ICANN as a volunteer run organization and the travel support policy
While I am a Nomcom appointee to the GNSO concil, and currently serve as its chair, this letter is being written from a personal perspective and does not claim to represent the viewpoint of the GSNO or of its council.
Basic PremiseA basic premise of this note is that ICANN was founded as, and essentially remains, an organization that, under it is by-laws, is run by groups of volunteers formed into various supporting Organizations, Advisory Groups and a Board. While there is a substantial and professional staff meant to provide organizational support to these volunteers and to carry out the operational duties as required by the recommendations made by the supporting organizations, vetted with the community and confirmed by the ICANN Board, the staff does not run the organization in any traditional sense and should not make its fundamental decisions but rather must rely on the volunteer process for these decisions. The premise includes a corollary that ICANN cannot do its job without a skilled and functional group of volunteers who have a diverse background and who are fully enabled to do their jobs. A further corollary would be that the ICANN staff should respect the volunteers as much as it respects itself. This basic premise, and its corollaries, has many applications throughout the organization, in this case I will be exploring the travel policy as it applies to the volunteer staff of the ICANN organization.
Another basic premise I am asserting is that volunteers, and their work, are equals within the organization; i.e. the members of the Board are no more important then the members of the ALAC and if someone where to move from one organization to another they would only be changing their point of focus and not their value to the organization. I have formed this view based on the information I was given when volunteering for consideration for the Nomcom and on observations of the organization over the last few years. At that time I was first asked to volunteer I was told that all roles are equally important and because of the balances of region and skill set, it was best to make ones self available for consideration for any job for which they felt qualified - leaving the choice to the Nomcom. It was my understanding that as volunteers we are all equal in that we give our time, and sometimes quite a lot of our time freely, asking only for decent accommodations and travel arrangements. I also think this is an important precept, as it is well known that if one type of volunteer is respected above all others, then it will make attracting the best volunteers for the 'lesser' positions much more difficult. Why would anyone volunteer for the incredible amount of work and stress that is required in one of the supporting organizations if they know that this makes them a second class volunteer?
A final premise I assert is that volunteers chosen by Nomcom and volunteers chosen by component constituencies should be treated the same as they do the same work. There are some difference between the groups that have been mentioned in the opposition to various levels of travel support and I will attempt to address those below.
The conclusion I draw from these basic premises is that rules of parity and fairness among the types of volunteers and between volunteer staff and paid staff should apply. Some might object at the group of volunteers being called volunteer staff because they have vested intersts or may work for employers with deep pockets and vested intersts, but I believe that we are volunteer staff, often volunteering as much as a .5 or more of a Full Time Equivalent (FTE) employee of pro-bono work. Often this work is often above and beyond anythng for which their regular employment pays them. Additionally when did paid staff lose their ability to have personal agendas and vested interests?
Discussion What is proper travel support?The previous email comments in this thread make very good points concerning the way other organizations handle long trips. Without getting into the discussion of what length flight constitutes the dividing line between business class and economy ( I believe it is 5 hours for ICANN employees - I am not sure what it is for Board members - do they ever travel economy?) I agree with these arguments in principle. Proper travel arrangements involves allowing the traveler the ability to work while they are traveling as well as allowing them to travel in sufficient comfort as to be able to function effectively once they have arrived at their destination.
I do note that there are some organizations were everyone, includng the President, travels in economy with upgrades at their own expense, no matter how long the journey. While I do not believe this is an optimum policy, I can understand an organization making such a decision for financial or ethical reasons. If ICANN, in its new travel policy, were to decide that everyone, including the President and his/her senior staff, the Board and the entire paid staff were to travel economy, then of course fairness would dictate that rest of the volunteer staff should also adhere to that policy. Perhaps, if saving registrant's money is the major cause for travel policy changes, then the abolition of business class travel for all is or should be a serious consideration.
All volunteers are not volunteers. Some are lobbyists.It is often said that the fairness principle does not apply becaue those who serve on the Board, council and committee are all serving out of self interest or their employers interest. Sometimes this is even said of nomcom volunteers, as it is unfathomable why someone would serve ICANN in this way unless they had something to gain from it. The assumption seems to be that to some extent all volunteers have an interest or an agenda of some sort and therefore should be self supporting. While I can agree that to some arguable extent everyone has an interest, I do not agree that this disqualifies them from meriting support for meeting attendance.
It is often argued that someone who works for a company that does business with ICANN is not a volunteer, but a lobbyist. On some occasions this may be true, or at least it may start out as true. From my observations in a supporting organization, I have noticed a lot of work being done by constituency oriented volunteers on tasks that are not in any related to their employer or constituency interests. Beyond this, there is an assumption that just because someone has a job in the industry, their employers are willing to pay all of the expenses of their ICANN participation. This is not the case; for many the work they put into ICANN is done on their own time and is not something that is charged to their companies. Some people who work for billable hours, do not get to bill the hours spent on ICANN tasks and meetings to their employers and sometimes are lucky that their employers even give then the leeway to participate.
Even Nomcom volunteers do not come to ICANN as tabula rasa, most have a set of principles they bring with them that affect their judgements. For example I came to ICANN with several thoughts in my head about things like what makes for stable technical progress, freedom of expression, support for indigenous communities, internationalization of opportunity and the furtherance of multistakeholder governance of the Internet. But despite the fact that I came to ICANN with certain beliefs, my service is not restricted to support of those beliefs. Within any multistakeholder consensus based organization one must be wiiling to compromise and amend those beliefs and from my experience I believe this this is generally the case and is certainly the goal.
One caveat, there may be constituencies who feel it is not appropriate for their members to accept travel support, or there may be individuals whose companies do not allow them to accept travel support. In these cases, of course, the constituencies or individuals should be free to refuse the support. One caution I would offer to the constituencies who so choose is that they should be careful that such refusal does not make it impossible for a constituency member from a less developed region or sector to serve as a representative on a council.
Perhaps it should be needs based.In general this seems a fair consideration. The problem I see with these proposals is how is need to be determined and does ICANN need to collect personal information about the finances and expenses of all volunteers who need travel support? ICANN already collects an inordinate amount of private information on candidates through background checks and other means for Nomcom appointments, to collect private financial information would probably be intolerable for most candidates or for most constituency representatives. This presents, I believe, an insurmountable problem to a needs based program administered by ICANN.
And What about the poor performers?Some have argued that some of the volunteers only go to the meetings so that they can have a tourist experience and that they do no work. While it is true that this is occasionally the case, it is unfair to tar all volunteers because of a few standout examples of poor performance. As in any staff, volunteer staff has some shirkers, some poor performers. And as is the case in most well run organizations, the way to fix that is not collective punishment or deprivation, but it is the remediation or removal of those whose performance is sub par. In several sections of the charter, there are provisions for groups to remove those who do not perform, and where such clauses are missing, perhaps they should be added.
ConclusionIn the absence of a policy of economy travel for the entire staff and the Board, principles of effectiveness and fairness require that all volunteers, or at least those who accept it, should be allowed the same business class level of travel benefits. A final point, nothing it this note is meant to support a proposal for paying board members a stipend, though I do believe that if there is consideration of giving remuneration to Board members, even if only symbolic, then these same arguments could be applied to the need for fairness in the treatment of all volunteers.
Thank you Avri Doria