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 - Evolving ICANN's Multistakeholder Model

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 fiscal year 2021.[9]

Draft Issues List & Public Comment

The Board held a session on governance at ICANN 63 as a kick-off to efforts to solicit feedback the community around the topic of improving the MSM.[10] The effort to collect community feedback and define the issues was led by Brian Cute.[11] The work continued at ICANN 64, and in April 2019, a draft issues list[12] was published for public comment.[13] The Draft Issue List included twenty-one issues, ranging from structural to cultural, that the community believed impacted the effectiveness of the MSM.[12] The Draft Issues List received nineteen comments during the public comment period.[14] ICANN staff identified broad agreement that the listed issues had impacts on the effectiveness of the MSM. Several commenters noted that the issues were interwoven, and many offered solutions to specific issues.[14]

Final Issues List

Through continued sessions at ICANN Meetings and the public comment process on the Draft Issues List, the Issues List was refined and condensed into a Final Issues List, published in June 2019.[15] Brian Cute noted in a blog post that the intention was to continue the community dialogue at ICANN 65.[16] The Final Issues List substantially narrowed the range of issues being addressed, noting that some issues raised by the community were symptoms, rather than causes, of inefficiency in the multistakeholder model.[15] The final list presented eleven issue clusters to focus on in the evolution of the MSM:

  1. Prioritization of the Work;
  2. Precision in Scoping Work;
  3. Costs;
  4. Representativeness and Inclusiveness;
  5. Consensus;
  6. Terms of service in leadership positions;
  7. Recruitment and Demographics;
  8. Complexity;
  9. Efficient Use of Resources;
  10. Culture, Trust, and Silos;
  11. Roles, Responsibilities, and a Holistic View of ICANN.[15]

Next Steps and Implementation

The Final Issues List stated that the issue clusters would be mapped to a work plan, and acted on by issue teams from the community, ACs, SOs, and the Board.[15] At ICANN 65, Brian Cute facilitated a conversation regarding delegation of issue areas, timing of proposals to improve operations over the course of the five-year strategic plan, and other topics.[17] Cute's presentation at the meeting emphasized that continued community input would be necessary to implement the work plan and help resolve the issues.[17] The session was used to identify the responsible parties for each issue cluster, and create a rough draft of the work plan.[18]

2019 "Next Steps" Draft

After the ICANN 65 session, Cute published a "Next Steps" document for public comment.[19] The report provided links out to existing work projects or PDPs that might solve or alleviate the issues, and requested feedback regarding the sufficiency of those possible solutions already in progress.[19]

There was no ICANN-led public comment period on Cute's 2019 Next Steps document. The next public comment period related to the work plan was in December 2019, when public comment was requested on the draft operating and financial plan for 2021-2025.[20] The draft plan acknowledged the work, feedback, and comments submitted during the conversation about evolving the MSM, and committed to structuring a work plan that advanced that work and was responsive to feedback and comments.[21]

2020 "Next Steps" Draft

In June 2020, ICANN Org published "Enhancing the Effectiveness of ICANN's MSM - Next Steps" for public comment.[22] The document consolidated the findings and work on the issues discussed within the community. It narrowed the number of issues to six, in order of priority:

  1. Prioritization of the work and efficient use of resources
  2. Precision in scoping the work
  3. Consensus, representation, and inclusivity
  4. Complexity
  5. Culture, trust, and silos
  6. Roles and responsibilities[23]

The Board suggested that the initial focus should be on the top three issues:

These three high-priority topics present opportunities to build on existing work, and, with some added effort and greater coordination, to add value to the evolution of ICANN’s multistakeholder model. The remaining three topics – the complexity of (A) tools to access information and data and (B) content; culture, trust and silos; and roles and responsibilities -- also represent important areas of community concern. However, with limited time and resources, the Board proposes that the community revisits these topics later in the Operating and Financial Plan’s five-year time frame. Further, the remaining three topics may be more representative of symptoms of the three high-priority topics, and may not immediately lend themselves to tangible or practical solutions. In comparison, the three priority work areas speak to issues which may lend themselves to clearer and more implementable solutions.[23]

The document focused on scoping the top three issues, identifying existing work that may solve or ameliorate those issues, and then identifying gaps where existing planning and policy development work are unable to resolve specific issues.[23] Public comments, particularly from SOs and ACs, were largely in agreement with the prioritization of the issues and the proposed actions on those issues.[24]

Implementation Phase

In October 2020, Maarten Botterman posted an update on the process and announced that the strategic objective to evolve the MSM was moving into the implementation phase.[11] At the same time, the Board released a final draft of the 2020 Next Steps document.[25][26]

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).[27]


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.[28] 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."[29] [30]

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.[31] 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."[32]

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.[33]


  1. Stakeholder Definition
  2. What are MSPs?
  3. ICANN's Multistakeholder Model by Grace Ayres
  4. Statement of Policy on the Management of Internet Names and Addresses
  5. How we implement our multi-stakeholder process
  6. About ICANN
  7. Beckstrom Points to Multi-stakeholder Model as “Catalyst for the Internet”
  8. Rod Beckstrom praises Brazil's Multi Stakeholder Model of Internet Coordination
  9. - Governance Plan - Enhancing the Effectiveness of ICANN's Multistakeholder Model, April 8, 2019
  10. ICANN Blog - Update from the Board's Los Angeles Workshop, February 2, 2019
  11. 11.0 11.1 ICANN Blog - Enhancing the MSM moves into implementation, October 14, 2020
  12. 12.0 12.1 Draft Issues List - Evolving the MSM, April 25, 2019 (PDF)
  13. Public Comment: Evolving the Multistakeholder Model, April 25, 2019
  14. 14.0 14.1 Staff Report on Public Comment Process, June 20, 2019 (PDF)
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 Final Issues List - Evolving the MSM, June 20, 2019
  16. ICANN Blog - Evolving the MSM: Continuing the Conversation and Preparing for ICANN 65, May 29, 2019
  17. 17.0 17.1 ICANN 65 Archive - Evolving the MSM, June 25, 2019 (registration with required)
  18. Video Replay, ICANN 65 Evolving the MSM, June 25, 2019
  19. 19.0 19.1 Next Steps to Improve the Effectiveness of ICANN's MSM, June 4, 2020 (PDF)
  20. Public Comment Archive - Draft Operating Plan, December 20, 2019
  21. Draft Operating and Financial Plan, FY 2021-2025, December 20, 2019 (PDF)
  22. Public Comment Archive - Enhancing the Effectiveness of ICANN's MSM, June 4, 2020
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 Enhancing the Effectiveness of the MSM - Next Steps, June 4, 2020 (PDF)
  24. Staff Report on Public Comment Process, September 3, 2020 (PDF)
  25. Final Draft: Enhancing the Effectiveness of the MSM - Next Steps, October 14, 2020 (PDF)
  26. Redline Version - Enhancing the Effectiveness of the MSM - Next Steps, October 14, 2020 (PDF)
  27. Internet Governance and the Domain Name System: Issues for Congress, Lennard G. Kruger, February 9, 2012
  28. Europe asked the US to delay .xxx
  29. Strickling Letter to Kroes
  30. Did Europe ask America to block .xxx?
  31. Critics stage last-ditch effort to derail domain name expansion plan
  32. Internet Governance and the Domain Name System: Issues for Congress, Lennard G. Kruger, February 9, 2012
  33. Opening Session Remarks of Assistant Secretary Strickling at the Internet Governance Forum