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NomComm Review Comments

  • To: nomcom-review@xxxxxxxxx
  • Subject: NomComm Review Comments
  • From: Thomas Roessler <roessler@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Mon, 12 Nov 2007 10:05:50 -0500

These comments are sent in a personal capacity.  While I served on
the 2006 Nominating Committee due to an appointment by W3C on behalf
of the TLG, these comments do not claim to represent opinions of W3C
or the Technical Liaison Group.

The reviewers are to be commended for their hard work and
creativity.  However, it appears that a significant part of the
input into the report consisted of hearsay -- in part simply due to
the Nominating Committee's confidentiality rules, but in part also
due to the decision to only interview a relatively small number of
past nominating committee members.  Given the diversity of
perspectives both within the ICANN community at large and within the
Nominating Committees, it would have been important to reach out
further; I would hope that future reviews will be scoped

In summary, I strongly agree with a number of findings:

- The incoming chair should serve as chair-elect for one year before
  taking over.
- Devolve responsibility for the selection of At-Large Advisory
  Committee members to the ALAC.
- Introduce a formal short-list process (with due care and attention
  to avoid overconstraining the nominating committee)
- Seek better candidate information, from many sources.

I strongly disagree with a number of other findings and
recommendations.  At the core of my disagreement is the review's
tendency to consider the nominating committee's complex social
process in a somewhat mechanistic way.  The nominating committees
perform a small miracle each year by achieving agreement on
appointees in a group that is as diverse as the ICANN community
overall.  Great care should be taken to not endanger the committee's
ability to perform this miracle. A significant part of the secret
sauce that makes this success possible is the nomcom's secrecy and,
yes, the unaccountabilty of individual members.  Changes to these
points are extremely risky, and should only be made with utmost

On specific recommendations:

- The associate chair's position should not be abolished; indeed,
  the report suggests a need for a co-chair.  That position's tasks
  cannot be performed by a staff member.
- Formal requirements processes are not obviously better than the
  (possibly messy) social process that is used today, as the
  ultimate decision is a social one.
- The Nominating Committee should keep its responsibility for
  appointing some individuals to SO Councils.  The place to fix the
  issues with this approach is in the SO Council reviews, not in the
  NomCom review.
- The recommendations on the enforcement of participation rules seem
  to mostly address a non-issue; however, there's potential for
  damage by implementing these recommendations.  Don't.
- Explicit design of the process is valuable to some extent.
  However, that process is not mechanic, so the benefit might turn
  out to be less than expected.  Quite possibly, it's not worth
  spending resources on this.
- Revoking NomCom appointees is a thorny issue; it is not evident
  why limited terms (in combination with NomCom's ability not to
  reappoint incumbents) aren't sufficient.
- The audit requirement seems inconsistent with real-life time lines
  for NomCom work and succession.
- The fiduciary / policy board proposal oversteps the bounds of the
  Nominating Committee review's mandate.  (Besides, it strikes me as
  a bad idea.)
- The lottery process for selecting members of the Nominating
  Committee aims to cure a disease for which no evidence beyond
  vague hearsay and innuendo is presented.

A. Review findings

Reviewing the findings in the review report, there are a number of
places in which too simple a picture is painted.

Maybe most significantly, section II.2.1.4 documents inconsistencies
in the nominating committee's understanding of ICANN and its goals,
and of the meaning of the criteria for appointments to various
constituent bodies. These inconsistencies mirror inconsistencies in
the broader ICANN community, and should not come as a surprise.
Finding 7 ("NomCom members do not consistently understand ICANN or
its constituent bodies well enough to interpret or apply the
criteria and qualifications for appointments") therefore appears
mistaken; indeed, the inconsistency here is good news.  Balancing
the various perspectives while appointing members to various ICANN
bodies is an important part of the nominating committee's task.

