Reviews issue index (11 July 12)

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At first sight, it may seem nonsensical to identify ICANN as failing to change. The organization has explicitly recognized the need to adapt to remain relevant, and has even hard-coded reviews into its bylaws.

Every one of the organization's nine component parts goes through a review every five years, on top of which there are four independent reviews into the organization's functioning every three years. There is even a dedicated staff team and board committee to manage such reviews.

However there are a number of structural and cultural flaws that continue to make such reviews ineffective. They include:

  • Imposition of outside views onto a resistant staff
  • Focus on process over results
  • Widespread failure to communicate effectively and honestly
  • A culture of heckling
  • Tendency to ignore problems
  • Failure to see changes past implementation
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The International Telecommunication Union is an old and august institution, created in 1865, making it the first ever international body.

It was created to help make the most of the then-new telegraph technology by getting countries to agree how they would deal with information that was relayed to, from and through their territories.

Having been successful in that, the ITU picked up more and more work as the human race entered the telecommunications age, eventually becoming the de facto body for telecoms, including standards, financing, metrics, and even installation.

In the same way that ICANN has change written into its structure, the ITU is notable for how it has changed over time, in many cases leading the way. It was the first United Nations organization to pull in the private sector; it values academics; it started developing new standards around the advances in technology that led to the Internet as we now know it; it tries to ensure equal participation from developing countries, as well as gender balance.

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As CEO of a company that specializes in change management, Tricia Emerson has seen more than her fair share of failed efforts to introduce change. Her team is dedicated to helping companies across the United States introduce change in an efficient and effective way. Along the way, she and her team put down lessons learnt along the way in a book called simply 'The Change Book'.


One of the most important things in making change effective is to frame the need for change in a meaningful way. Even if companies do justify the need, it's typically crafted for executives and not the broader organization. But to get support, there must be a shared understanding of the case for change, and a sense of urgency.

The reality is that transition between the old and the new is no fun. It's uncomfortable for people and what's more, it's inherently confusing. People are resistant to change and often seen it as a threat. When organizations announce a new change, most employees are likely to have an emotional reaction against it.

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ICANN's COO and acting CEO talks TAS, digital archery, his old friend the new CEO and how he will make the organization function better


Akram Atallah: ICANN needs to raise itself to the next level. Photo: ICANN

Akram Atallah has had a rough couple of years. When he was brought in as Chief Operating Officer for ICANN in September 2010, the organization was getting used to a new CEO and had just lost its CFO as well as a number of other key executive positions.

Just two months later an independent report into the organization's accountability and transparency recommended a number of significant operational changes. Four months after that, the organization's Board approved the rules for its largest ever project - the introduction of thousands of new Internet extensions - but left a significant number of operational issues undecided.

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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.

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The Internet Governance Forum has been a novel hybrid of a traditional inter-governmental approach with the open Internet policy model since its inception.

A long series of careful compromises, brilliantly engineered by its original leaders (Nitin Desai as Special Advisor and Markus Kummer as Executive Coordinator), meant that the annual four-day forum made sense to the broad range of attendees.

Key elements of the IGF include:

  • Set-piece plenary sessions (that make governments comfortable)
  • Small, flexible workshops (which give civil society an opportunity to discuss particular topics)
  • An advisory committee (the MAG) comprising all stakeholders that provide a decision-making body
  • Two open preparatory meetings for each forum, typically in February and May in preparation for the November event
  • MAG meetings (originally closed) held after the preparatory meetings to make decisions
  • Light requirements on workshops allowing for a large number (around 100) to be approved