Running too fast..How long can the ICANN model take the pressure?

The ICANN machine has been building up steam ever since its new CEO took the helm. But at the ICANN London meeting it became clear that the pressure is rising too high. This machine was not built for this volume nor type of work and the deadlines are pushing the model to its limits.

London was the largest, most hectic and borderline chaotic ICANN meeting ever. Let’s make no mistake, ICANN has professionalized to a level that the organisation, even with more than 4000 registered participants ran smoothly. Having Nominet as the local host will have helped undoubtedly. But the uninformed discussions, badly prepared meetings, general confusion on key themes for this meeting and the increasing mistrust in and between some of ICANN’s SO’s and AC’s and ICANN (the organisation) have shown an organisation that is not prepared for what will come.

There are 5 reasons how it came to this.

Firstly, the NTIA announcement and the expiration of the current IANA contract in September 2015 come at a bad time. There are still so many unfinished projects (new gTLDs, WHOIS reforms, geo names, IDN universal acceptance, etc…) that having everyone’s full agenda being taken over by an issue of this magnitude is asking for trouble. But to be fair, the timing is what it is, it couldn’t be changed.

Secondly, ICANN has taken the de facto lead on Internet Governance. It made the ICANN meeting a place for those who not only want to get engaged in accountability and stewardship transition discussions, but also for those that want to gather to prepare for IGF 2014 or follow-up on NetMundial. ICANN should and undoubtedly will want to transfer this role as soon as possible to a broader group.

Thirdly, it is easy to be misled into thinking that by doubling its staff numbers over the last two years, ICANN could cope with an ever increasing workload and an exploding number of working groups. It cannot. ICANN’s strength is not in its number of staff members. Its strength is the army of volunteers from the ICANN community, bringing in expertise and credibility that are at the core of its success. This army is being spread so thin that it is almost unimaginable that its lines will not break. In the ccNSO section of the CENTR report we attempt to give an overview of the 4 new working groups that were created at this ccNSO meeting alone. Currently the ccNSO relies on 20-ish active content contributors. It would be a surprise if the new working groups will attract new volunteers. Most likely it will be the same people who will even have to spend more time on ICANN.
While still taking care of their day job.

Fourth, things are getting overcomplicated. The scarce resources are not only put under excruciating time pressure, but are also facing an increasing complexity on all levels. All these working groups are somehow related and require sync’ing and liaising. The work itself often requires deep knowledge and understanding of the framework and history of the issues at stake.

Finally, ICANN community’s loud and united call for an accountability review that should lead to an external accountability and redress mechanism will provide ICANN with its most significant challenge in a long time. The metaphor of reassembling a plane in mid air doesn’t even begin to do justice to the complexity and difficulty of the task.

In line with the trend of using twisted metaphors during the public forum: rather think of it as reassembling a plane in mid-flight where the passengers are on the brink of mutiny, the pilot attempts a looping, half of the flight attendants are on their maiden trip, the engines are at 150% and someone with a missile launcher is taking aim.

Will the ICANN community succeed? Probably. Because there is no alternative.

This is no time to panic. But it is time to prioritize.

Article First published by Peter Van Roste on Centr.org

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