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Consensus Polling: ALAC Shows the Way

ICANN is about to make the jump from “merely excavating” to efficiently mining top-quality jewels.

I say this because ICANN’s At-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC) has reached unanimous consensus on their internal Self Review. As the New Zealand meeting drew to a close, a weary ALAC was ready to give up on creating a consensus Self Review. The familiar ICANN collaborative process of emailing Word attachments had “excavated” ALAC into the also familiar ICANN mire of “deeply divided over competing versions.”

Rather than succumbing to frustration in New Zealand, ALAC turned to Consensus Polling. Consensus Polling adds sifting, disposal, and cleaving to the “collaborative mining” operation. ALAC is now in the business of uncovering, refining, and presenting jewels rather than endlessly pushing the same piles around the hill. Fresh off their success with the Self Review, ALAC has already begun to deploy open and transparent Consensus Polls on ICANNWiki for upcoming policy recommendations and Regional At-Large Organization (RALO) formation documents.

What works for ALAC will work for ICANN. Are you in?

By Brandon CS Sanders, Computer Scientist and Collaboration Enthusiast

Filed Under


Dave Zan  –  Oct 28, 2006 6:25 AM

What works for ALAC will work for ICANN. Are you in?

I’m not sure I can positively agree that “what works for ALAC will work for ICANN”. But as long as it has strong chances to “improve” issues eventually affecting domain name registrants, then let’s go.

Karl Auerbach  –  Oct 29, 2006 5:15 AM

Am “I in” to the ALAC?


The ALAC is like one of those toy steering wheels that parents put into their cars so that the kids can believe that they are driving.

The ALAC is a sop that ICANN doled out when it abandoned public elections for board members.

It is not surprising that after 4 years the ALAC still has virtually no support from the community of internet users, especially when compared with the 200,000 people who signed up over a few weeks for the ICANN election when real board seats were being filled.

It’s time to let the ALAC die so that we can move onto something that works - direct elections by the public for a majority of the seats on ICANN’s board of directors.  That was what was promised in 1997.

Brandon CS Sanders  –  Nov 6, 2006 9:08 PM

I’m not sure I can positively agree that “what works for ALAC will work for ICANN”


Sorry for my delay in replying ... I’ve been on safari in Tanzania with my family during the last week.

ALAC is a microcosm of ICANN with many of the same issues on a smaller scale.  The obvious difference between ALAC and ICANN is the number of participants.  The primary difficulty in widely deploying Consensus Polling for ICANN policy development is a shortage of informed facilitation.  Consensus Polling only works when you have facilitators who listen,  refine, and synthesize.  Fortunately, each additional participant is also a potential facilitator.

Brandon CS Sanders  –  Nov 6, 2006 9:44 PM

Sorry Dave, I meant to address my previous comment to you rather than to Dan.


Everyone knows that you are not “in” to the current structure of ICANN.  I’m asking:  Are you and other ICANN curmudgeons in for a process that is better even than direct elections to the ICANN board?

Consider the following two new GTLD policy scenarios:

Scenario 1: 200,000 internet users directly elect the 12 member ICANN board.  The board votes 7-5 to approve a new GTLD policy.

Scenario 2: 200,000 internet users transparently collaborate to create a new GTLD policy.  Participation is open to anyone who cares about the new GTLD policy. Participants include at least:

1000 internet users from each ICANN region
12 GAC members from at least six different countries
12 ICANN board members
4 members from each of at least five different GNSO constituencies
4 members from RSSAC
4 members from SSAC

More than 90% of the 200,000 and more than 90% of each identified subgroup approves the community created new GTLD policy.

Which scenario do you prefer?

Karl Auerbach  –  Nov 6, 2006 10:28 PM

Not only am I not, as you put it, ‘not “in” to the current structure of ICANN’, neither are the millions upon millions - probably billions - of people who use the internet.

The mechanism you propose does admit of a more democratic system than we have today, but it unnecessarily retreats by creating lumps of of concentrated interest that will still tend to dominate.

You retain, for example, the “constituency” mechanims - which I find to be a return to the kind of governance by guild that we had in the middle ages.

Take a look at my note Stakeholderism - The Wrong Road For Internet Governance

You use the words “transparently collaborate” - I would suggest that we look deeper into what part of governance requires that everyone be able to see how decisions are made, i.e. transparent decison making.

The genration of ideas, especially on a wide scale, requires a lot of tenative probing, slow disolving of differences, and compromises.  To use the cliche, chasms must be crossed.  That is not a process that is always well served by “transparency”.

On the other hand what does absolutely need to be transparent is how proposals are measure and accepted and rejected.

