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Comments on the Board review: let's not kill the Board

  • To: board-review-report@xxxxxxxxx
  • Subject: Comments on the Board review: let's not kill the Board
  • From: Vittorio Bertola <vb@xxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 19 Nov 2008 13:24:17 +0100


I would like to submit some comments on the final draft of the Board
review, drawing on my experience of one year of membership in the Board
(and almost ten years of ICANN).

Several of the recommendations are entirely agreeable, in particular
those about getting the Board to focus more on strategic issues,
reorganizing the schedule with longer in-person meetings, and clarify
accountability both in theory and in practice.

However, when it comes to other recommendations, the reviewers seem to
have missed most of the difference between ICANN and a regular
for-profit corporation. Effectiveness is important, but it is much more
important that ICANN is honest, transparent, fair, open, diverse,
forward-looking, representative, and the Board is the keystone upon
which these values rely. If the Board is constructed too much as a
traditional business entity, ICANN will lose its special nature and its
standing, and become just another corporation - and it will then be hard
to justify why this particular corporation should assume global
regulatory functions over key resources of the Internet.

The two most important recommendations in this regard are #1 (Board
size) and #5 (Board commitment and compensation).

The proposals in #5 are understandable, but in part they would, in my
opinion, go in the wrong direction. In theory, compensating Board
members would seem to be a good thing, to allow for service by people
who would not have other means to support themselves. However, there is
a risk that compensating Board members might draw to the ICANN Board the
wrong kind of people - people who serve on Boards as a profession and do
not understand the special nature of its "business". Actually, being
willing to take such a heavy commitment on a voluntary basis may be not
a sign of "other interests", but rather a guarantee about the true
passion and commitment by the individual. Moreover, the compensation of
Board members would then raise the issue of compensating other voluntary
positions at ICANN - SO/AC chairs, etc. - and tend to turn ICANN from a
representative structure into an actual business.

If compensation is introduced, then it should be limited in quantity -
not as high as described in the paper - and there should be stronger
checks to ensure that money is not the main motivation for people to
serve on the Board.

This also involves #4: while it is correct that the Board should be able
to expose the need for missing skills in the group, there is also the
risk that the Board could try to influence the Nomcom to perpetuate
itself, or at least to perpetuate its specific culture and viewpoint. A
Board full of business people will tend to request more business people
and so on. It is important that the Board also involves other points of
view - users, civil society, engineers, etc - and this should be
recognized in the report and protected in the ICANN Bylaws.

This leads me to recommendation #1, with which I totally disagree. Sure,
a smaller board may take decisions more quickly, but only at the price
of missing broader portions of the picture. Exactly because ICANN is
global and complex, it needs the voices of many people so that all the
views and cultures can be at least considered. So the Board should be
perhaps even bigger, certainly not smaller; also, the idea of removing
liaisons from the Board (especially the technical ones) would
dramatically impoverish it, and break the fundamental ties with the
technical community; and, with a smaller Board, ensuring an even minimal
degree of geographical and professional diversity, so that all parts of
the community can feel represented in the Board, would be almost impossible.

Moreover, it would be harder for members of a smaller Board to cope with
the huge amount of information and activities that ICANN needs. Sure,
more things can be delegated to staff, but there is a potential risk of
staff getting out of control if the Board is too small and overwhelmed
with things to do.

The reviewers' proposal goes in the direction of a less representative,
less important Board, made of a few professionals, mostly from developed
countries, that are only there to approve budgets and rubberstamp staff
drafts for the sake of effectiveness. I could not disagree more with
this view; in my opinion, the ICANN Board should be more like a rich
cauldron of smart people who complement each other in terms of skills,
but also of culture and geography.

A bigger Board could actually share the work better, be less
overwhelmed, make participation more sustainable even without
compensation, and provide the kind of leadership - not really in good
organizational practices, but rather in designing collectively the
future of the Internet - that this specific corporation needs.

vb.                   Vittorio Bertola - vb [a] bertola.eu   <--------
-------->  finally with a new website at http://bertola.eu/  <--------

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