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GNSO Improvements

Recent Developments

In one of the final steps of the GNSO Improvements process, the ICANN Board devoted most of its 28 August 2008 meeting to a thorough discussion of the future structure of the GNSO Council. The Board approved a single body - bicameral voting structure as proposed by a special GNSO working group formed by the Board at its June meeting in Paris, France. The Board also established the size and composition of the two voting houses that will be used by the community to identify, discuss, manage and develop solutions to various gTLD policy and operational issues. The Board assigned Council seats as follows and asked the GNSO to submit for Board approval an implementation plan to transition the Council to this new structure by January 2009:

  • 6 seats to the "contracted party house" -- 3 representatives from each stakeholder group in this house -- Registrars and Registries, plus 1 voting Nominating Committee appointee; and
  • 12 seats to the "non-contracted party" house -- 6 representatives from the commercial stakeholder group and 6 representatives from the non-commercial stakeholder group, plus 1 voting Nominating Committee appointee.
  • 1 Nominating Committee appointee whose role and voting status is still to be determined.

The Board is scheduled to discuss the remaining GNSO Council restructuring matters at its next meeting scheduled for 30 September 2008. Staff is soliciting additional input on the remaining matters.

The GNSO Council is expected to expeditiously follow-up on a variety of implementation matters including establishing a new GNSO policy development process and creating a new working group model to effectuate future policy development


The ICANN Board has approved a comprehensive set of recommendations to improve the structure and operations of the Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO). This effort is part of ICANN's own ongoing commitment to evolve and improve, and follows an independent review of the GNSO by the London School of Economics and others, as well as extensive public consultation.

A working group of the ICANN Board Governance Committee (BGC WG) developed and presented these recommendations in a GNSO Improvements Report that includes ways to improve the effectiveness of the GNSO's policy development activities, structure, operations and communications. At the February 2008 Board meeting in New Delhi, the Board accepted the Report for consideration, and directed ICANN Staff to post it for public comment, draft a detailed implementation plan in consultation with the GNSO, begin implementation of the non-contentious recommendations, and then return to the Board and community for further consideration.

The GNSO Council subsequently formed a GNSO Improvement Planning Team (Planning Team), comprised of GNSO leadership, constituency representatives, ICANN Staff and a Board liaison participant, in order to develop a top-level implementation plan to organize and manage the implementation effort. On 19 May 2008, the Planning Team produced a draft version of the GNSO Improvements Top Level Plan. The plan focuses on the creation of two standing committees, GNSO Process and GNSO Operations, which would be responsible for ensuring that the work of implementing BGC WG recommendations is carried out.

On 26 June 2008 the ICANN Board of Directors endorsed the recommendations of the Board Governance Committee's (BGC) GNSO Review Working Group, with the exception of the BGC's recommendation regarding GNSO Council restructuring. The Board asked the GNSO to convene a special working group on Council restructuring and said that the group "should reach consensus and submit a consensus recommendation on Council restructuring by no later than 25 July 2008 for consideration by the ICANN Board as soon as possible." (see ICANN Board Resolution 2008.06.26.13. As directed by the Board, the group has consisted of one representative from the current NomCom appointees, one member from each GNSO constituency and one member from each liaison-appointing advisory committee.

The working group convened on 4 July 2008 and deliberated exhaustively during seven conference call meetings and extensively via email through midnight on 25 July and into the next day in an effort to develop a consensus recommendation for Board consideration. The report of the working group was formally accepted by the Board at its 31 July meeting. The Board was highly appreciative of the working group's efforts and instructed ICANN Staff to (1) perform an analysis of implementation issues presented by the consensus proposals in the report and (2) report back to the Board by August 21 with an implementation review and recommendations regarding those implementation issues.

On 30 March 2007, the Board created a working group of the Board Governance Committee ("BGC"), comprising current and former Board members, to oversee improvements to the Generic Supporting Names Organization (GNSO). [Its members are Roberto Gaetano (Chair), Rita Rodin, Vanda Scartezini, Tricia Drakes, Raimundo Beca, Susan Crawford, and Vittorio Bertola.] The purpose of the "BGC GNSO Review Working Group" ("BGC WG") is to consider the independent reviews conducted by the London School of Economics Public Policy Group and others to determine whether, in general, the GNSO has a continuing purpose in the ICANN structure and, if so, whether any change in structure or operations is desirable to improve its effectiveness. The Board charged the BGC WG with recommending a comprehensive proposal to improve the effectiveness of the GNSO, including its policy activities, structure, operations and communications.

This effort is part of ICANN's ongoing commitment to its evolution and improvement, which includes a comprehensive schedule for independent review of ICANN's structures, as well as of the Board. The reviews are intended to ensure an independent examination of the role and operation of key elements of ICANN. These reviews are conducted in an objective manner by independent evaluators, under guidance from the Board on each review's terms of reference, and with the opportunity for public comment on the results of the reviews.

The GNSO Improvements Report (Report) linked here [PDF, 195K] and summarized below reflects the BGC WG's examination of many aspects of the GNSO's functioning, including the use of working groups and the overall policy development process (PDP), and the structure of the GNSO Council and its constituencies. The Working Group has been guided by several key objectives, including:

  • Maximizing the ability for all interested stakeholders to participate in the GNSO's processes;
  • Ensuring recommendations can be developed on gTLD "consensus policies" for Board review, and that the subject matter of "consensus policies" is clearly defined;
  • Ensuring policy development processes are based on thoroughly-researched, well-scoped objectives, and are run in a predictable manner that yields results that can be implemented effectively; and
  • Improving communications and administrative support for GNSO objectives.

