Second ASO Organizational Review
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 Address Supporting Organization is one of the organizations subject to the review requirements of Article 4.4. The ASO functions are performed by the Number Resource Organization (NRO) under memoranda of understanding with ICANN and the Regional Internet Registries. Under the memorandum of understanding with ICANN, the NRO is responsible for implementing reviews that satisfy the requirements of Article 4.4 of the ICANN Bylaws.
Initiation and Review Process
The ASO posted an RFP for an independent examiner in November 2016. The application deadline was set for December 31, 2016, while the selection deadline was January 31, 2017. In February, the ASO announced that ITEMS International, the organization which performed the ASO1 review, had again been selected to perform the ASO2 review.
ITEMS utilized a similar methodological approach for ASO2:
- Documentary review and meeting attendance at ICANN 58 and various RIR meetings;
- Face-to-face interviews with constituents and stakeholders; and
- A survey aimed at the broader ICANN community.
Joint ASO/NRO Statement Regarding the Review
The ASO Address Council and NRO Executive Council published a joint statement providing context and leadership input to the review process. The statement reflects on the improvements that were implemented subsequent to the last review, and also provides a self-assessment around persistent issues and challenges facing the organization. It also defined the process that would be followed subsequent to receipt of the final report from ITEMS. The statement also articulates the narrowly-defined scope of the ASO AC's role in decision-making and advice, and articulated the divisions of labor between the two organizations.
The final report was posted in August 2017.
Trends in the Findings
The ITEMS final report contained a warning regarding ambiguities (both perceived and real) regarding which organization is responsible for particular ASO functions:
However, our impression is that relations between the NRO and ICANN have evolved in recent years in a way that is bound to have certain implications for the operations of the ASO. We have heard that the ASO is facing increasing demands for engagement from ICANN that are currently being addressed on a case-by-case basis by the NRO EC, since they mostly fall outside the ASO AC’s narrow mandate. The preparation of the IANA Functions Stewardship Transition and the establishment of the ICANN Empowered Community have been associated with an increase in the number and range of demands being put on the ASO.
We have noted that a number of grey areas have emerged within the ASO regarding the separation of powers and responsibilities between the ASO AC and the NRO EC. There are instances in which it is not immediately clear which branch of ASO leadership should assume responsibility, or even if the NRO (acting as the ASO) should engage at all.
Our report contains a series of recommendations many of which concern the need to clarify the separate roles and scope for action of the ASO AC and the NRO EC in connection with the operations of the ASO.
Later, in its discussion of findings from the survey and interviews, ITEMS reiterated this point:
Our findings suggest that a certain confusion regarding the separate roles of the ASO AC and the NRO EC may have become exacerbated in recent months, notably since the establishment of the ICANN Empowered Community which has been associated with an increase in the demands being put on the ASO. Our impression is that the separation of powers between the ASO AC and the NRO EC is likely to become further obscured in years ahead unless clear lines of responsibility are drawn at this juncture.
The report contained eighteen recommendations, many of them intended to preserve and strengthen the ASO's core mission in the face of external requests for consultation or participation in non-mission-critical activities within ICANN. As with ASO1, ITEMS categorized the recommendations by specifying to whom the recommendation was directed: ICANN, the NRO, both ICANN and the NRO, or the ASO AC. The report stops short of making an explicit recommendation regarding how best to resolve the issues described above, preferring instead to state in Recommendation 18 that "The NRO should initiate a public consultation, involving the five RIR communities, to determine the future structure of the ASO."
Acknowledging that any decisions were best made through such a consultation process, the report did provide three possible routes for reform:
- Status Quo, and “Just say no”. In other words, the NRO EC must tightly scope ASO activities to those consistent with the interests of the global internet number resource community.
- Status Quo + Increased coordination between the ASO AC and the NRO EC to ensure that entire ASO (ASO AC + NRO EC) formally meet at least once a year, or more often as needed for critical Empowered Community decisions.
- Replace the current ASO with an ASO Council consisting of two houses, a Policy House (current ASO AC) and a Registries House (current NRO EC).
Public Comment and Organizational Response
Only one public comment was received on the final report during the publication period. The comment recommended some resources to investigate for ranked voting systems.
The ASO AC and NRO EC published a joint response to the report in January 2018. The joint response largely agreed to proceed with implementation of the recommendations contained in the report. On the subject of structural amendments to the ASO, the joint statement simply agrees with Recommendation 18 of the report.
Implementation Steps and Reporting
The NRO engaged in community consultations and discussions with each RIR over the course of 2018. The results of these consultations was summarized by the NRO EC in September 2018. The EC synthesized the outcomes of the conversations into a set of points "as a proposed way forward:"
- The numbers community relationship with ICANN is important and should continue, but in a simplified manner;
- The numbers community should be judicious in their acceptance of ICANN-related work or obligations that fall outside the limited scope of internet number resource policies (i.e., adopt the "status quo and just say no" route proposed by ITEMS in the final report);
- The NRO will work with ICANN to explore ways to consolidate the numbers community's participation in ICANN either under the NRO or under the ASO; and
- The numbers community looks forward to future evolutions to the relationship with ICANN.
The other recommendations were implemented in parallel with these ongoing consultative conversations. The last recommendations were deemed fully implemented as of March 2020, when the ASO's new website was launched.
- ICANN.org - ASO Review Dashboard
- NRO.net - ASO2 Improvements Implementation Status, last updated March 16, 2021
- ICANN Bylaws - Article 4.4
- ICANN.org - Organizational Reviews
- NRO.net - ASO Memorandum of Understanding
- ASO2 - Request for Proposals, November 18, 2016
- NRO.net - Announcement of Selection of Independent Examiner for ASO2, February 2, 2017
- ASO2 Review Final Report, August 2017
- Statement of the NRO EC and ASO AC, May 25, 2017
- Staff Report on Public Comment Period, August 8, 2017
- NRO and ASO Joint Response to the 2017 Independent Review Recommendations, January 8, 2018
- NRO.net - ASO2 Community Consultations, last updated February 19, 2019
- NRO.net - Input by the NRO EC on Recommendation 18 consultations, September 5, 2018
- NRO.net - Implementation Status Tracker, last updated March 16, 2021