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Why ICANN Nominating Committee Has Difficulty Finding Directors

The amount of time one spends actually working for ICANN is enormous. And that limits the people who can actually work for ICANN as directors. I say “work”, but you should know that this is not a paid work. Nope. It’s being performed for free—we dedicate our time and skills to ICANN free of charge.

Many people ask me “What is it like to be on the Board of ICANN?”

Here is my response, with some astonishing data.

From the outside it looks great—lots of travel, business class, good hotels. From the inside, lot’s of work. You travel to New Zealand—two nights on planes, and you don’t have even an extra day to see anything. Why not having an extra day? You will see below.

Let’s take a closer look at the time we spent on ICANN… The ICANN Board list has 16217 messages since I joined (June 25, 2003) until a couple of weeks ago, when I did the calculations below. The different committees I am in have the following number of mails:

Meetings Committee - 365
Audit - 234
Board Governance - 106
Board only - 142
General Assembly - 265 (since January 2006)
GAC WG - 94
ICANN- 4152 (directly related)
ICANN media - 615
ICANN other - approximately 2000
TOTAL: 24190

Or on average I received 23 messages a day. This number does not include all messages I wrote (they are in several different directories, and difficult to count).

Reading an email takes on average 5 minutes. That’s about 115 minutes/day, or 2 hours. Every day. Or 60 hours/month, which equals between 7 and 8 working days. (Note, that’s without calculating reading the different documents, sometimes hundred of pages!).

Or for one year it’s exactly 90 working days (60 hours by 12 months = 720 hours, the working day consists of 8 hours, so it makes 90). That is 18 weeks (5 working days each).

Plus the 30 days we go for the conferences (on average we spent at the conference venues 8 days, plus 2 days travel), plus 8 days for two board retreats (2 day-retreat + 2 days travel). They include Saturdays and Sundays, which in my own country Bulgaria has to be calculated twice, but I will not do it here.

Then we have the monthly conference calls—2 hours each, which adds to this another 2 working days. That’s actually 40 days, or another 8 working weeks. The total account comes to 26 (twenty six) working weeks.

Without counting the reading of the different documents we are supposed to read. E.g. the “.xxx” had about 2000 pages. Without counting all the people who we meet at different places, and they talk to us about ICANN.

And last, but not least, without counting that whatever decision you will vote, you’ll be always blamed by more than half of the people coming to the ICANN conferences.

That’s the calculation. Now, some may say that they don’t spend, or don’t need to spend on average 5 minutes per email. True. But there are emails where you have to spend 50 minutes, and there are such, which will take you a minute. That’s why on average it’s 5.

If you find an error in my calculations, please, leave a comment. Thanks.

Some comments from former ICANN directors can be seen at my blog.

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The Famous Brett Watson  –  May 19, 2006 7:51 AM

I don’t want to be overly harsh, because ICANN-bashing is getting pretty old and tired. Even so, it’s hard not to think that these wounds aren’t largely self-inflicted. By how many orders of magnitude has the task increased since Jon Postel ran IANA single-handedly? Why is it such a big job? Is work being created to fill the available time and budget in the style of Parkinson’s Law? Apropos of that, “Parkinson also proposed a rule about the efficiency of administrative councils. He defines a coefficient of inefficiency with the number of members as the main explaining variable.”

Veni Markovski  –  May 19, 2006 9:31 PM

We can talk a lot about the actual work being done.
It’s quite easy to say, “well, Jon was doing all this work alone”.
I’d agree. But then, why are you comparing apples to pears? I am not going to defend ICANN, as I am not working there. I do a lot of work for ICANN, but that’s pro-bono.
2006 is different from 1996. I can give many examples of why today the Internet can not be run as it used to be. I am sure that you are aware of all the different stakeholders who showed up in the last 10 years, and who require their part of the way the Internet is being working. If ICANN didn’t exist, it would have been created by now - that’s for sure. And it would have been with at least 50 % governmental participation. At least.

Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  May 20, 2006 2:04 PM

Veni - governments are going to have a substantial role, like it or not.  It is like that old question - “where does a 800 pound gorilla sleep?”.  Answer - “wherever it wants to” :)

But seriously they do have a role.  So - let them have it .. improve GAC processes and engage them more effectively.  And see how you can participate effectively in the WSIS process (its not all governments there, and all the governments are not Zimbabwe, China and Cuba..).

