Since ICANN 51 in Los Angeles, a number of ICANN staff and community leaders have been intensely focused on the question of outreach, and specifically how to convert the newly aware ICANN observers into volunteers. During ICANN's recent meeting in Singapore, I approached many attendees, from newcomers to veterans, activists to observers, to ask what brings them to ICANN and how to encourage more active participation.
Many leading (and overworked) ICANN volunteers identified the same challenge identified in L.A. While the prominence of ICANN as an organization has grown and the number of followers, readers, and commentators on ICANN's work has increased, this has not resulted in a growing pool of qualified and productive volunteers to share the work. ICANN's many working groups, Supporting Organizations or Advisory Committees lack a deep enough pool of talent to address the current workload. In other words, there is a gap in the pathway that leads from being an interested stakeholder to becoming an active participant.
Bridging that gap was among the challenges community leaders addressed during a "Hot Topics" session on the opening day of ICANN52 in Singapore. [The archive link is here]. We attempted to keep the dialogue going throughout the week, by placing an info-graphic at the ICANN booth in the registration area and asking for more ideas from the community.
Some Business Perspectives
As VP for business engagement, I dedicated some time in Singapore to learning why even business stakeholders, whom many imagine to be well resourced compared to other groups, struggle to bring their time and energy to bear on ICANN issues. In some cases, the message has not gotten through to senior executives that ICANN's work is key to maintaining the globally scalable and interoperable Internet on which their success depends.
But that may be changing. I asked notable technology companies to ask what brings them to ICANN and determines how active they can be. A representative of Amazon, a company that has recently expanded its team of Internet policy experts, told me: "We are an Internet company. What happens at ICANN is important to our business and our customers." A contact from Adobe opined: "Policies made at ICANN affect companies, but most companies still don't know that -- or even that they can make a difference in shaping these policies." For good measure, he added that attending ICANN helps his company follow "what the governments are thinking." He spent much of his time in the Governmental Advisory Committee sessions.
There was no shortage of U.S. based technology giants in attendance. Microsoft, AT&T, Apple, Intel, Oracle, Google, Facebook and Yahoo! were among the marquee names on the registration list.
A number of global firms, such as Sony, Alibaba, Ericcson, Etisalat and Nokia turned up in Singapore too. In some cases, they are newly engaged though their participation in the new generic Top Level Domain (new gTLD) program. I had a conversation with a representative from Sony who expressed enthusiasm for their new TLD, and a degree of surprise that the ICANN model invited inputs from companies to shape any future rounds of new TLDs. The openness of ICANN's model and ability to have policy impacts frequently can come as a surprise to business newcomers.
Other sectors represented included financial services, automotive and even mining. They sat in on sessions ranging from Tech Day, with its focus on security matters, or the Technical Experts Group which explored the effects of the Internet of Things on both business and the Internet itself. Sessions about ICANN Contractual Compliance and gTLDs were also heavily attended by the business crowd.
Within the Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO) all three private sector constituency groups devoted precious agenda time to the topics of outreach, education, and engagement. ICANN staff and constituency leaders made plans to jointly deploy resources and expertise to address tasks like membership management, website enhancement, and recruitment activities.
Much Work Ahead
These plans track nicely with themes that emerged from the hot topics session – themes common to all stakeholders – not just business. They also address some of the responses we received to our key question: "How can we support more volunteers to take on more work?" Promoting mentorship, eliminating jargon, breaking down work into discrete tasks, and differentiating topics by audience were a few of the ideas shared. Focusing on linguistic*, gender and geographic diversity were also prominent themes.
Working with ICANN community leaders I believe we can build on the progress made in Singapore, continue to gather ideas from both newcomers and the more experienced, while cultivating a pipeline of enthusiastic and active participants for ICANN policy work for many years to come.
* In the spirit of linguistic accessibility, here are links to multiple translations of a recent business-engagement blog: