By David Olive, Vice President for Policy Development Support
Cross Community Working Groups (CCWGs) play an important role within the ICANN framework. We have seen over time, that the ICANN community has created such groups as a useful mechanism to organize activities across two or more ICANN communities.
One example of such cooperation structures was the working group formed to enable the introduction of top-level Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs), which resulted in a fast track process for allocating a limited number of IDN top-level domains in the country code space. Another example is the DNS Security and Stability Analysis Working Group.
Some CCWGs have been less successful and in fact caused confusion and misunderstandings across the different participating Supporting Organizations (SOs) and Advisory Committees (ACs). Nevertheless, increased collaboration between different SOs and ACs, as well as a realization that certain topics are of interest to more than one SO or AC has resulted in a stronger focus on cross-community working groups.
Many in the community recognize the value that CCWGs can bring to the debate, but at the same time, questions and concerns have been raised regarding the principles and processes by which these working groups operate.
CCWGs are a working group of willing volunteers from different SO/ACs who come together to deal with a particular topic or area of interest, which potentially impacts more than one key stakeholder group within the ICANN structure.1 CCWGs are chartered by two or more SO/ACs and have a formal mandate outlined in their approved charter.
CCWGs are tasked with providing advice and feedback to their chartering SOs and ACs within the ICANN structure. The respective SOs and ACs are then typically expected to evaluate the CCWGs recommendations and consider whether or not to submit it formally to the Board of Directors.
It is important to distinguish any potential informal communication from formal mandates, and that their charter provides a clear scope in which these groups will operate. For example, the charter should foresee what happens in case an SO/AC does not support the CCWG recommendations or wants to make changes.
CCWGs may be best utilized when dealing with topics that would benefit from cross-community input and dialogue, while keeping in mind that they can never replace a formal policy development process. CCWGs typically invite all community members across the SO/AC groups to provide insights, input, and solutions to ICANN community-wide issues. While CCWGs are diverse, representing and considering many interests and disciplines, they also provide opportunities to produce a common direction.
Currently, this is taking place with the ccNSO’s approach regarding the framework of interpretation of current policy for the delegation and re-delegation of country code operators. By definition, this issue is within the scope of ccNSO policy development. However, the ccNSO opted for a CCWG as an alternate path—recognizing that this will not result in formal policy recommendations—in order to provide greater clarity to the existing policy and to ensure input and involvement from the Governmental Advisory Committee and other interested key stakeholder groups.
Questions to ponder, issues to solve
With that in mind, CCWGs should not be mistaken for a new way of developing “consensus policy” or as a vehicle to overtake the existing roles of the SOs and ACs. CCWGs should be seen as an additional mechanism to foster cross-community dialogue and understanding of topics that reach across SO/AC boundaries.
It is important that at the outset, the remit and operations of CCWGs are clear, so that expectations are clearly managed in a transparent and predictable manner. To this end, the GNSO developed a set of proposed principles that—from its perspective—should underpin any and all CCWG efforts. These principles were shared with the broader community, and based on the feedback it received from the ccNSO, the GNSO will now undertake further work in this area in cooperation with other SOs and ACs.
Hopefully, this work will result in a common set of principles for CCWGs. With a defined structure and scope, more CCWGs may emerge over time further breaking down SO/AC silos and further enhancing the multi-stakeholder model.
ICANN continues to explore ways to better define and use CCWGs to ensure meaningful contribution, while maintaining respect for each SO and AC and enhancing our bottom-up, multi-stakeholder policy development process. I urge you to share your thoughts and input on this topic by commenting on this blog post and by following the progress of the Accountability and Transparency Review Team 2′s recommendation on this matter 2. Active community participation will ensure that conversations about cross-community work move forward in a constructive and efficient manner.