You and Joi Ito bring a certain amount of transparency into the workings of the board that’s highly appreciated.  You just dont need as much tech cred (though that’s very good to have) - as you do people skills and diplomacy in the sort of post you’re in.

Sure you’re going to get significant opposition from half or more of the people that are actually affected by any board decision

I’m not even beginning to take into account the real or imagined effect the “blogosphere” has on this process ..

But there has to be sufficiently open dialog that people can raise the same issues for discussion in ICANN, and they’d have to prefer it to simply kvetching on blogs about it, and only grudgingly accepting ICANN because the alternative is that “Robert Mugabe is going to run the Internet” .. now how short sighted is that.

The commentators who are using typical EFF (or their right wing counterparts) style “blog activism” and political lobbyist tactics in this is not going to be very productive or useful .. and those action irritates people who were once their strongest supporters. 

eg: I find myself comparing the EFF to Karl Rove, and that’s something I never imagined I’d do eight or ten years back.

Valdis Kletnieks  –  May 22, 2006 5:16 AM

I’m truly astounded that 25,000 e-mails can be sent, with as little externally visible productive work accomplished.  As a counter-example, the Linux-Kernel list averages some 300 or so pieces of mail a day, but differs in two major respects:

1) “Note that nobody reads every post in linux-kernel.  In fact, nobody who expects to have time left over to actually do any real kernel work will read even half.  Except Alan Cox, but he’s actually not human, but about a thousand gnomes working in under-ground caves in Swansea.  None of the individual gnomes read all the postings either,  they just work together really well.”

      - Linus Torvalds

2) There’s actual Linux kernel releases every once in a while.. :)

(And yes, I’m fully aware that purely political issues take a lot more e-mail exchanges to resolve than merely technical ones….  But I’m still astounded by the volume. :)

Ram Mohan  –  May 22, 2006 7:54 PM

Thanks for sharing excellent data - this is exactly the kind of information that candidates ask for and that’s not easily available.

ICANN directors have a tough road - they must conduct due diligence while being pro-bono and often having a “day job”.

Still, the role on the board helps shape dialogue and discource and direction in the tld namespace and remains important and relevant.

Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  May 23, 2006 2:06 AM

So given Valdis’ comments about kernel development, and Veni’s breakup of the time he’s got to spend doing ICANN related work

Is there any workflow management or optimization called for here, so that ICANN governance and day to day operational processes are streamlined and made a bit more efficient?

Putting all ICANN stuff on a single groupware platform (maybe online, or maybe migrating icann.org to use Lotus Notes or something similar might help, for starters [though processes, chains of command and such would have to be rationalized as well].

I use linux and thunderbird or mailx for most of my mail, but migrating to groupware still sounds like one possible way to go here, especially as you’re going to spend most of your time doing nothing but handling lots and lots of documents and passing them around for a series of edits and comments.

Veni Markovski  –  May 25, 2006 1:10 PM

actually I made some little errors. For example, the meetings last not 8 hours per day, but actually 16 hours a day. So each meeting should be multiplied by two - that is, instead of 3x8 + 2x4 (32 days), it should be 3x8x2 + 2x4x2 (64 days), or instead of 26 weeks, we’ll have 32 working weeks.

I don’t even want to go into details about the fact that these meetings include always one, and sometimes two weekends, and the days during the weekends also need to be doubled. And the fact that we sleep away from home and family…

I think that the NomCom must seriously think about the whole process, or else we’ll end up having either retired people, or academics, or people working for companies that don’t care their employees are spending a lot of time on ICANN board work.

Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  May 25, 2006 1:25 PM

Er Veni .. I’d be interested in finding out who else can do this.  On their own time and money.

You’re either very rich and socially conscious, already traveling such a lot that ICANN wont make more than a small part of your work schedule

Or you’re a retired academic

Or you are a social activist who scrimps and saves and doesnt mind the huge bite that icann takes out of your money, time, sanity etc [even if your expenses are theoretically covered, travel often enough and you’ll find yourself wondering where all your own bank balance is getting eaten away bit by bit ..]

Or your company is delighted at having you in ICANN so they foot all your bills, hire someone else to do most if not all your work for you etc.

That’s just what the nomcom is going to get, one way or the other.  Unless ICANN finds its way to giving the board members something like a liveable wage for their term of service, and requires that they take a sabbatical from their usual jobs during the time they remain on board.

[that’s a whole new can of worms of course]

Veni Markovski  –  May 25, 2006 1:49 PM

Actually, when I was applying, no one ever told me that I will have to spend half of my working time for that. If I knew, I’d have probably reconsider my willingess to help ICANN.

