Second ALAC Organizational Review
The Second ALAC Organizational Review (At-Large2) was initiated in January 2016. Implementation of improvements concluded in June 2020, with a supplemental status update provided in December 2020.
Article 4.4 of the ICANN Bylaws requires periodic review of all supporting organizations and advisory committees, as well as the Nominating Committee. The bylaws state three objectives for the review:
- to determine whether that organization, council or committee has a continuing purpose in the ICANN structure;
- if so, whether any change in structure or operations is desirable to improve its effectiveness; and
- whether that organization, council or committee is accountable to its constituencies, stakeholder groups, organizations and other stakeholders.
Organizational reviews are conducted by independent examiners, selected through a competitive bidding process. The independent examiner works in consultation with a working group assembled by the board, who will act as implementation shepherds once the final report of the independent examiner is submitted. The review parameters are set by the ICANN Board, and those parameters as well as other avenues of inquiry are typically included in the request for proposals (RFP) for independent examiners. Reviews can take anywhere from three to five years to complete. The full review process includes seven phases, including the implementation of recommendations from the review. Reviews must be conducted at least every five years, measuring from the date that the final report of the previous review was accepted by the ICANN Board. The At-Large Advisory Committee is one of the organizations subject to the review requirements of Article 4.4. The First ALAC Organizational Review was conducted just as the ALAC structure was fully implemented. A significant feature of the first review's implementation phase was the creation of an ALAC-appointed seat on the ICANN Board. The second review was initiated four years after the final implementation project report of At-Large1. It was one of the first to utilize ICANN's updated organizational review process, which emphasized the bottom-up, multistakeholder approach to decision-making in other areas.
Independent Examiner Selection and Findings
ICANN posted an RFP for the independent examiner to conduct the At-Large2 review in January 2016. In May 2016, the board selected ITEMS International to perform the review. ITEMS conducted face-to-face interviews at ICANN 56 and ICANN 57, and also conducted a global survey of At-Large member organizations and individuals in the fall of 2016. In December 2016, it submitted a preliminary draft of its report to the At-Large2 review working party, as well as other interested parties, for comment.
Over 100 face-to-face interviews were conducted prior to the release of the preliminary draft to the working party, and the survey received 242 responses. ITEMS analyzed the results of both survey and interview data and highlighted four principal themes within their findings:
Interviews and results of the global survey highlight the strength and often sharp differences of opinion held by individual volunteers and various stakeholder groups that make up the At-Large Community.
At-Large is revealed as a heterogeneous community with a wide range of interests and motivations for participation. However, we have identified a number of overarching issues that are of most concern to the Community, notably regarding the current structure and overall organisational effectiveness.
Interviewees and survey respondents provided many personal opinions which we present in this and subsequent sections of the Report. These relate to:
- The purpose of At-Large and how well that purpose is being met;
- Why the At-Large Community does not function as well as originally intended;
- Ways to reform At-Large processes, and;
- How to allow greater end user participation in ICANN policy making.
The draft report identified thirteen issues that were the most frequent source of comments, disagreement, or discussion in the preliminary review. Because the majority of responses to the draft came from the work party that would implement the review recommendations, ITEMS highlighted areas of the draft report for public comment that deviated from the preliminary draft, and stated rationales for changes based on the preliminary review. Of the issues and recommendations that were most discussed in the preliminary review, some themes emerged:
- Perceptions that ALAC leadership is unchanging or stagnant - there was discussion on this topic as well as related recommendations regarding term limits on leadership positions, random selection of leadership roles, and the future of ALAC leadership;
- The challenge of engaging and retaining qualified volunteers - discussion on this theme focused on engagement, as well as mechanisms for direct participation within ALAC;
- Structural and operational changes - these included a recommendation to eliminate working groups, shifts in the membership model to individuals rather than entities, and merging of ALAC and RALO roles and responsibilities; and
- Board representation and cross-community participation.
After receiving early comments on the preliminary draft from the working party and others, ITEMS submitted its draft report for public comment in January 2017. The draft report contained sixteen recommendations based on the findings from the interviews, survey, and preliminary review comments:
- At-Large members should evangelize about ALAC participation within other regional meetings and conferences around Internet governance.
- At-Large should "be more judicious in selecting the amount of advice it seeks to offer..."
- At-Large should adopt a proposed "Empowered Membership Model" (EMM) contained within the report.
- At-Large support staff should be more engaged in supporting members in policy work within ALAC.
- At-Large should "redouble efforts" to engage with ICANN leadership, ISOC, and other governance organizations for joint strategic planning and cross-community outreach.
- Random selection of board seat 15 after candidates self-nominate and the NomCom vets nominations and creates a panel of qualified candidates.
- At-Large should "abandon existing internal working groups and discourage their creation in the future, as they are a distraction from the actual policy advice role of At-Large."
- At-Large should engage with and utilize social media more effectively and with an eye toward gathering opinion data from Internet users.
- At-Large should appoint a part-time community manager to facilitate recommendation 8 and work on other web outreach activities.
- At-Large should consider adopting something like Slack (but FOSS) to replace the Skype/wiki/website/listserv quartet of communication tools.
- At-Large should replace five-year global ATLAS meetings with annual regional At-Large meetings.
- At-Large should "continue to place a high priority on external regional events" as part of a global outreach strategy.
- At-Large should work with ICANN regional hubs and ISOC chapters to create a series of Internet Governance Schools, to run within At-Large regional annual meetings, which themselves will run alongside/within ICANN meetings.
- At-Large should centralize and publicize all opportunities for At-Large travel funding support, and maintain a list of recipients in the same central locations.
- At-Large should ensure it gets a piece of the new gTLD auction proceeds through participation in the cross-community working group regarding those proceeds.
