors.
A council for the At Large membership was once proposed, but it was seen as weakening members' legal rights and was abandoned. The whole notion of an At Large Council fell into disrepute.
Nonetheless, some kind of intermediate body would be useful, both to voters and to directors. An At Large ASSEMBLY could promote a connection with voters, soliciting input, distilling it into proposals, and communicating regularly to directors. Likewise, such an assembly could hold directors accountable, informing voters when questionable actions have taken place and giving directors feedback on their actions. An Assembly could share some of the work of governance and provide a sounding board for ideas before they are implemented.
However, the process for creating such a body is itself difficult. What representation mechanisms should be used? How many members should there be? Before attempting to create an assembly, it might be easier to start with a simple forum.
At Large Forum
In Europe, ICANN members have succeeded in establishing a definitive forum for their region. The ICANN-Europe listserv is the acknowledged location for meeting other members, discussing issues, and disseminating news. There one can find most active members and most Board candidates. National-level forums have also developed, such as ICANN-France, which feeds into ICANN-Europe. (Links to all lists mentioned here are below.)
Once the European Region director is elected, it seems likely that ICANN-Europe will continue, allowing participants to provide input and oversight of elected officials. Furthermore, the entire list is archived on the web, so it provides a public record of discussions and commitments.
ICANN-Europe provides a promising first step towards a European regional assembly. In the self-organizing model so familiar on the Internet, the creation of a definitive forum can allow consensus to develop about more ambitious goals. A regional forum can make possible the creation of a regional assembly. If enough regions move in this direction, it may be possible to create a global At Large Assembly.
To the best of this writer's knowledge, no other region has a definitive regional forum. True, ICANN now offers the "Q+A" forum for elections. However, that forum is difficult to use and is specific for the election. Likewise, the "ICANN-announce" list shares information to members, but it is under the exclusive control of ICANN.
In North America, no listserv has yet emerged as the definitive public forum. There are, however, at least three relevant lists. There is a definitive private forum: the Boston Working Group list (BWG). Most leading activists subscribe to the BWG list, but subscriptions are limited. Perhaps the closest thing to a regional forum is the International Forum for the White Paper (IFWP), which was intensively used a few years ago but which is now little employed. A third list is operated by the Association for Domain Owners Rights (ADORE). The ADORE list is not so well-known, but it open and archived. ADORE recently offered to support a definitive North American regional forum.
Without a definitive North American forum, the process of self-organization for the region could suffer.
Asia also does not seem to have a regional forum. There is the "ICANN-Asia" list hosted by JCA-NET in Japan, but discussion there is light. The JPNIC list in Japan may be more active, but it is in Japanese language.
In Africa and Latin America this author knows of no lists. Significantly, even the ICANN Q+A Forum for Latin America had not received a single posting at the time of this writing.
(If readers know of regional lists, they can provide feedback to the Cyber-Federalist comments page and/or ask Board candidates to post the URL's in the ICANN Q+A Forum.)
There are a number of global lists as well, although none of them have gained recognition as definitive. The Civil Society Internet Forum hosts one list. The Unit for Internet Studies hosts another, on which policy researchers from around the world communicate. An ICANN-Candidates list attempted to define a forum for all Board candidates, but it has not had much discussion. Two additional long-standing lists hosting global discussion are the Individual Domain Name Holders constituency list (IDNO) and the Domain Policy list.
In summary, ICANN-Europe seems to be the most promising model for a definitive regional forum. Activists and board candidates subscribe to it, so discussions there are important. Moreover, the list is archived on the web, so it constitutes a discussion of record. The forum even has a draft charter. ICANN-Europe provides the means for further self-organization, which could lead to the creation of a regional assembly.
Establishing Regional Forums
It is in the collective interest of every region to establish a definitive forum. Moreover, creating a forum is easier than it first appears.
All board candidates and all members have an incentive to agree on a single forum. It helps candidates publicly debate issues and make contact with voters. Candidates merely need to agree among themselves on a common forum. They may also consult with leading user groups and active members.
Means also exist to publicize the existence of a forum. With the elections now underway, all (or a majority of) candidates can announce their agreement on a regional forum on ICANN's Q+A Forum. Once defined, such a list is likely to attract more subscribers and so grow into a definitive forum.
A regional forum could be an existing listserv or a new one. Hosting a list seems to confer little control over discussion, so it matters little who the host is -- as long as they are technically reliable.
A bigger problem is excessive postings -- a "low signal to noise ratio." Although this can be addressed by list moderation, moderation raises issues of censorship. Ultimately, a "forum of record" might consist of one list made available in two forms: an open version and a moderated version of the same list. Both would be archived in web form.
A few weeks remain to put such lists in place in each region. It simply remains for Board candidates, activists, and an organization with listserv and archiving capabilities to reach agreement and publicize it.
From Regional Forum to Regional Assembly
If each ICANN region can establish a forum, then it will have put in place the means for further self-organization.
Following the elections, participants may want to discuss the creation of a regional Assembly with designated members. That might require writing some kind of charter that defines how the Assembly would be constituted, how decisions would be made, and so on. The regional assembly would be a more formal intermediate institution between members and directors.
As described here, this process is roughly similar to that used to write the charters for the ICANN Supporting Organizations (SO). (See http://www.icann.org/general/bylaws.htm#VI).
It might be possible to create such intermediate institutions in time for the ICANN Board meeting in Los Angeles in November. Regional listservs could be in place by the time of the October elections. That would leave four weeks to the Los Angeles Board meeting. In those four weeks, it might be possible for at least some regions to define assemblies.
At minimum, regional forums could help organize a Users Conference at the Los Angeles Board meeting. A Users Conference currently scheduled for the Saturday before the main meeting (Nov. 11). (Watch the www.CivSoc.org site for more information.) Using its forum, each region could organize part of the program in the Users Conference. This task might be a feasible near-term goal for each region. It would mark a first step in the development of capabilities for collective decision-making.
The time is right to create regional forums. Responsibility for the first step lies with Board candidates. This is an immediate opportunity for them to help voters.
To get things started, ICANN members might pose the following question in the ICANN Q+A Forum:
"Are you working with other candidates to define a regional forum? What is the URL?"
Candidates and readers are welcome to post comment on this analysis. Some additional comments on Cyber-Federalist No.4 were made by Alf Hansen. Comments are posted at: http://www.cyber-federalist.org
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