Oh, and I forgot - on top of the time one spends on ICANN, there are always people who are not happy with the work we do. And I constantly get blamed as, “you, ICANN”. Although I am just a director with strict term and responsibilities. Perhaps the critics should apply for the board? Or I should go to join the staff.


Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  May 25, 2006 1:52 PM

> Perhaps the critics should apply for the
> board?

And do some real work for a change? :)

> Or I should go to join the staff.

Ah, that’s an idea.

Ram Mohan  –  May 25, 2006 2:42 PM

I serve on a few non-profit and for-profit boards myself, and have a smidgeon of understanding of the time commitments that you’re speaking of (the non-profits are all pro-bono).

Two observations:
1. The Board is being asked to do too many things that do not have to do with “steering the organization”, or “maintaining fiduciary controls”, or “providing strategic direction”.  As a result, the balooning of work that all falls on the Board is untenable.

2. The Board does not have sufficient mechanisms to either push back the load, or to form special subcommittees that will digest issues and arrive at recommendations.

A corollary: with this level of work, the Board would need to be assigned full-time help from the staff side, at a sufficiently senior level.  Bereft of that assistance, Board members will have no recourse but to either slog through all the material, or to selectively ignore topics that may be strategically important but are not urgent enough.

The facts make a striking argument for changing the processes that involve the Board, rather than changing the type of people who are nominated.  Without this change, qualified candidates will step back because the workload is too intimidating.

Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  May 25, 2006 2:45 PM

Ram, please dont tell me this hasn’t yet occured to current or former board members?

Quite a few of them have years of senior management experience, some in companies that have a turnover of several million dollars, at least.

What has been done so far, and what, in your observation, is the function of the ICANN staff, and their interaction with the board?

What has been done so far to improve / streamline workflow?

etc etc.

Ram Mohan  –  May 25, 2006 2:58 PM

Suresh, it’s a good thing that several senior level people, with prior executive and administrative roles involving global business and government and law have been nominated to the board.  This is a good thing, not bad.

I do not agree that “retired folks” or “senior level people at large companies” or “academics” are bad for the board.  If it’s


them, then we have a representativeness issue.

ICANN, represented by its staff and its board deal with many issues, some of them extraordinarily delicate. Staff is receptive to input, but often smothered in work.  But - it must suck to do so much and be consistently criticized, even when you had no role in a decision - whether you are staff or a Board member.

Part of this is good - after all, you don’t need to be “invited” to participate in many things ICANN does.  We’ve all seen articulate individuals with strong opinions and avaialable time be able to make a difference in policy and other positions.

Veni Markovski  –  May 25, 2006 3:03 PM

Ram, you are right.
Here are some solutions, which already have been proposed:

1. Move the work to the committees. That will lower the number of e-mails dramatically.
2. Create web space for discussion - same result.
3. Think about reimbursing not only travel and stay, but also time - at least to some extent that will give people the opportunity to take non-paid leave from their work.
4. Staff is quite concerned with this, too, and is doing what it takes to make sure things improve.

My article was to bring the attention of the community to a fact.

Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  May 25, 2006 3:16 PM

You missed my point, Ram.  ICANN has some great people working for it on the board, now and earlier as well.

My point is simply that the entire workflow could do with some substantial amounts of improvement, including what Veni suggested ..

1. Improve workflow with wikis and groupware

2. Board and staff must evolve effective mechanisms to delegate work and process the results of such work

3. Investigate the provision of a honorarium for board members.  Not CEO type multi million dollar salaries - but something that acknowledges the time and effort they put in.  Sure, airfare and hotel stay is reimbursed but is that enough compensation?

Getting into the ICANN board seems to me like it is open season for critics to go for your throat, whatever you say or do .. kind of like what happens to Daffy Duck in that “Rabbit Season, Duck Season” cartoon.

Take all these factors into account, along with the earlier circleid post you made about finding people to nominate to ICANN.  See how many people get convinced enough to run for board elections.

Make it easy for them to function and you’ll automatically get more volunteers .. deserving candidates with more service orientedness and far fewer dilettantes / people with vested interests.

Matthew Elvey  –  May 30, 2006 7:22 AM

Given ICANN’s budget, it seems that even generous salaries and Notes for the Board and related staff would be expenses so small as to be immaterial.  ICANN can’t agree to implement even basic honoraria or groupware tools (other than mailing lists). Wow.

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