- New gTLD database
No more decisions on the fly
by Kieren McCarthy | 21 May 2012 |
Why the ICANN Board is getting rid of its end of conference Board meetings
The last Friday Board meeting we will see for a while?
A fortnight ago, the ICANN Board announced it was getting rid of its public meeting on the last day of its conferences.
The news has been criticized by in some quarters by those who fear the change will reduce the organization's accountability and transparency at a crucial time.
We met up with Board member Chris Disspain, who is also one of the members of the Public Participation Committee that has been reviewing changes to ICANN meetings, to discuss the rationale behind the change and what it means in reality.
So why the decision to get rid of the Friday Board meeting?
Chris Disspain (CD): Well, the PPC (Public Participation Board Committee) has been looking at making meetings work better. So one of the questions we asked was: do we need Fridays?
Friday morning up until now has had three elements: the Board Committee reports, the SO/AC [Supporting Organization / Advisory Committee] reports and the Board meeting. There is always a very light attendance for the committee reports, a few more turn up for the SO/AC reports and then a few more for the Board meeting.
We decided we could simply publish the board committee reports, then we asked the SO/AC chairs and the consensus was that, yes, we can just publish the reports (rather than read them out) so long as we can have a plenary session on the Monday if we need to, which the PPC agreed would be fine.
So that just left the board meeting. And Steve [Crocker, ICANN chairman] made it clear that he thinks the board meeting is not an effective use of time.
CD: Well, let me step back for a second. The broad idea is to cut down on decisions made on the fly. And dealing with stuff raised during the meeting at the Board meeting at the end of the week is making decisions on the fly.
No one who understands corporate governance would think it is a good idea to come in on Monday, listen to what people say during the week, and then make a decision on Friday. It doesn't make sense.
What's more, having the Board working late into the night on a Thursday is inefficient and ineffective. It's not a great idea to be making decisions at three in the morning after a long week of discussions.
It also means that the Board doesn't get as much face-time with the community, because we also hold meetings on Wednesday to prepare for the Thursday discussion to lead into the Friday meeting.
Plus, there are also other advantages to finishing on Thursday. For example, we can wrap up with the public forum, people can leave and get home for the weekend, and we can have a soft close perhaps with a few drinks.
What people are complaining about is that they like to see the Board interacting with one another and discussing issues - if you remove the Friday board meeting, you lose that crucial element.
CD: So this is where we haven't communicated the change very well. I fully understand that people need to see us as a Board, and we will still hold a public Board meeting when need to. For example, we would still hold a public meeting on issues such as dot-xxx, gTLDs, the fast track [the program for internationalized domain names (IDNs)], or if we are going to vote on a resolution where there is not consensus.
We will have a new board-community session in Prague [in June] just prior to the public forum. That session will cover what we heard during the week, what we are working on now and what we will work on for the next meeting.
So, for example, we might say: "In three weeks we will be making a decision on this particular issue and we are keen to hear from you before then."
For the meeting after that, in Toronto, we plan to cut down the opening ceremony to a welcome and speeches from dignitaries and use the spare time to have a different kind of Board-community session.
We are still working on the format - and we will be looking for community feedback - but the idea is to cover what we as a Board have done, what has been achieved, what has not been achieved, and the things that we would like to hear more about during the week.
So you will see the Board together at the beginning and the end of the meeting, and we will be available for more time on Wednesday and Thursday to meet with people, which is where the real work gets done.
Another concern people have is that important decisions will not be made in public, and we will not see or hear dissenting opinions.
CD: Well, the only advantage to hearing a dissent opinion is that you are in the room when it happened. But what really matters is that people see what the Board decided and why. If someone dissents from a decision and has that read into the record, then it will be published in the minutes.
What about the fact that at the recent Costa Rica meeting, the Board simply approved a consent agenda and closed its meeting. That left people reading the resolutions to find out what had happened.
CD: So a consent agenda is precisely that - we have discussed it as a Board and there is unanimous agreement.
I can tell you that Board members often take things off the consent agenda; if there is any dissent, it comes off the consent agenda. And even when it is taken off the agenda, the Board member often votes in favor after discussion.
Another issue is that Board minutes go up and you have to keep checking the relevant webpage to find out when. Why doesn't ICANN have some mechanism where it announces when Board minutes are up?
CD: Well, I think that is an excellent idea. We are taking incremental steps to make our meetings more effective and more efficient.
For example, we may reconvene the SO/AC session [a public meeting where ICANN's supporting bodies set the agenda and discussed issues between them]. That may give better interaction. Should we do that? We'd like to hear from the community.
One of the problems of course is that there is tremendous resistance to change. That's not unique to ICANN but it does mean it's difficult to make improvements.
One simple fact is that we are rapidly outgrowing the ability to hold meetings at conference hotels and will probably need to move to conference centers. And that leads into the question of whether we move meetings to hub locations - places that are easy for everyone to get to. Or maybe we hold some meetings in hub locations and then keep our rotating global meetings for others.
We are feeling our way and are keen to get input.
Thank you, Chris.
CD: No, thank you.