- At-Large should adopt consistent metrics to measure the implementation and impact of the Engaged Membership Model and foster a culture of continuous improvement of ALAC operations.
ITEMS presented its draft report at ICANN 58 in Copenhagen. The session began with a demonstration of routes into ALAC participation under the Empowered Membership Model. The demonstration was met with objections and interjections, and comments after the demo indicated that there may be a disconnect between ITEMS's expectations regarding the operation of RALOs and reality. In a subsequent working session of the ALAC2 Review Working Party, Holly Raiche reported the following interaction with Tom MacKenzie of the ITEMS team:
I would like to just pass on a really interesting comment made to me by Tom last night at the gala when I started to talk about the different characteristics and priorities of the RALOs and why it might be difficult to have a uniform set of rules for At-Large membership. He said to me, which I guess surprised me or maybe it shouldn’t have, that, when he realized the different ways in which the RALOs operate, “Well, in that case, the EMM model won’t work.”
Other members commented on interactions with the ITEMS team and an overall impression that the draft report might see substantial changes.
There were also fifteen written comments submitted in response to the draft report. The reaction to the more provocative recommendations (random selection of the ALAC board seat and abandonment of working groups) was largely negative, while there was broad support among the commenters regarding strengthening and diversifying outreach activities. As expected, the ALAC strongly objected to several recommendations, as well as the implementation of the Empowered Membership Model, which it found to be contrary to the reality of work within ICANN and the RALOs.
ITEMS incorporated the public comment feedback, as well as continued input through webinars, ICANN meeting sessions, and one-on-one interviews, to refine and consolidate their recommendations in their final report. The final report was submitted to the board in May 2017, and retained the EMM, random selection of the ALAC seat on the board, and a modified recommendation to dramatically reduce the number of internal working groups (to "3 or 4"). There was no public comment period on the final report; however, several organizations reiterated their concerns to the board regarding the feasibility and impact of the report's recommendations on the operation of At-Large and the ALAC's mission of supporting the broadest possible constituency.
Dissent and Reconciliation
In its Feasibility Assessment and Implementation Plan, submitted to the board in September 2017, the At-Large2 review working party rejected the recommendations pertaining to election of the ALAC board member, implementation of the EMM, and the abandonment of working groups. It noted in response the election recommendation that ITEMS appeared to be willing to base its conclusions on unsubstantiated opinions: "The ALAC notes that this Recommendation and its associated report section exemplifies the overall concerns over this At-Large Review. The identified issue includes the phrase “allegations of unfairness”, but there was no substantiation or even mention of this in the report." In response, the board's Organizational Effectiveness Committee produced a "mapping document" highlighting the divergences of opinion between the final report and the feasibility assessment, as well as a summary of public comments on each issue as addressed in the draft report. It presented a series of questions to the At-Large2 RWP regarding each of the recommendations. Some were addressed at clarifying the differences of opinion, while others requests specific responses to how the ALAC intended to address the issues underlying the rejected recommendations. The RWP responded in turn with an Implementation Overview in April 2018. The overview responded to the mapping document and the OEC's questions by proposing implementation of improvements that addressed the gaps identified by the OEC.
The RWP, OEC and ICANN Board received additional feedback after the presentation of the implementation overview, and ALAC responded to that correspondence with additional information and refined proposals for addressing issues identified in the mapping document. On June 23, 2018, the board acknowledged receipt of the ITEMS final report, and approved the Implementation Overview as the model for moving forward with improvements to ALAC processes. The board described the outcome of its deliberations in the background summary of the resolution:
Having considered the ALAC position, including its response to community concerns, the Board believes that the ALAC has demonstrated accountability and transparency in this organizational review process. Furthermore, the Board believes that the At-Large Implementation Overview Proposal provides an appropriate response to the concerns raised by the review, and is hopeful that the proposal will lead to a much-improved At-Large and further improve end user participation within ICANN's multistakeholder model. While the recommendation path that is being pursued veers significantly from the recommendations of the independent examiner, the Board considers, based on all that it has seen, that the implementation recommendations are appropriate to address the well-stated issues from the independent examiner's report. Implementing the ALAC-proposed improvements is a significant step in assuring that the post-review At-Large is able and capable to fulfil its Bylaws-mandated role and responsibilities.
The ALAC was instructed to create a detailed implementation plan based on its implementation overview, and to provide biannual implementation reports to the OEC. The ALAC submitted its final implementation report in June 2020, with a follow-up status report provided in December 2020 providing the board with an update on specific outstanding items from the implementation plan. The At-Large dashboard has marked all phases of the review as complete.
- ICANN.org - At-Large Organizational Review Dashboard
- ICANN Bylaws - Article 4.4
- ICANN.org - Organizational Reviews
- ICANN.org - ITEMS Int'l Appointed to Conduct At-Large2 Review, May 13, 2016
- At-Large2 Draft Report, January 31, 2017
- ICANN 58 Archive - ALAC2 Review Workshop with ITEMS, March 15, 2017
- ICANN 58 Archive - Transcript - ALAC2 Review Workshop with ITEMS, March 15, 2017
- ICANN 58 Archive - Transcript - ALAC2 Review Working Party Meeting, March 14, 2017
- Staff Report on public comment proceeding, April 10, 2017
- At-Large2 - Final Report of independent Examiner, May 2, 2017
- Resolution of the Board, June 23, 2018
- AtLarge2 - Final Feasibility Assessment and Implementation Plan, September 19, 2017
- OEC Questions to the At-Large2 RWP, December 20, 2017
- At-Large2 Implementation Overview, April 20, 2018
- At-Large2 - Implementation Final Report, Jund 20, 2020
- At-Large2 Implementation Status Update, December 20, 2020