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Getting ICANN to the next level of maturity: introducing Integrated Policy Impact Assessments
by Maarten Botterman | 14 Jan 2012 |
Integrated Policy Impact Assessment was first introduced among OECD countries and has been recognized by many International Organisations and Governments as a primary means of examining and measuring the likely benefits, costs and effects of new or changed regulations and policies. It has for example been embraced as a standard by the European Union and the UNDP, and best practices and guidelines are now widely available.
This approach basically brings together all the evidence that underlines a policy decision into one document, structured according to agreed guidelines to ensure consistency and completeness. Potentially, this offers the opportunity to improve the transparency and accountability of policy processes, and to provide a strong evidence base for policy making. Using Integrated Policy Impact Assessments according to explicit guidelines could dramatically increase transparency and hence confidence in the way ICANN takes decisions.
Innovation and stakeholder issues
In our ongoing search for innovation we often allow rules (about what should and what should not be) and beliefs (what can and what cannot be done) to hold us back. A famous quote from Albert Einstein says: "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."
Thinking outside of the box is what is often needed to shift the boundaries of where we are today. Yet innovation also brings change, and change will of itself inevitably bring new opportunities, and challenges, and will affect the way currently “the stakes are set”.
When the stakes are low, there is little resistance against change. Why should people (i.e.: stakeholders) put a lot of energy in worrying about, or opposing change, if the stakes affected are low? In such situations, there is a lot of space for innovations as people share a vision of something that should and could be achieved.
The Internet knew such a phase in its early days. And while it is clear to me that much greater growth in the use and of users of the Internet is inevitable, it is also clear that even at current usage levels, the Internet has become absolutely essential to many people, businesses and even societies in the world. In particular, for businesses representing an increasing part of GDP, the Internet has become either essential or at least a major factor in their operations.
Now: how do we make all stakeholders (“us”) meet and work together in the interest of all?
First: we need to understand that “in the interest of all” is not merely the aggregate of all individual interests. With so many stakeholders at such a global level it is inevitable that interests collide.
Second: it requires us to understand that there is a common interest that is shared with many: the health of the Internet, at large. And this interest is shared by those whose existence is dependent on the proper functioning of the Internet, such as business, governments who choose to serve their citizens and civil society organizations that have embraced the opportunities the Internet offers to reach out to their members and target groups.
Third: it requires us to believe that the way we are working together properly takes into account, and respects, our individual interests. We need to be able to trust the system we are trying to run together: we need to feel “safe enough” to engage.
ICANN and transparency
ICANN was created to bring stakeholders together to coordinate the joint management of an important part of the Internet system: the domain name space.
It is built as a multi-stakeholder organization, and is often seen as a unique experiment at the global level. Others refer to it as “a unique opportunity for self-regulation by the industry” offered by governments that support this model.
Since its inception, ICANN has worked with its various constituencies in support of its slogan “one world, one Internet”… and it has continuously worked on improving its governance processes. It now finds itself in a time where the stakes seem to have outpaced the “maturity” in the way ICANN has been dealing with issues to date.
From a high level perspective, there is nothing wrong with that. It is “just” a phase that ICANN has to go through. It doesn’t mean that it can’t do it right. It doesn’t mean that the model is wrong. It just means that it may be time to step up in terms of maturity. And that ICANN and its stakeholders are aware of that is already reflected in the reviews to which ICANN is committed through the Affirmation of Commitments, signed in 2009. These reviews have been well received, and ICANN Board has fully embraced the recommendations coming out of those performed so far.
Obviously, it is not enough to “just” implement the recommendations, such as those of the Accountability and Transparency Review Team. The objective is not the implementation of recommendations as such, but it is to increase accountability and transparency to the levels needed.
Pursuing the current recommendations is an important step in this but not the end goal. This must be an ongoing process, as it is in other organizations around the world with governance responsibilities towards multiple stakeholders, including those that have existed much longer than ICANN, even those that are generally not referred to as multi-stakeholder models, as they are run by governments, such as the UN and its various bodies, and the European Commission.
So what is the “level needed”? As I see it, it is that level where all those with stakes in the ICANN affected processes feel safe that decisions will be made based on the common interest of the community as a whole, and with the prime consideration being the health of the Internet at large.
Transparency and accountability are key in that. It needs to be clear that when decisions are taken that may have a major impact on (some of the) stakeholders, what information and considerations led to that decision. That the decisions are taken while taking into account what the impact may be on the finances and operations of the stakeholders.
The potential of Impact Assessments
It is at this point that the Ex-ante Impact Assessment studies can provide a strong hold. Guidelines for impact assessments would indicate what information needs to be collected and presented before a specific policy decision is taken. Typically, such assessments would include an answer to questions such as:
- What objective is to be pursued by a new, specific policy measure?
- What alternative relevant options in the way forward have been considered?
- What is the expected and potential impact of each of the options on the stakeholders?
- What do ICANN’s Multi-Stakeholder Communities think about this?
Experience with such methods are now widely spread. This seems to be a good time for ICANN to implement a clear policy on how it wants to handle this, as well. By adopting (and possibly adapting, if and when necessary) Impact Assessment guidelines in line with those of best practice existing today we have an opportunity to further increase the link between our community inputs, policy issue supporting studies and the policy outcome.
This will help us to ensure that policy processes are well informed, that our communities will know that they have been heard, and, more importantly – that their arguments have been taken into account. And whereas the last step – the ultimate policy decision – will remain in the hands of the ICANN Board alone, it will be clearly based on evidence that is accompanying that decision, including a recognition of impact on ICANN’s stakeholders.
In that way, we no longer have to go back into endless discussion loops on what needs to be taken into account, and can we move forward on all we learned in the past. Within the ICANN context I could see such a system to facilitate balanced and timely contributions from not only stakeholders, but also from the SOs and ACs. Prior to the policy decision by the ICANN Board, the impact assessment process may be a good opportunity to explicitly invite input from those bodies.
It is my belief that, by embracing a system of Integrated Policy Impact Assessments following explicitly agreed guidelines such as those used by UNDP and the European Commission, ICANN will be able to serve its community in a more accountable and transparent way.
This goes up to and beyond the necessary implementation of the recommendations by the Accountability and Transparency Review Team - and has an opportunity to win the trust and confidence of the community in her operations that are needed so much in the years to come.
Stakeholders would be able to see why and to what extent certain ICANN policy decisions would be expected to hurt (or benefit) them, individually, and why they make sense because they contribute to the health of the overall Internet system.
In business terms: your share of the pie may grow smaller but the entire pie becomes much bigger. And this would happen because trust in using the Internet increases, as one example.
Governments will be able to see why ICANN policy decisions are taken in the public interest on a global scale, even if it may not be in the explicit interest of each and every nation’s government. The Impact Assessment process would ensure that the necessary input from governments is invited in a timely manner, and explicitly taken into account before a policy decision is made.
And ICANN Board Members will be given the peace of mind to know that all relevant information that is known to the community has been presented to them to ensure that the decisions they jointly take are build on solid ground.