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The Chairman's Blog

26 September 2014
By Steve Crocker

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One of the messages we're hearing these days is that the Board is not visible enough and the community doesn't understand what the Board does. Perhaps most telling was a comment an incoming Board member, Markus Kummer, made after attending our recent workshop two weeks ago. Markus headed the Secretariat supporting the IGF for several years and chaired the IGF preparation process last year. He also served as a senior official at the Internet Society, which is integrally involved with the ICANN community, so he's familiar with many of our activities. Nonetheless, after seeing what the Board does during a workshop he was surprised at how actively engaged we are on the issues, and how forcefully but constructively we interacted with each other and ICANN staff.

The Board is not a separate operating arm of ICANN, and our role is distinctly separate and complementary to the volunteers and the staff. Nonetheless, we recognize that the community would like to hear about what the Board does and how we operate. We thought it would be beneficial to provide an informal view, beyond the information in the formal minutes, resolutions and rationales we publish. We also thought it would be helpful to hear the voices of individual Board members, and not just mine. Toward these ends, Suzanne Woolf, the RSSAC liaison to the Board, provides the following report of our recent ICANN Board Workshop.

Steve Crocker

Report from Istanbul
Suzanne Woolf

A few times a year (in addition to ICANN public meetings and conference calls), the Board of Directors schedules three days of workshop together for intensive engagement on prominent topics before ICANN. The most recent of these meetings was in Istanbul, Turkey, September 8-10, which was chosen because a significant number of Directors were already scheduled to attend the Internet Governance Forum. We seized the opportunity to supplement the Board workshop time with the opportunity to interact with colleagues and gather insight from the IGF. The three days included a formal Board meeting for some pending business1 and meetings of committees of the Board including Risk and Finance, but the bulk of the time was committed to review and discussion of the major issues before the Board and the community as we look towards ICANN51 in a few weeks.

There are always a variety of issues to be considered. The Board has continuing responsibility to exercise oversight over ICANN's operations as an entity, which in our case may be a more complex task than it would be in a more conventional organization of comparable size. The strategic and operating plans of ICANN are driven by community dialogue and implemented by staff, but the Board has an important role in oversight of both process and content for those activities, particularly the strategic planning process and its implementation in the operations of ICANN.

Perhaps more than making sure the business of the Board is getting done, however, these workshops provide both structured and informal time for interactions within the Board and with the senior staff on topics of interest in the community. And because our Board members come from such a variety of backgrounds, perspectives, and stakeholder groups, members are committed to the Board's responsibility to ICANN and to the broader Internet community, but can have differing views on how to best meet it, which always makes for intense discussion.

Regardless of how members are appointed to the Board – Supporting Organization appointments, appointments as liaisons, or Nominating Committee appointments – they bring their shared commitment and varying perspectives to integrating specific needs and issues with their larger responsibility. The Istanbul workshop was no exception. Board members are particularly interested in how to best support the work on improving ICANN accountability and governance, while firmly keeping stakeholders' concerns and leadership at the forefront.

So we received a conventional briefing (such as any management team might deliver to any board) on ICANN finances and the plans to contain growth in expenses. We also had an intensive discussion of the recommendation of the Expert Working Group on gTLD Directory Services that we work towards replacing Whois, in which the Board considered how best to make sure ICANN incorporates the EWG report's advice into future operations, opens discussions with stakeholders, and interacts with the technical community on implementation.

The most prominent single topic was the IANA stewardship transition effort. Like other stakeholders in the process, the Board has profound challenges to meet: its job is to facilitate and support the community's open, transparent, bottom-up efforts to build a credible, workable plan for continuing stewardship of IANA operations after the end of the US government IANA functions contract. It must meet this responsibility without becoming inappropriately involved in the substance of that plan, which has to belong to the stakeholders. Specific topics of great interest included reporting on the progress of the IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group (ICG) and efforts of the "operational communities" to build inputs for the proposal; ICANN's internal planning for operational aspects of a stewardship transition; and possible implications of a transition for relationships among Internet governance stakeholders.

Other important topics included the Strategic Plan and the ongoing efforts to make sure it reflects the community's priorities and in turn is reflected in the Operating Plan and Budget. There was also discussion of progress against budget and goals for the new gTLD Programme. In particular, as we begin to look towards the next round of new gTLDs, it's important to keep the commitment to evaluate the impacts and results of the current new gTLD round in terms of security and stability of the DNS and lessons learned for ICANN.

As always, policy development belongs to the community, and implementation of community policies is primarily in the hands of ICANN staff. The Board's direct role, particularly in policy development, is structurally limited. But the Board is responsible for the overall effectiveness and credibility of the results of those processes and their implementation, so part of the responsibility of a Board member is to be open to input from anywhere in the stakeholder community.

The Board workshops serve to help us understand issues before us and engage more effectively, through all of the formal mechanisms of Board and staff actions but also less formally, as part of the community. We look forward to seeing you at ICANN51 or hearing from you at any time.


1 https://www.icann.org/resources/board-material/resolutions-2014-09-09-en

Authors

Steve Crocker

Former ICANN Board Chair