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Accountability and Transparency at ICANN: An Independent Review (Final Report)

144 Pages Posted: 18 Feb 2012  

Urs Gasser

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society

Herbert Burkert

University of St. Gallen, Research Center for Information Law

John G. Palfrey Jr.

Harvard Law School

Jonathan L. Zittrain

Harvard Law School and Harvard Kennedy School of Government; Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; Berkman Center for Internet & Society; Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Date Written: October 20, 2010

Abstract

In August 2010, selected faculty and researchers at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, an independent, exploratory study analyzing ICANN’s decision-making processes and communications with its stakeholders. The study focused on developing a framework and recommendations for understanding and improving ICANN’s accountability and transparency.

The study was undertaken as part of ICANN’s first Accountability and Transparency Review. On November 4, 2010, the Berkman team’s independent report was publicly posted alongside ICANN’s Accountability and Transparency Review Team's Draft Proposed Recommendations for Public Comment.

The Executive Summary below outlines key Findings and Recommendations for Improvement. In addition to this Final Report, associated research materials, resources, and other supplementary inputs that were gathered in the course of the Berkman team’s work.

1. Problem Statement:
In recent years, ICANN has taken important actions — ranging from significant policy changes to formal reviews — to improve its accountability, transparency, and the quality of its decision making. Despite considerable efforts and acknowledged improvements, ICANN continues to struggle with making decisions that the global Internet community can support.

2. Independent Review of Transparency and Accountability at ICANN:
As part of a larger independent review process, faculty and researchers from the Berkman Center for Internet & Society have taken on the challenge of researching ICANN’s current efforts to improve accountability via mechanisms of transparency, public participation and corporate governance, and of analyzing key problems and issues across these areas.

3. Findings and Assessment:
In-depth research into the three focus areas of this report reveals a highly complex picture with many interacting variables that make fact-finding challenging and also render simple solutions impossible. With this complexity in mind, and referring to the main text of the report for a more granular analysis, the findings and assessments of this report can be condensed as follows.

ICANN’s performance regarding transparency is currently not meeting its potential across all areas reviewed and shows deficits along a number of dimensions. It calls for clearly defined improvements at the level of policy, information design, and decision making.

ICANN has made significant progress in improving its public participation mechanisms and gets high marks regarding its overall trajectory in this regard. Remaining concerns about the practical impact of public participation on Board decisions are best addressed by increasing visibility and traceability of individual inputs, in order to clarify how these inputs ultimately factor into ICANN decision-making processes.

ICANN’s greatest challenge ahead, despite significant recent efforts, remains corporate and Board governance. Proposed measures identified in this report aim to increase efficiency, transparency and accountability within the current context and in the absence of standard accountability mechanisms.

4. Recommendations:
There is no straightforward way to address the various challenges ICANN faces. The approach underlying this report’s recommendations takes an evolutionary rather than revolutionary perspective. This approach is aimed at continually improving ICANN’s accountability step by step, based on lessons learned, through a series of measured interventions, reinforced by monitoring and subsequent re-evaluation.

For each of the three focal areas covered in this report and for each of the key issues addressed, this report suggests ways in which the status quo can be improved. Some of these recommendations can be implemented quickly, others require policy changes, and still others call for more in-depth research, consultation and deliberation among the involved stakeholders.

This report’s recommendations vary in kind and orientation. They encourage the adoption of best practices where available and experimentation with approaches and tools where feasible. Several of the recommendations are aimed at improving information processing, creation, distribution, and responsiveness at different levels of the organization.

Suggested Citation

Gasser, Urs and Burkert, Herbert and Palfrey, John G. and Zittrain, Jonathan L., Accountability and Transparency at ICANN: An Independent Review (Final Report) (October 20, 2010). Berkman Center Research Publication No. 2010-13. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1998905

Urs Gasser (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( email )

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

HOME PAGE: http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/people/ugasser.html

Herbert Burkert

University of St. Gallen, Research Center for Information Law ( email )

Varnbuelstr. 14
Saint Gallen, St. Gallen CH-9000
Switzerland

John G. Palfrey Jr.

Harvard Law School ( email )

1545 Massachusetts Avenue
Areeda Hall 511
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Jonathan Zittrain

Harvard Law School and Harvard Kennedy School of Government ( email )

Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Berkman Center for Internet & Society

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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