Multistakeholder Model

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A Multistakeholder Model is an organizational framework or structure which adopts the multistakeholder process of governance or policy making, which aims to bring together the primary stakeholders such as businesses, civil society, governments, research institutions and non-government organizations to cooperate and participate in the dialogue, decision making and implementation of solutions to common problems or goals. A stakeholder refers to an individual, group or organization that has a direct or indirect interest or stake in a particular organization; that is, a given action has the ability to influence the organization's actions, decisions and policies to achieve results.[1]

Characteristics of Multistakeholder Process

A multistakeholder process has the following characteristics:[2]

  • Involvement of stakeholders in the learning process
  • Stakeholders work towards a common goal
  • Work involves different sectors and scale
  • The objective is focused to bring about change
  • Deal with structural changes
  • Agreements are created based on cooperation
  • Stakeholders deal with power and conflict consciously
  • Bottom-up and top-down strategies are integrated in governance and policy making

The ICANN Multistakeholder Model

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is an example of a multistakeholder model organization. ICANN is composed of different Internet stakeholders from around the world and practices a consensus-based policy development, also known as a "bottom-up" model. ICANN governs on the principle of cooperation and collaboration with different Internet stakeholders worldwide to be able to effectively and efficiently carry-out its responsibility as the international Internet governing body.[3]

The ICANN multistakeholder model was developed based on the input and collaborative effort by the global Internet stakeholders in the White Paper, a detailed policy statement commissioned by the United States government on the Management of Internet Names and Addresses, which led to the establishment of ICANN in 1998.[4]

ICANN implements the multistakeholder process through the following:[5]

  1. Regular meetings conducted by the ICANN Board
  2. The Supporting Organizations, Councils, Advisory Committees, which also meet regularly
  3. Providing a defined Policy Development Process (PDP) to its Supporting Organizations
  4. Public Meeting Forums, which take place 3 times a year at locations around the world

ICANN's primary role is to coordinate the Internet naming system worldwide.[6] According to former ICANN CEO, Rod Beckstrom, the ICANN multistakeholder model serves as the catalyst for the internet and he describes it as open, inclusive, balancing, effective and international.[7] During the Futurecom Information Technology conference in Sao Paulo, he said that the multistakeholder model is aimed at "increasing the participation of diverse groups from all around the globe" and praised Brazil's decision to adopt a multi-stakeholder approach in governing the country's Internet. He said, “It is an example of the Brazilian government’s wisdom in saying we want the private sector, we want the civil society, and academic leaders, Internet experts and corporations to come together and provide the Internet Strategy for the country.”[8]

2021-2025 Strategic Plan

During its strategic planning process, the ICANN Board identified the improvement of ICANN's multistakeholder governance model as a core goal for the five-year strategic plan beginning in the fiscal year 2021.[9]

Debate over ICANN's Multistakeholder Model


During the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), participants in the event questioned the effectiveness of the multistakeholder model in Internet governance since the nature of the Internet is diverse, complex, and global. Many suggested that the management should be handled by an inter-governmental body. Others believed that the existing multistakeholder process is appropriate where all public and private stakeholders participate in a bottom-up process in creating Internet policies. ICANN's multistakeholder model was criticized by governments for two main reasons; the governments in question lack adequate influence on ICANN's decisions on policies affecting the Internet, and the United States still holds undue legacy influence and control over ICANN and the Domain Name System (DNS).[10]


In 2011, criticisms and debate over ICANN's multistakeholder model was again sparked due to the approval of the .xxx sTLD. Although ICANN's Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) expressed strong opposition to implement .xxx, the ICANN Board approved it. The Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes, was disappointed and asked the U.S. National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) to defer the implementation of .xxx.[11] NTIA responded that it would not interfere with ICANN's decision. According to the NTIA, "While the Obama Administration does not support ICANN’s decision, we respect the multistakeholder Internet governance process and do not think that it is in the long-term best interest of the United States or the global Internet community for us unilaterally to reverse the decision. Our goal is to preserve the global Internet, which is a force for innovation, economic growth, and the free flow of information. I agree with you that the Board took its action without the full support of the community and accordingly, I am dedicated to improving the responsiveness of ICANN to all stakeholders, including governments worldwide."[12] [13]

New gTLDs

Another issue that challenged the multistakeholder process was the 2012 new gTLD expansion program. Many organizations, particularly the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and the Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight (CRIDO) and other trademark advocates, criticized the program and asked the NTIA and United States Congress to stop it during a Congressional inquiry.[14] Once again, NTIA decided not to interfere with ICANN's decision and stood firm in its commitment to promoting the multistakeholder model of Internet governance. The NTIA reiterated, "NTIA is dedicated to maintaining an open, global Internet that remains a valuable tool for economic growth, innovation, and the free flow of information, goods, and services online. We believe the best way to achieve this goal is to continue to actively support and participate in multistakeholder Internet governance processes such as ICANN. How ICANN handles the new gTLD program will, for many, be a litmus test of the viability of this approach. For its part, NTIA is committed to continuing to be an active member of the GAC and working with stakeholders to mitigate any unintended consequences of the new gTLD program."[15]

Strickling Supports Multistakeholder Process

During the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Nairobi on September 27, 2011, NTIA Assistant Secretary Larry Strickling, a consistent supporter of the multi-stakeholder model, stated that the multistakeholder process in Internet governance is being challenged because of the increasing restrictions by nations of the free flow of information over the Internet, disputes between standard bodies, and appeals for government interventions on the terms and conditions for exchanging Internet traffic. He also cited that the latest proposal by India, Brazil and South Africa to create a new international organization to manage the Internet. Secretary Strickling poined out that the existing Internet has been a very effective vehicle for economic growth and innovation, and that it was established through the hard work of multistakeholder organizations such as the Internet Society, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and the World Wide Web Consortium. Strickling emphasized that the multistakeholder process is characterized by openness, inclusiveness, speed, flexibility, and decentralized problem solving in Internet governance. He encouraged IGF participants to continue to support ICANN's multistakeholder process and to continue to expand jobs, economic development, wealth and fundamental rights and freedoms for all.[16]

Effects of COVID Pandemic

By March 2022, most ICANN Community members had not sat in the same room as their peers for over two years, because ICANN’s public meetings had been held over Zoom since the start of 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. In turn, the fallout from COVID fatigue began surfacing in think pieces on CircleID,[17][18] in letters to the ICANN Board,[19] and in many of the sessions at ICANN 73. A key point of contention was whether the multistakeholder model could achieve [[equity in incentivizing ICANN participants, especially those not paid to engage in Internet Governance. For instance, in a letter to the Board, ALAC Chair Maureen Hilyard, Marita Moll, and Joanna Kulesza noted that "it was important to establish ways of 'valuing' as well as of 'showing a return on'" work beyond mere words of appreciation.[20] Another was whether the MSM would continue to be up to 21st-century challenges. In making his case for why IG should move from the MSM to a democratic citizenship model, Klaus Stoll explains that "In a democracy, who is a citizen and their rights and responsibilities in well-defined policy-making processes are based on fundamental common human rights values, such as equity, inclusiveness, and transparency. The common goal is to enable the well-being of all. We miss all of this in multistakeholderism."[21]