Above all, the Working Group has sought ways to improve inclusiveness and representativeness in the GNSO's work, while increasing its effectiveness and efficiency. The BGC WG's deliberations have achieved consensus on a comprehensive set of recommendations that addresses five main areas outlined below.

Summary of GNSO Improvements Report

Adopting a Working Group Model: A working group model should become the focal point for policy development and enhance the policy development process by making it more inclusive and representative, and – ultimately – more effective and efficient. This approach can be a more constructive way of establishing areas of agreement than task forces, where membership is limited and discussion can become polarized along constituency lines. It also enables key parties to become involved in the beginning and work together to address complex or controversial issues. Appointing skilled chairs and drafters, as well as proper scoping of the WG's objectives, will be integral parts of development of a successful model. Steps should be taken immediately to move to a working group model for future policy development work, developing appropriate operating principles, rules and procedures that can draw upon expertise gained from policy development in the IETF, W3C, RIRs and other organizations.

Revising the PDP: The PDP needs to be revised to make it more effective and responsive to ICANN's policy development needs. It should be brought in-line with the time and effort actually required to develop policy, and made consistent with ICANN's existing contracts (including, but not limited to, clarifying the appropriate scope of GNSO "consensus policy" development). While the procedure for developing "consensus policies" will need to continue to be established by the Bylaws as long as required by ICANN's contracts, the GNSO Council and Staff should propose new PDP rules for the Board's consideration and approval that contain more flexibility. The new rules should emphasize the importance of the preparation that must be done before launch of a working group or other activity, such as public discussion, fact-finding, and expert research in order to define properly the scope, objective and schedule for a specific policy development goal, and the development of metrics for measuring success.

Restructuring the GNSO Council: The Council should move away from being a legislative body concerned primarily with voting towards becoming a smaller, more focused strategic entity, composed of four broad stakeholder groups, with strengthened management and oversight of the policy development process, term limits for members of the Council, the elimination of weighted voting and a training and development curriculum for Council members. The BGC WG deliberated extensively as to the most appropriate way to restructure constituency representation on the Council. We recommend a 19-person Council consisting of 16 elected members, four from each of four stakeholder groups, with two of these groups representing those parties "under contract" with ICANN, namely registries (4 seats) and registrars (4 seats). These we refer to as "ICANN contracted parties." The other two stakeholder groups will represent those who are "affected by the contracts" ("ICANN non-contracted parties"), including commercial registrants (4 seats) and non-commercial registrants (4 seats). In addition, three Councilors would be appointed by the Nominating Committee (pending conclusion of the NomCom Improvement process). In addition, as the Council moves from being a legislative body to a strategic manager overseeing policy development, the current emphasis on formal voting should be significantly reduced.

A minority of Working Group members suggests explicitly recommending that "ICANN non-contracted parties" be apportioned into 5 seats for commercial registrants and 3 seats for non-commercial registrants.

An additional minority view suggests -- as stated in the Working Group's previous report -- that the GNSO Council should have the flexibility to propose an alternative configuration of the stakeholder groups that comprise the "ICANN non-contracted parties" side, provided that such alternative is submitted with sufficient notice to permit the Board to vote on the proposal at the Paris ICANN meeting in June 2008. Conversely, if no alternative proposal is forwarded to the Board within this timeframe, the configuration proposed above should be implemented.

Enhancing Constituencies: Constituency procedures and operations should become more transparent, accountable and accessible. The Board should ask the GNSO constituencies to work with staff to develop participation rules and operating procedures for all constituencies that set certain minimum standards regarding the importance of transparency and accountability. The criteria for participation in any ICANN constituency should be objective, standardized and clearly stated. In addition, Staff should work with each of the constituencies to develop global, targeted outreach programs aimed at increasing participation and interest in the GNSO policy process, including information on the option to self-form new constituencies.

Improving Communication and Coordination with ICANN Structures: There should be more frequent contact and communication between the GNSO Council, GNSO constituencies and the members the Council elects to the Board, and among the Chairs of the GNSO, other Supporting Organizations (SOs) and Advisory Committees (ACs), especially in advance of each ICANN Meeting. The Council and the GNSO constituencies should consider additional ways in which the GNSO can further improve communication, cooperation and coordination with other ICANN structures.

The Report describes our recommendations and rationale in detail. We believe there is broad and strong support for changes in the functioning of the GNSO, based on input from GNSO participants and other members of the ICANN community. While the need to update and improve the GNSO is not disputed, there is no magical set of proposals that could be received without controversy or opposition. We have therefore balanced, as best we can, different – and sometimes competing – interests in order to formulate recommendations on the basis of what we believe can benefit the ICANN community as a whole. The GNSO improvements process is evolutionary and is intended to reflect the importance of the GNSO to ICANN and to build upon the GNSO's successes to-date.

The Board Governance Committee determined that the BGC WG had fulfilled its charter and forwarded the report to the Board for consideration. On February 15, 2008, ICANN's Board acknowledged receipt of the Report and indicated that it would like to receive final public comments on the Report to enable it to consider and implement the Report's recommendations as soon as possible. The Board directed ICANN staff to open a public comment forum on the Report for 30 days, draft a detailed implementation plan in consultation with the GNSO, begin implementation of the non-contentious recommendations, and return to the Board and community for further consideration of the implementation plan. A copy of the Board's resolution regarding this matter can be found here. Comments from interested parties can be found in the GNSO Improvements Report 2008 Public Comment Forum.

Background Documents

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