Civil society experiences from the IANA transition process

8 Dec 2016 16:00h - 17:30h

Event report

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This session sought to explore the contours of the multistakeholder model by examining the role played by civil society actors in the IANA transition process. Session organizer Mr Tapani Tarvainen, Vice President, Electronic Frontier Finland, introduced the topic, and then gave the word to moderator Mr Adam Peake, Executive Research Fellow, Center for Global Communication. Peake argued that the IANA transition might well be the best example of a multistakeholder process.

Mr Milton Mueller, Professor, Georgia Institute of Technology School of Public Policy, then explained the accountability reforms in ICANN, which are still among the major issues in the organisation. Ms Farzaneh Badiei, Research Associate, Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society, highlighted some of the efforts related to making ICANN more transparent, in particular related to its document disclosure policy, internal deliberations, and the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC). Mueller provided a more detailed explanation regarding the controversies of the GAC and its role in relation to ICANN and to the empowered community that oversees the board.

Ms Robin Gross, Founder and Executive Director, IP Justice, outlined a number of accountability concerns that have been at the forefront of discussions on ICANN reforms, such as violations of by-laws and top-down policies. The creation of the empowered community is one step in the right direction, while transparency reforms are still being worked out. Mr Niels ten Oever, Head of Digital, Article 19, shared his experience of the process of getting human rights into ICANN’s core values, much of which is pioneering work.

Mr Aarti Bhavana, Programme Officer on Global Internet Governance, Centre for Communication Governance, provided a perspective from a newcomer, and pointed to some of the barriers to participation in the process: it takes months to catch up to the discussions, it asks for a significant time commitment, and the discussions usually only evolve around a limited number of core people. Mr Jan Aart Scholte, Faculty Chair in Peace and Development, School of Global Studies at the University of Gothenburg, detailed the limits to ICANN participation and added that civil society’s contribution is still relatively secondary at critical conjunctions. He also questioned civil society’s representativeness of the global south and rural communities. In addition, jargon, acronyms, funding, language issues, and cultural codes all pose limits to entry and effective participation for individuals. The issue of the dominance of the English language was later re-emphasised by a participant in the audience.

Mr Matthew Shears, Lead, Global Internet Policy and Human Rights Activities, Center for Democracy and Technology, remarked that the IANA transition process demonstrated the value of having a common goal across stakeholders, which resulted in cooperation and compromise. Mr Alan Greenberg, Consultant, Greenberg ICT Services, highlighted the commitment made by working groups and the preparatory teamwork that allowed civil society to speak with a unified voice. However, Shears also pointed out that this common purpose could unfortunately quickly dissipate with actors ‘falling back into stakeholder silos’ now that the transition has passed. Furthermore, there is still a lack of expertise on specific key issues.

Ms Marilia Maciel, Digital Policy Senior Researcher, DiploFoundation, urged those involved in the transition process to ‘document this process while it is still fresh in our memory’, as it might provide extremely valuable lessons for potential similar developments in the future. Looking at both the NetMundial and the IANA transition process, Maciel extracted the following key elements that facilitated the success of these processes:

  • Trust: is key for the process to work
  • Mutistakeholder committees: are important to engage communities and give rise to a bottom-up process
  • Specialisation of tasks: the topics are so diverse that no one can be expected to understand everything
  • A smart combination of onsite and online participation

The final speaker, Mr Klaus Stoll, General Manager, Fundacion ChasquiNet argued that in the future, greater awareness needs to be raised about the existence and role of ICANN. Furthermore, he shared Shears’ concern about the disintegration into stakeholder silos, urging to ‘think about learning and cooperating by doing’. Finally, he raised the issue of financing, and the need to find ways for a more fair financial footing for civil society members.  

by Barbara Rosen Jacobson