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The end of “do-nothing” ICANN?

Kevin Murphy, March 23, 2023, 10:50:49 (UTC), Domain Policy

ICANN’s new gTLD program hit a remarkable milestone earlier this month. Measured from the 2012 application window, on March 6 it officially overtook NASA’s Apollo Program, which put a dozen humans on the moon, in terms of duration.

But some in the community coming out of ICANN 76 last week appear to be cautiously optimistic that the days of the “do-nothing” ICANN, entirely too wrapped up in pointless bureaucracy and navel-gazing, may be coming to a close under its new leadership.

As I reported in January 2022, at that point ICANN hadn’t implemented a policy in over five years and didn’t seem to be close to actually getting stuff done.

That sentiment was reflected at a Cancun open-mic session last week, when 20-year community member Jordyn Buchanan, who works for Google and said he’d taken a five-year break from the ICANN process, spoke up.

“It’s not so great when I look at the substantive progress that has been made — or rather that hasn’t been made — in the past few years, or really over the past decade or so,” he told the board.

He gave several examples, not least the new gTLD program, where ICANN has been procrastinating for years.

“Consistently across the board, I think we see examples of where we’re just not living up to the vision of ICANN as being an entity that could be more responsive and more rapid looking at technological changes,” he said.

The only area where progress has been made is Whois, and that’s only because ICANN’s hand was forced by European Union legislation, he said.

Board member Chris Chapman, at his first full ICANN meeting in the role, responded positively to the feedback, stating: “There’s a real realization internally within the board that there have got to be more efficient, effective, and timely deliverables.”

Directors including interim CEO Sally Costerton and chair Tripti Sinha, made similar noises throughout the week, repeatedly invoking the idea of an “inflection point” for the institution, which faces increasing pressures from governments and other external forces.

The noises were encouraging to some.

The GNSO Council decided as the Cancun meeting closed to send a letter to Sinha and Costerton, both relatively recent appointments, observing “there seems to be a noticeable change, maybe even a cultural change, towards ‘getting things done’.”

The Council will express its support for “this spirit of pragmatism and delivery” and encourage ICANN to continue along the same lines.

Council’s spirits appear to have been raised by the ICANN’s board’s touring stakeholder bilaterals last week with questions about how ICANN can be more “agile”, particularly through the use of “small teams” to answer narrow policy problems.

Such a practice has been used in areas such as DNS abuse, and its arguably in use today answering the closed generics question.

Community members also used these sessions to express dissatisfaction with the lumbering Operational Design Assessments that have delayed Whois reform and the new gTLD program, suggesting that ODA work in future could run in parallel with the Policy Development Processes they seek to assess.

So, it seems pretty clear that ICANN’s new leadership used ICANN 76 send the signals they needed to send to get the community on board with their program.

Whether this honeymoon-period energy will lead to real change or gradually wither away under 25 years of accumulated labyrinthine bureaucracy, institutional lethargy, and personal beefs remains to be seen.

But this isn’t rocket science.

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