I began my journey with ICANN just over eight months ago. Not being from a technical background, I was entering a whole new world, one that included such things as - new generic Top-Level Domain Names; the locking of domain names subject to the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy; and ICANN Accessibility. I found one of the best ways to fully understand how ICANN's stakeholders create policy around these and other vital issues is join an ICANN working group.
Three months into the job, I began observing the Privacy & Proxy Services Accreditation Issues Working Group (PPSAI) formed by ICANN's Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO). It's mission is to recommend policies for a program that ICANN will develop for proxy and privacy domain name registration services to support the 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement (RAA). In every day language, this means that this group is tasked to develop the rules that would apply to accredited proxy and privacy services. More about the working group and its mission can be found on the here [PDF, 404 KB].
So, what is involved in being a member of a working group you might ask? A great deal of discussion and debate at a minimum. There are two main avenues where this takes place. First, is through publicly archived email lists designated for the topic of the working group (see for this specific group http://mm.icann.org/pipermail/gnso-ppsai-pdp-wg/). Second, are the regular meetings that occur over the phone and in the online conference rooms, where presentations and documents are shared. Working groups also will typically meet during the three ICANN public meetings each year.
To be sure, being part of an ICANN working group is a time-intensive process. While you can certainly make an impact quickly within the working group with your contributions and ideas, your impact on the final product may not be felt for quite a while. For instance, the PPSAI Working Group began work in October 2013, and its draft report will not be available for public comment until early next year. However, the group's hard work can generate real results, for example, on preliminary conclusions – many of which were presented and discussed during the ICANN meeting in London.
The work of bringing together people from diverse backgrounds to solve pressing issues can be challenging. The GNSO PPSAI Working Group includes ICANN-accredited registrars, registry operators, non-profit organizations and attorneys, just to name a few. Parties don't always agree, and agreement can be difficult. However when the work is finished it can be very rewarding knowing that you played a part in bridging those gaps to solve an important policy issue and fulfill the working group's mission.
One of the best parts about working groups is that are completely open to membership although there are some rules and requirements for joining depend on who's organizing the working group. The main investment is your time and commitment. As with any group, you'll want to have some knowledge of the working group's subject matter to join as an active participant. However, a recent innovation is that interested parties can also join working groups as observers so that they can listen to the conversations until they are confident enough to join as a full member. All you really need is a phone and a computer with Internet access to participate in the meetings of the group.
If you're interested in getting involved with an ICANN working group, here are two good places to start: the GNSO website lists all active working groups as well as announcements for calls for volunteers. Find one that piques your interest and learn more. Also the ICANN Community Wiki has a list of all active working groups that are part of the At-Large community. Also note, that the GNSO hosts monthly open house webinars specifically targeted at newcomers so that those that are interested in participating have an opportunity to ask any questions they may have about GNSO Working Groups, processes, and procedures (see here for upcoming dates).
There's plenty of work to be done, and it takes many dedicated community members to get it completed.
Joe Catapano is Coordinator, ICANN Global Stakeholder Engagement for North America