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Cyber-Federalist No. 9  
CivSoc of CPSR

Comments on Cyber-Federalist No. 9

CYBER-FEDERALIST       No. 9        January 30, 2001

The New Politics of ICANN:
Board Diplomacy

Civil Society Democracy Project (CivSoc)
Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR)

The Internet Democracy Project


ICANN's recent elections gave Internet users meaningful, if incomplete, representation on the Board. With five directors out of a total of nineteen elected by users, the question now is whether they can be effective.

To be effective the new directors will have to master a different kind of political process than before. The outspoken righteousness of outsiders must now be complemented by the diplomatic skills of insiders.  Directors must master the subtle arts of board procedure, persuasion, and coalition-building.  These skills must be applied in working with other directors, with external constituents, and with the ICANN staff.

In what follows, I consider some of the skills needed for effective Board diplomacy.  I also offer an example of how these skills might be applied for an immediate decision: the allocation of space for At Large Members at ICANN's upcoming Melbourne meeting.

Working Within the Board

For ICANN board decisions, the all-important number is ten. On a nineteen-member board, it takes ten directors to form a majority. Ten votes can modify the bylaws.  Ten votes can decide directives to the staff.  For any director, the ten-vote majority is the most important fact about the Board.

Moreover, for some board decisions less than a majority may be needed. For example, actions that exclusively affect the At Large Membership are the proper business of the At Large Directors alone.  If they issue a request to the staff on a matter concerning the membership, other directors and the staff should respect their authority in this area.

In any case, for a director to be effective, he or she must have allies. Before any Board vote, a director can look at the list of directors and figure out the ayes, the nays, and the maybes.  Then a coalition needs to be built that unites enough directors to carry a decision.

Effective directors will be those who have trusting relationships with their colleagues. Daily telephone calls, personal visits, and Email interaction can provide a basis of interpersonal trust needed for the conduct of board business.  For the newly-elected directors, building these relationships must be a top priority.

Working With Constituents

The At Large Directors must also work to maintain contact with the tens of thousands of users that elected them.

Much of the infrastructure for this exists. Most important is a forum where directors and members can interact. At least two regions have such forums: the ICANN Europe list (ICANN-EU) and the Boston Working Group List (BWG) in North America  (see Cyber-Federalist No.6.)  The Africa, Latin America, and Asia-Pacific regions may still need to develop regional forums.

Another important element of constituency infrastructure is the Interim Coordinating Committee (ICC).  The ICC was the product of the bottom-up membership process in Los Angeles (see Cyber-Federalist No.7).  Much as other ICANN directors are backed by Supporting Organizations, the At Large Directors can receive input from the ICC, which facilitates user participation.  The ICC also provides a global coordination mechanism that spans regions.

Directors need to encourage dialogue in their regional forums and in the ICC.  Directors may even solicit member initiatives, such as petitions.

Working with the ICANN Staff

In any organization there can be a tension between the Board and the staff.  Directors may not have the time to perform oversight; staff may take initiatives without adequately informing directors.

There is no doubt, however, that ultimate authority in ICANN resides with the Board. The staff must take its strategic direction from the nineteen directors.

Effective Board direction again requires careful use of procedure.  Written communications from directors to the staff are difficult to ignore. Clearly specified decisions and deadlines also facilitate oversight.

An Example: Meeting Space in Melbourne 

ICANN's next meeting in Melbourne provides an excellent opportunity to exercise these diplomatic skills.

The new directors could use their authority to ensure the allocation of official meeting space for members. This would be consistent with ICANN's practice of providing space for Supporting Organizations and their constituencies.

This decision also provides an opportunity to set a precedent about Board authority. Through such an exercise of authority, board guidance of the staff would be made real.

Working within the board, the At Large Directors need to agree among themselves. Telephone calls and Email exchanges need to start now.

Furthermore, not all directors need to support such a decision.  Since it exclusively affects the At Large Membership, a consensus among those directors should provide sufficient basis for a directive to the staff.

Working with their constituencies, especially the ICC, the At Large Directors can develop external support for the proposal.  A letter signed by Internet user organizations might provide a useful demonstration of consensus on the need for meeting space.

Working with the staff, the directors can formulate a directive on this matter.  This would promote board-staff interaction and set an important procedural precedent.

The result of all this could be a simple decision: ICANN would treat the At Large Membership as it treats constituencies, allocating meeting space in Melbourne.  But the process of reaching such a decision would both help develop the arts of board diplomacy and would set precedents for the future.

The At Large elections brought user representatives in to ICANN, installing directors committed to open procedures and minimalist DNS regulation.  But the election was just the beginning.  The challenge now is to develop the diplomatic skills needed for effective leadership of ICANN.


CYBER-FEDERALIST is a regularly published series of analyses and commentaries on Internet governance and ICANN . It is produced as part of the Internet Democracy Project. See:  (archive)

The Cyber-Federalist is written by Hans Klein: 

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