In section II.2.1.5, finding 8 notes that "Recruiting and selecting
candidates for the ICANN Board is fundamentally different from
recruiting and selecting candidates for the SOs and ALAC." I concur
with this finding as far as ALAC is concerned; however, the
Councils' task is indeed to balance various constituency interests
-- and broader community interests! -- while developing policiy.  It
therefore makes sense to inject individuals with broader expertise
into the various Councils; this is in fact a task that is relatively
similar to selecting candidates for the Board.  I would suspect that
the review of the GNSO (and the review of other SOs) is a better
place to find out how to improve representation of broader interests
on these Councils, and how to make nomcomm appointees more effective
there; this discussion strikes me as (at best) a tangent to the
review at hand.

In section II.2.2.1, the review claims that "our review suggests
that a deliberately 'representative' model for populating the NomCom
encourages NomCom members to think of themselves (and act) as
constituency representatives rather than as individuals." I'm
surprised by this assertion, both from my own experience, and
considering that any details that could help settle this particular
issue are covered by the Nominating Committee's confidentiality

Finding 11, then, notes that the "NomCom lacks representation from
the Board, but otherwise adequately represents the different parts
of the ICANN community." This suggests that the reviewers consider
the board's absence from the nominating committee as an inadequacy.
However, as a policy consideration, it is indeed reasonable to not
provide a strong feed-back link from the board into the nominating
committee, as that helps the nominating committee to hold the board
accountable.  The report presents no new information that would
justify revisiting this particular decision.

Finding 15 observes that "NomCom lacks a practical mechanism for
removing and replacing underperforming members." While that might
indeed be the case, I would observe that a group of the size of the
Nominating Committee will always have members that perform
differently; it is not clear that such a mechanism is indeed
desirable.  I would also note that the parties that are most
indispensable for a Nominating Committee's success are the chair and
the associate chair.  These roles are typically filled by
personalities of considerable stature; it would appear unlikely that
a well-documented process (even if it existed) would be applied in
order to replace such a person.

Finding 16 suggests that the nominating committee is "too large" for
efficient deliberation and selection after candidates have been
identified.  This finding comes out of the blue, and ignores the
committee's role to balance different interests.  Indeed, the size
of the nominating committee is one of the factors that enable it to
cover a broad range of different perspectives from the various
quarters of the ICANN community.  Any deliberation about the
adequacy of the committee's current size would need to take the
representativity of the nominating committee into account.  Absent
any useful evidence that the committee's size is indeed a problem,
ICANN should not attempt to take steps to address this alleged

II.2.3.2 observes that specific requirements for the various ICANN
bodies that the NomCom appoints members to are not well-documented
and not well-described. That is, in fact, another manifestation of
the overall diversity in the ICANN community -- different parts of
that community may very well disagree what the key qualifications
are a particular ICANN body lacks.  Balancing these inconsistent
requirements is another of the Nominating Committee's key tasks;
replacing it by the "explicit instructions" model that the review
alludes to would be a disservice to ICANN and the community overall.
As findings 31 and 32 observe, the balancing act is difficult, but
that lies in the nature of the problem that the nominating committee
is asked to solve.

Finding 35, concerning secrecy beyond the candidate pool, is
accurate.  It should be noted that, in an intensely political
environment like ICANN, secrecy of deliberations is probably the
only way to enable any kind of frank and useful discussion about
candidates. It should also be noted that details of discussions may
be far more damaging than the mere publicatoin of the candidate

In II.2.3.7, the reviewers report that "in all of the cases that we
observed, the documented rules for disclosure and recusal were
followed." This is an odd statement and needs clarification.  It
suggests that the reviewers had access to conflict of interest
statements; however, these statements typically pertain to specific
candidates and are therefore confidential.

B. Recommendations

III.2 is hardly controversial, even though the details would require
further review.

