[ALAC] Why aren't more At-Largers involved in PDPs? (was: [ALAC-Announce] ICANN News Alert -- ICANN Provides Update on Review of the Community Priority Evaluation Process)

Evan Leibovitch evan at telly.org
Thu Sep 7 06:54:13 UTC 2017

On 6 September 2017 at 23:43, Alan Greenberg <alan.greenberg at mcgill.ca>

> *IF* this matter is really important, it is problematic that so few people
> are participating in the PDP.

​Of course it is problematic. It is also completely predictable and
understandable and always has been; it is has been a built-in ICANN process
design to handicap our efforts.

At-Large, by definition, is here to represent the interests of end-users.
Its membership does not have domain buying or selling as primary
livelihoods (if they are they really ought not to be here as their
interests are being represented elsewhere in the ICANN ecosystem). As a
result, most participants here have day jobs and Other Things To Do. To
them, Internet governance is a sideline, an interest, maybe even a passion.
But  they are at a MASSIVE disadvantage compared to those for whom ICANN
awareness and manipulation is a job. ICANN processes are heavily biased in
favour of those who commit their lives, and against the typical ALS or
individual member. This is fine for the paid staff, consultants and
academics for whom involvement in ICANN and Internet governance pays their
rent. The rest of us, not so good.

Look at the time consumption of even the most trivial PDP. High-level
issues are shunted aside while trivial details and definitions consume
person-hours by the hundreds. A WG that Alan and I now attend regarding the
process for allocating ICANN auction funds has been spending weeks on the
definition of "what is an open Internet". In my decades of public service,
ICANN's rate of accomplishment-per-volunteer-hour is massively less than
anything else I have done in my life.

So it's no wonder At-Large participation in WGs is so rare. The number of
people able to cope with the time commitment, the many other barriers (no
language interpretation!!), small groups of aggressive speakers who
dominate the debates and shut down dissent through derision and legalese.
WGs usually meet at ICANN meetings, putting those who don't travel to them
at a disadvantage. It can easily be overwhelming, especially when it so
often leads to our not being heard anyway unless we agree with the pack.

Let's please be honest. At any given time, the number of people in At-Large
who can cope with all this, and put in the heroic levels of commitment of
folks like Alan, usually requires only one hand to count. Most others have
three choices when a PDP (or similar WG) offer arises:

   - Have a substantially diminished personal life for the duration of the
   PDP to do it right, in a way that may well impact their actual
   income-producing work
   - Be involved in the PDP at a reduced rate, but then eventually get lost
   by falling behind
   - Sit it out, and get involved instead in outreach or infrastructure
   (still challenging, but not on the scale -- or with the hostility -- of the
   policy work)

Compounding the problem is that PDPs are commissioned by the GNSO with few
exceptions, and if the WG is not designated as cross community (rare),
At-Large's ability to frame the topics and counter the agenda of a
determined and unified domain industry is ... weak.

There are some steps that may be taken to improve the situation:

   - Dedicate At-Large staff to policy development support to assist those
   At-Large people who choose to get involved
   - Deal with responses at a higher level so that our people can make
   informed input without having to be involved in every step of the
   inevitable minutiae
   - Create an annual strategic plan for policy to highlight the areas of
   concern, and stick faithfully to only participate in, and respond to,
   process that impact those areas

Without these steps (and maybe even with them) our volunteer resources
simply are not able to match the involvement and relentlessness of the
domain industry communities.

The answer is not to scare off newcomers or burn out veterans. Rather,
At-Large must recognize the limitations with which we must work in policy
development, and develop creative ways within the ICANN bylaws to make our
voice most effective given who we are and what we are able to do.


- Evan
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