Enhancing and Streamlining ICANN’s Reviews: Issues, Approaches, and Next Steps

As we prepare for a public session during ICANN66 in Montreal, on Monday 4 November 2019, I would like to share the ICANN Board’s current thoughts regarding enhancing and streamlining ICANN’s reviews.

To give more context, reviews are an important component of ICANN’s multistakeholder model; they provide a vehicle for continuous improvement. ICANN’s current approach to reviews – both organizational and specific – was developed over time, in a different environment than we find ourselves in today. Leading into the next five-year strategic planning cycle, the Board’s priority is to work with the community to reimagine how this important means of accountability can be improved to serve ICANN in the future.

The Bylaws empower the Accountability and Transparency Review Team (ATRT) to “recommend to the Board the termination or amendment of other periodic reviews required by […] Section 4.6, and may recommend to the Board the creation of additional periodic reviews.” During its recent face-to-face meeting in Singapore, ATRT3 continued to discuss possible improvements to the review process. The Board welcomes and supports this important work, and we will coordinate with the review team to ensure that the broader streamlining efforts the Board is undertaking will complement ATRT3 recommended improvements once those recommendations are made.

Now that the second round of organizational reviews is complete, two specific reviews are due to be completed in 2020, and the ATRT3 is on course to submit its draft report for public comment in December 2019, the Board believes this is the time to consider how the overall review cycle and process can be enhanced and streamlined. The Board has identified two strands of work for this important discussion, and we would like to share with you how the Board envisions moving these two strands forward.

Strand 1 – Enhancing the Reviews: A Proposal for Community Discussions

The Board believes that it is important to focus on enhancing the reviews before we can effectively streamline the process. Specifically, the focus should be on the resourcing and prioritization of community recommendations.

The reviews currently underway can serve as a real-time testbed, and will benefit from agreed-upon principles designed to enhance the development of substantive review recommendations. These agreed-upon principles and approaches may positively impact the concluding phases of ATRT3 and the second review of the Security, Stability, and Resiliency (SSR2), and the processing and implementation of recommendations of the Competition, Consumer Trust, and Consumer Choice Review (CCT) and the Registration Directory Service Review (RDS).

In June 2019, the Board began a conversation with the leadership of all specific review teams to share its thoughts on the need to enhance the effectiveness of review recommendations and their implementation. This conversation led to a draft proposal, which the Board has shared with the leadership. With their input, along with feedback provided by the community during the Montreal meeting (see below), the Board plans to finalize and publish the proposal after ICANN66.

In the current draft, the Board proposes an effectiveness framework, including principles designed to enhance the effectiveness of review recommendations and their implementation. The framework also proposes:

  • Supporting review team efforts to understand resource requirements and implementation issues associated with recommendations as – not after – they are developed.
  • Securing community input on (a) resource requirements and implementation issues, (b) prioritization across community recommendations from various sources, including reviews and cross-community working groups, and (c) budgeting for implementation of approved recommendations prior to recommendation finalization.
  • Board consideration of review recommendations, including increased engagement with review team shepherds.
  • Community-wide prioritization and budgeting for recommendations.

The Board is discussing the possibility of testing these principles and process steps through ongoing interaction with the SSR2 and ATRT3 leadership. Subject to feedback from the review teams, along with community input throughout ICANN66 and beyond, the Board would like to reach consensus on improvements during or soon after ICANN67 so that the work of ATRT3 and SSR2 might benefit from the outcome.

Strand 2 – Streamlining of Reviews

The Board believes that streamlining entails improving both the timing and the cadence of the reviews.

The next round of reviews will start in 2021. Under the Bylaws, the third GNSO review is due to start in June 2021 and, while the second Security, Stability, and Resiliency (SSR2) Review is still underway, SSR3 is scheduled to start in March 2022.

The timing and cadence of reviews is anchored in the Bylaws: organizational reviews occur five years after the Board’s reception of the Final Report of the previous review, and specific reviews occur five years after the previous review team was convened. The duration of ATRT is limited to twelve months, but no other specific review has a time limit. Similarly, the Bylaws do not stipulate a time limit for organizational reviews. However, the work of independent examiners conducting organizational reviews is generally limited to twelve months or less.1

The current SSR2 review process offers an example of the difficulty that the current timing presents. SSR2 anticipates completing its work in June 2020. The Bylaws currently state that regardless of when SSR2 concludes, SSR3 must start in March 2022. This timing does not allow for a sufficient period for implementation of recommendations before the next cycle. One of the goals in streamlining the process is to find a consensus position on review timing and cadence that allows adequate time to conduct reviews; implement the recommendations; assess the effect of the implementation; and plan for the next review cycle, while also minimizing the number of reviews conducted concurrently. This work will be informed by any applicable findings and recommendations of ATRT3.

However, timing is not our only concern about ICANN’s organizational and specific reviews. Finding a better way to schedule future review cycles will certainly address numerous community concerns. At the same time, enhanced processes for developing, considering, and implementing recommendations can also affect review timing. The Board notes that other areas needing improvement are linked to broader themes of roles and responsibilities of the review teams, the ICANN community, Board, and org. Tackling these areas after the timing issue has been resolved will facilitate productive engagement with the community and benefit the process of other related work, such as enhancement of recommendations and the effectiveness of the multistakeholder model.

In terms of broader review enhancements, the Board believes it would be productive to focus on several key areas, such as diversity and skill of review teams and independent examiners; lines of accountability; safeguards to transparency; prudent use of resources; and clarity on the roles and responsibilities of review teams/independent examiners, the community, the Board, and org.

Combining the Work on Organizational and Specific Reviews

It is logical to combine the work to enhance and streamline both organizational and specific reviews because both reviews will benefit from the same overarching, guiding principles. Accordingly, the outcome of the public comment on ‘streamlining organizational reviews’ will feed into the effort. Where the nature of organizational and specific reviews differs, process steps flowing from the principles will diverge when necessary.

Immediate Next Steps

The immediate next steps focus on Strand 1 for the resourcing and prioritization of review recommendations. The Board will conduct a public session during the ICANN66 meeting in Montreal, on Monday 4 November 2019. While there will be a discussion of the concrete ideas included in the draft proposal, the session also will foreshadow the wider discussion on enhancing and streamlining that has been outlined in this blog, as well as a timely update on the ATRT3’s ongoing discussion. The Board believes that dividing the discussion into two strands is a practical way to proceed, and will seek community input on this reasoning during the session. As stated previously, the Board intends to coordinate with the ATRT3 to ensure that streamlining efforts are complementary and avoid conflicting solutions or duplication of effort.

We expect that the community discussion will take place via public consultations, webinars, and public comment proceedings. Please also look out for the ATRT3 draft report. As we said at the outset, this discussion will be predicated on the commitment from all parts of the multistakeholder model to work toward better outcomes. We look forward to a constructive discussion that will yield impactful and innovative solutions for future ICANN reviews.

The Board believes that the multistakeholder model will be strengthened with a commitment from all parts of ICANN to work toward more effective review outcomes that are based on collective agreement on clear principles. In fact, we expect that the work on the future of the multistakeholder model will have a symbiotic relationship with the effort to enhance and streamline reviews.


1 The GNSO2 review is the only exception, being conducted for 15 months.

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