Under the system you propose, the path of chosing is obscured by the lumps of permanently ensconsed and empowered interests.

Accountability requires a clear focus of responsibility - so we can “throw the bums out”.  And for that to occur we need a clear, concise system, not something that is spread across several groups as you describe.

Moreover, groups such as industry “consitutencies” deserve, at best, the ability, like anyone else to provide enlightened input.  Because they are composed of people, they should participate as people, not preferred actors with elevated authorities, a kind of internet nobility as it were.

And focused advisory bodies, such as the SSAC merely require a well defined role through which they can present their evaluation of the technical merits.  Beyond the giving of such advice, they should not have a role in the issue being decided.

I afraid that I feel that elections for a dominant portion of a reasonably small board of directors (one that takes its role seriously and directs rather than follows “staff”) is a solution that:

- Leads to better accountability

- Is more in line with existing legal structures for how private organizations are structured.

We can make bodies of internet governence work simply by following already present and familiar legal structures.

And one of those well grounded structures is a board of directors of limited size that is nominated and elected by the people, not some strange abstract privilged oligarchy of “stakeholders”, and in which the directors clearly understand that they hold the plenary powers in the organization and are ultimately repsponsible for its actions and inactions.

I was there when the ALAC sprung from minds of those who wanted to destroy public participation in ICANN.  It serves that purpose very well.  It is time to bury the ALAC, not continue it.

Brandon CS Sanders  –  Nov 14, 2006 11:43 PM

ICANNWiki has posted the final ALAC self review document at ALAC:Self_Assessment_and_Next_Steps.

We’ve also initiated the first test of Consensus Polling in the wider ICANN community.  Please feel warmly welcomed to join in to help coalesce consensus around the New gTLDs policy.

Izumi Aizu  –  Nov 26, 2006 12:24 PM

As a member of ALAC, I first like to express our thanks to Brandon, without his help ALAC could not reach the consensus on self-review. I can attest that the process was not an easy one, but by using the wiki, we could focus on the substance of “what” rather than “who said” . Of course, the result was a compromise, but it is quite a comfortable compromise, not a bitter one, that 14 out of 15 members agreed.

To answer to Karl, I would like to point out that of 200,000 registered in 2000 election, 150,000 came from one country where the government and the industry teamed up to let the large companies’ employees to participate in ICANN at-large membership. While it was not deemed as illegitimate since there was no clear rule for the election process and method, I had serious doubt about the outcome and the way it was handled. Having said that, I am not against the election per se, but it is not easy to convince all constituencies of ICANN about global election which is open, fair and trusted.
The current ALAC process is an alternative to the election, which is not the best way perhaps, but second to best I would argue.

I personally think that the current ALS/RALO/ALAC framework is far from perfect, and the regional farmework is putting additional burdons. But even so, if you look at the recent ALS applications, quite a few organizations are joining the ALS/RALO process. Please see here for all applications so far submitted.

Karl Auerbach  –  Nov 26, 2006 11:50 PM

The current “ALAC” is intendended to be an interim body - as an interim body it is empowered for one thing only, to try to get the ALAC system running.

When ICANN was required to create an Independent Review Panel, ICANN did so by establishing a formative body, not unlike the interim ALAC.  When that body missed one single deadline ICANN let the Independent Review Panel idea die.  The interim ALAC should be held to an equal obligation to get on with its job without delay.

It is quite improper for this interim body to try to hide the worldwide rejection of ICANN’s ALAC system behind yet another ICANN self-review.

As for the elections in year 2000 - yes the internet users in some Asian countries had a competition to voters. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact democracy thrives on the success of those who can organize coalitions.

ICANN’s elections in year 2000 were a success. But that success scared several of ICANN’s inner circle - and yes, ICANN does have an inner circle. The ALAC was created in response to ensure that ICANN would never again have to endure the presence of board members who do not hew to the ICANN party line, or if they do not fully agree, would at least play nice patty cake games and not try to rock the ICANN boat or assert their powers as directors.

The ALAC system is a bit of very bad theatre - while ICANN gives the Rolls Royce treatment to intellectual property and large industrial segments, ICANN tries to foist e-Aparthied onto internet users; separate and shamelessly unequal.

The ALAC does not rise to the level of second best. In fact it does not rise at all - it sinks.

The ALAC has had the benefit of several years of nurturing and access to ICANN’s checkbook. Yet in those years it has not come close to the vibrancy and size the ICANN elections reached in just a few months.

It is time for ICANN to abandon its ALAC system of village soviets and return to its original promise - that of election by the community of internet users of a dominant number of seats on ICANN’s board of directors.

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