III.3 suggests that either the proposed "pull" or the proposed
"push" model would be an "improvement over the current situation,"
and then goes on to suggest a "formal procedure for discovering and
understanding the requirements of each body to which it makes
appointments." While understanding these requirements is a
worthwhile goal, the community's diverging views also need to be
factored into the equation.  It is likely that establishing
requirements that go beyond the generally accepted (and useless)
will be an exercise that is no less difficult than picking the right

III.4 recommends establishing a candidate pool.  This is a useful
suggestion.  However, for the reasons indicated above, the NomCom
should continue to select candidates for SO councils.

III.5 recommends that the NomCom should not be "solely responsible
for achieving or maintaining geographical diversity." At this point
of time, it isn't, so this part of the recommendations is a no-op.

III.6 suggests a restructuring of the nominating committee's
leadership roles.  I strongly support the idea that incoming chairs
first serve for a year as "chair elect"; in particular as this
approach enables incoming chairs to get a good grasp of a Nominating
Committee's work environment. At the same time, this approach would
enable reasonably gracious exception handling in case of an
unsuitable chair appointment, without putting a Nominating
Committee's success at risk. 

However, III.6 further suggests that a staff Administrative Director
be responsible for managing ICANN staff support, and that the
position of Associate Chair be eliminated.  This recommendation is
at odds with at least findings 17, 18, and 19, which correctly
observe that the chair's work load is huge.  The (accurate)
observation right before recommendation 18 that the Associate Chair
in many ways acts as a co-Chair indeed suggests that the chair is
overloaded with genuine chairing tasks.  These tasks should best
remain in the hands of volunteers with a limited term, and should
not be fulfilled by ICANN staff resources.  Instead of the review's
recommendation, the Associate Chair's real position should become
part of the bylaws, and both the chair's and the associate chair's
administrative burden should be reduced.

III.7 suggests enforcement of participation rules.  It is not clear
that the possible risks of such enforcement (creating tools that
might be abused to create undue pressure) outweigh their benefit.

III.8 suggests explicit design and documentation of the NomCom
process.  Two observations: The nominating committee's process (in
particular for discussion of individual candidates) is not mechanic;
there is a real risk here that over-designing this process might
destroy the nominating committee's ability to strike delicate
balances between different needs and interests.  Also, it is not
clear that more rules for the nominating committee would do anything
to address the review observation that even the current rules are
"poorly understood." (An observation that I disagree with,

III.11 suggests that the NomCom hold appointees accountable.  It is
worth noting that all appointments by the Nominating Committee are
for strictly limited terms.  It is possible for a Nominating
Committee to not reappoint an incumbent based on the incumbent's
performance.  Better insights by nominating committees into the
performance of its appointees would probably do more for
accountability than elaborate procedures for their removal.

III.12.2 elaborates on the NomCom Administrative Director.  As
observed above (re III.6), that recommendation does not address the
apparent need for a co-chair-like position.

III.12.4 suggests that the NomCom AD should prepare, on request,
"slates of volunteers who meet specified objective criteria" (p.
43); on p.46 (in III.12.6), the report suggests that "the NomCom AD
would benefit from the assistance of the NomCom Chair in performing
this function." This inconsistency in the report is remarkable; it
suggests that the selection would be less objective than the
language on p 43 makes believe.  Putting the sensitive and
judgment-loaden part of the slate-building into the hands of Staff
is risky.  I strongly recommend against it.

In suggesting a new structure for the ICANN board, III.12.6
oversteps the mandate for a nominating committee review; I will save
some bytes by not going into the details of my disagreement with the
proposed new structure.

III.12.5 suggests selecting Nominating Committee members by way of a
lottery, in order to ensure impartiality.  It should be observed
that impartiality of the Nominating Committee as a whole might be
best achieved by personal unaccountability.  A lottery might lend
itself to gaming (by stacking the volunteer pool); also, it is not
clear that the issue that the review attempts to address indeed

III.13 suggests an "audit" of the Nominating Committee process each
year that should be published before the next year's NomCom members
are selected.  This recommendation strikes me as simply unrealistic
from a timing perspective: Selection of NomCom members typically
starts while the last committee is still active, or very shortly
after its end.

Thomas Roessler   <roessler@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>

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