A year ago, we could not have foreseen how the year would unfold. In developing the Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) Middle East Regional Action Plan, the general assumption was that remote engagement would persist for at least the first six months of the year (July-December 2020); then depending on the COVID-19 pandemic, some of our engagement activities could go back to being in person. However, as the pandemic continued, with multiple waves spreading across many parts of the world, including the Middle East, the only choice was to continue with remote engagement. This blog shares a few highlights of what was accomplished in FY21 and what is coming up in FY22.
While the pandemic brought about many challenges, it also created new opportunities for engagement. Technical capacity development continued to be a major track of the Middle East Regional Engagement Plan. In the pre-pandemic era, all the capacity development activities were held in person. During the pandemic, this changed, but it took some time. A few months into the pandemic, the ICANN organization's (org's) Office of the Chief Technical Officer (OCTO) was able to provide an online platform that could simulate the hands-on training environment and enable participants to enroll in hands-on trainings through a virtual environment. Additionally, we organized a large number of technical webinars on topics related to Domain Name System (DNS) operations, security, and threats, of which some were targeting new stakeholders.
The evolved remote participation tools and the newly developed online training platform did not only just allow us to continue our engagement virtually, but also created the opportunity for an increased interest in our events. This led to nearly a doubling of our engagement activities compared to last year, with nineteen held, including a technical, hands-on training session or webinars throughout FY21.
Middle East DNS Forum Went Virtual
The seventh meeting of the Middle East DNS Forum was the first virtual event for ICANN in the Middle East. As a new experience for us in the region, we were not quite certain of what to expect. In the end, the forum turned out to be a success, with 203 unique participants, making it the most attended since its inception in 2014. Some regular participants noted that the seventh edition of the Forum was one of the best in terms of both format and content. More participant feedback is available in the post event survey results here. In general, over 90% of respondents were pleased with the event's setup and the topics covered. Most interestingly, 42.50% of the respondents were fine with the forum continuing either virtually or face to face. Of the respondents, 37.50% wanted to see future forums take place in person, and 20% opted for virtual-only forums.
Though FY21 was an unprecedented year, community engagement in the region was exceptional.
Despite the pandemic, we managed to maintain our engagement efforts among our usual audiences of governments, country code top-Level domain (ccTLD) operators, contracted parties, Network Operator Groups (NOGs), and academia. We were also able to reach out to new organizations and groups. Examples include the Ankara Legal Hackers – a civil society in Turkey which is now an At-Large Structure, the Egyptian Information, Telecommunications, Electronics, and Software Alliance (EITESAL) – a leading IT business association in Egypt, and the Arab Information and Communication Technologies Organization (AICTO) – a regional intergovernmental organization.
One of the main outcomes of this engagement was the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with AICTO. This is an important collaboration for ICANN org in the region, which aims to raise awareness of the usage of Internationalized Domain Names, advance the Universal Acceptance of all domain names (particularly domains using the Arabic script), and promote DNS security practices across the region.
Meanwhile, engagement in the Middle East continued to grow, reaching a level of maturity that allowed for more substantive discussions and input from participants. Over the past year, the region has held four virtual sessions, and made written contributions to three key ICANN work areas and hot topics, namely the third Accountability and Transparency Review Team (ATRT3) Report, the new gTLD Subsequent Procedures Working Group Final Report, and DNS Security Threats. ICANN org is committed to continuing to facilitate work in the Middle East, and to support its efforts to grow as a sustainable and scalable platform for engaging the regional community.
The FY22 Regional Action Plan developed in consultation with the regional community is now in place. While the plan assumes that remote engagement will continue to prevail for most of FY22, we do hope that the world will go back to the way it once was, and that we are able to meet again in person with our community members.