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Who changes, wins
by .Nxt | 11 Jul 2012 |
The organization that can keep pace with the Internet is destined to walk away with the rights to govern the global network
Who will break free from its cocoon first: ICANN, the IGF or ITU?
The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress
-- Charles Kettering
Charles Kettering was a most remarkable American. As an inventor, engineer and businessman, he made many of modern life's luxuries possible, including the car (he invented the start motor) and the refrigerator (invented Freon). He also moved Henry Ford's famous black automobile into the world of color by developing lacquered paints suitable for mass-production.
Kettering was a fierce believer in change. "If you have always done it that way, it is probably wrong," he once said. And he was damning about people's inability to see what changes needed to be made and why. "People are very open-minded about new things - as long as they're exactly like the old ones," he warned.
More than 50 years after Kettering's death, we now have companies that do nothing but specialize in change management. And yet its practitioners still report the same apparent inability of human beings to recognize why things need to change and to embrace change as a positive step.
"We're hardwired to resist change," Tricia Emerson, a leading change management expert based in San Francisco, warns. "When organizations announce a new change - even with many expected benefits - employees are likely to interpret the change as a threat and have an emotional reaction against it."
Change is no longer a nice-to-have. It is an essential component in a fast-moving world; a key component to success. But it is not just companies that need to embrace change. Increasingly, the Internet is forcing change on society's most rigid structures: institutions. And nowhere is the pressure greater than on those institutions that decide the future development of the Internet itself.
In 2003-2005, the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) reviewed the bones of how the Internet was governed. No one liked what they saw. But after lengthy and heated debate, a series of compromises were reached.
ICANN remained in place as the non-profit overseeing the domain name system and running the critical IANA contract, but it was expected to accommodate governments better and to develop into a more international and professional outfit.
The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) was created to act as an annual meeting point for Internet governance issues.
And a notion of "enhanced cooperation" was created to enable governments to work together on critical Internet issues.
Fast forward seven years and the world is taking another look at Internet governance. They still don't like what they see.
ICANN has made some progress but has failed to live up to expectations and made a series of mistakes that have undermined confidence in it. The organization continues to fiercely resist change despite the direct impact on its own credibility.
The IGF started off extremely well and had its mandate renewed but is in steady decline that no one appears willing or able to stop.
And the "enhanced cooperation" component had its first full discussion in Geneva this May. The discussions were not promising, and many governments are expected to take their grievances to the ITU in December to see if there is a way to introduce an inter-governmental approach to Internet governance.
Ongoing dissatisfaction with the way the Internet is run means, in the broadest terms, governance of the Internet is still up for grabs. And the organization destined to win the prize is the one that can keep pace with the Internet itself. The ability to change, and to do so willingly and reflexively is what will mark out an organization as best suited to overseeing the extraordinary global communications network.
Running to stand still
It should be noted that this need for change has not passed the institutions by: each has run formal processes to discover what it needs to do to stay relevant. Yet each remains stubbornly wedded to procedures and processes that continue to undermine their suitability for an Internet that refuses to slow down.
As we have outlined in greater detail in this issue, these three key institutions - ICANN ("ICANN and change: failure two-thirds of the time"), the IGF ("IGF and change: death by committee"), and the ITU ("ITU and change: held back by history") - have made changes to not only their processes but also their structures. Yet those changes are at best stopgaps, papering over cracks that reappear a matter of months later.
ICANN's crucial Accountability and Transparency review (ATRT) was considered rushed but still took eight months. Eighteen months later - and only as a result of determined and consistent pressure - about half of those changes are in place. Meanwhile, a raft of new problems has appeared, adding to those already identified but so far untouched.
On top of that review, ICANN has just formally accepted the final report of Whois review team; it is also considering a draft of the Security and Stability review team; and a fourth review is waiting in the wings. And on top of those, the organization is due to start a second round of reviews of its own constituent bodies, the largest of which last time around (the GNSO) is widely acknowledged to have been a failure. The review process is sinking under its own weight and without producing the results that make it all worthwhile.
The IGF fares little better. After a review process that collapsed, causing it to be rerun, the final report ended up on the political scrapheap; two years of work wasted. The result would be more tragic were it not for the fact that the final recommendations were so vague and anodyne as to be operationally worthless.
The ITU meanwhile is limited by its self-imposed four-year review cycles, with any significant changes agreed to at four-week Plenipotentiary meetings. As just one example, a failed effort to introduce electronic voting in 2006 means it will now take until 2014, or even 2018, before the voting process alone for five key members can be carried out in less than two days.
Likewise, efforts to update the ITU's document provision, finances, and decision-making procedures can be expected to take a decade. In the age of the Internet, such delay looks less like careful consideration and more like an institutional inability to face modern realities. The result is that credibility is eroded and people start looking elsewhere for solutions.
A need for proper change management
Even though these organizations make decisions about cutting-edge technologies, the people within them live in the past when it comes to making organizational change.
The concepts and processes of modern change management, now embraced by many of the world's largest companies, are almost entirely absent in the Internet policy and governance worlds. It has resulted in the continued failure of reviews. More problematically it means core issues are not tackled and so problems grow larger and more plentiful.
"Most projects fail to frame the need for change in a meaningful way," explains Emerson. She highlights a number of other key aspects to successful change. Overcoming the psychological costs of change is one. Change also needs to be linked to what people already know.
Just as crucially, change needs to be measured. What success looks like must be agreed upon in advance and metrics built around that. Those impacted by change need to be motivated to make them, and rewarded for doing so. The existing corporate culture has to be identified, and then accounted for. Communication has to be clear, consistent, and continuous.
These are just a few of the many, many lessons learnt from decades of practical change management; none of which Internet organizations are allowing themselves to benefit from.
Why is that? Aside from the universal failure of most organizations to look outside themselves, an additional problem is that Internet organizations believe themselves irredeemably unique. "It is like rebuilding a plane while in flight," is a metaphor frequently used, particularly in ICANN circles, when it comes to making organizational change. It says a lot about the mindset of those responsible for developing these institutions: that they believe they are achieving the impossible.
The sad truth however is that the problem is simply being approached the wrong way thanks to key players' inexperience. A lack of leadership has also stymied efforts. It is no longer enough for ICANN, the IGF and the ITU to treat organizational improvement as if it were a technical project or policy process. They need outside help from those who specialize in overcoming human nature.
What's more, whichever organization recognizes first that change is not a necessary evil but the key to effective Internet governance can expect a far greater prize: gradual acceptance as the primary body for deciding the future of the Internet.
"Problems are the price of progress. Don't bring me anything but trouble," Charles Kettering said.
Kettering was head of research at General Motors for 27 years from 1920 to 1947. In 1931, General Motors became the largest automobile company in the world; a title it held onto until 2007.