[At-Large] Multistakeholderism Explained (was Re: ICANN75: Mandatory Funded Traveler Registration for Roberto Gaetano)

Antony Van Couvering avc at avc.vc
Wed Jul 27 18:08:46 UTC 2022

[Renaming the thread…]

"Multi-stakeholder” is a euphemism for a form of governance otherwise known as functional constituency politics. As practiced at ICANN, it is a plan, articulated to me by ICANN staffers in the very early days when it was all being put together, to put each group into a “sandbox” so that they could argue among themselves while ICANN the organization does what it wants while maintaining the appearance of inclusiveness and fairness. 

Functional constituency politics has an inglorious history. Its main contribution over time has been to convince observers that existing rulers with vested interests are never going to implement fair rules on their own. That it why they are hardly ever used today except in settings where the ruled are too ignorant / naive / corrupted to complain effectively and there is no supervisory authority to restrain abuses. 

The most recent well-known example of constituency politics is Hong Kong under the British. (I’m not saying rule by the CCP I better, it’s just that the previous system also really sucked.) Earlier examples include the Republic of Venice, where “The republic was ruled by the doge, who was elected by members of the Great Council of Venice, the city-state's parliament, and ruled for life. The ruling class was an oligarchy of merchants and aristocrats.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republic_of_Venice).  

In Hong Kong under the Empire, constituency politics was liked by no-one except the apparatchiks who managed it, the ruling class that made money under it, and the British Government’s Executive Council, which ignored it but liked the democratic optics.  It was neither responsive, democratic, or workable. Effectively it meant that the power in Hong Kong, to the extent that it was devolved at all from the Executive Council, was highly centralized in the hands of the bankers and industrial magnates. 

See if you can recognize the similarities:

"The Executive Council determined administrative policy changes and considered primary legislation before passing it to the Legislative Council for approval. This advisory body also itself issued secondary legislation under a limited set of colonial ordinances. The Legislative Council debated proposed legislation…. Indirectly elected functional constituency seats were introduced in 1985.

These functional constituencies were completely undemocratic, as well as being largely powerless:

(1) 12 geographical constituencies were based on population, with 500,000 people for each geographical constituency. Note that even these “normal” democratic seats were given out by “indirect” election.  (Can anyone say NomCom?)

(2) 12 functional constituencies were based on… well… established power, and were balanced so that the wrong sort of people who might threaten the status quo were never given any positions of power.  They were:

	- First commercial seat (Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce)
	- Second commercial seat (Chinese General Chamber of Commerce)
	- First industrial seat (Federation of Hong Kong Industries)
	- Second industrial seat (Chinese Manufacturers’ Association of Hong Kong)
	- Financial seat (Hong Kong Association of Banks)
	- Labour (2 seats) - recognized trade unions of Hong Kong
	- Social Services - Hong Kong Council of Social Services
	- Medical - Hong Kong Medical Association
	- Teaching
	- Legal
	- Engineering, Architectural, Surveying, Planning


ICANN Board = Executive Council
Functional Constituencies = the acronym salad of all the powerless groups within ICANN
Geographical Constituencies by indirect election = NomCom

Vested-interest power blocs, such as exist in ICANN today — the advisory committees, the supporting organization, and the subgroups within them — were not created to come up with solutions, even if they are convinced that they do.  Functionally, they exist to prevent people with a common agenda from coming together as a single bloc to challenge ICANN the corporation. 

The tell-tale characteristics of such systems are readily apparent within ICANN

- Low turnover of officials within the groups (just look around to see this at ICANN)
- Decline, obsolescense, and fossilization of certain constituencies, which nonetheless retain their status (see: ISP grouping within GNSO)
- Turf wars and takeover plots to “own” certain constituencies (e.g., the attempt by not-for-profit intellectual property interests (e.g., Red Cross) to take over the NCUC)
- A large bureaucracy dedicated to preserving the power of the executive (the Board), while tying all other groups in knots with arcane and time-consuming rules and procedures.  
- Hostility to democratic reforms, typically justified by concerns about “fraud” (rejection of direct elections to the Board).  

I support diversity of opinion, which is what the multi-stakeholder model promises.  In fact, however, it delivers the opposite, because that’s the way it’s set up to operate. 


P.S. To those that note that the GAC is not powerless, this is true only because it has external levers to make ICANN pay attention. If it were limited to its delineated powers within ICANN, it would be as powerless as the other groups. 

> On Jul 27, 2022, at 12:55 AM, Evan Leibovitch via At-Large <at-large at atlarge-lists.icann.org> wrote:
> On Tue, Jul 26, 2022 at 4:17 PM Karl Auerbach via At-Large <at-large at atlarge-lists.icann.org <mailto:at-large at atlarge-lists.icann.org>> wrote:
> I've long been in opposition to the "stakeholder" model of governance.
> I'm not sure that I have a problem with the pure concept of stakeholders. What is missing is a sense of balance as you note in your papers, that the end-users of the Internet have more of a stake in its direction than its service providers and profiteers, but the latter get themselves more representation because they have a financial interest to study and exploit any gaps in well-intentioned rules.
> In ICANN the inequality isn't even subtle; it's hard-coded. The self-interested have the ability to compel the Board to do their bidding while governments and the public interest (ie, those outside the domain-buying food chain) sit on the sidelines giving easily-ignored advice.
> Were the script flipped -- public and state interests in policy-making roles with the self-interested participating as advisors -- the DNS would look very different than it does now. But that genie ain't going back in the bottle. 
> (in those days that larger body could have been "the members" but ICANN sank that ship long ago - but it can be, and ought to be, re-floated.)
> We'lll have to disagree on the hope. IMO there is absolutely zero incentive for the status quo to relinquish its power and impose accountability on itself. Given a golden opportunity to do so, we got that cruel joke of an "empowered community"  which doubled down on the imbalance.
> It's my belief at this time, based on how ICANN has used previous opportunities to improve itself, that meaningful reform from within is not possible. The stimulus for change will have to be external -- maybe the EU, maybe the California AG, maybe some chaotic event or action so publicly unpalatable that the non-treaty-bound trust that countries have in ICANN disintegrates. To me that scenario is far more plausible than progress from within. The .ORG debacle was a wake-up call, the next such episode may push the boundary of acceptability too far. When it comes, the threat will not arise from the usual ITU bugaboo, but from some yet-unimagined source.
> Cheers,
> - Evan
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