What is ICANN doing on document deadlines, public comment periods, translation, the public forum, remote participation…

by Kieren McCarthy on June 16, 2009

The Public Participation Board Committee (PPC) is holding a public meeting on Wednesday in Sydney at 9am. In order to get the most out of that session, a backgrounder documents covering the topics that the Committee has been working on has been published.

Those topics are:

Status reports

  • Document deadlines
  • Language
  • Calendar of meetings

For discussion

  • Public comment process
  • Public Forum
  • Electronic tools for participation

You can download the backgrounder document here, or read the whole thing below. Everyone is encouraged to read it and come along to the meeting to discussion how ICANN can improve its public participation.



Public meeting backgrounder

Wednesday 24 June 2009

This backgrounder document has been prepared in order to promote more efficient and effective dialogue in the limited time available for the public meeting of the Public Participation Board Committee.

The Committee is working on a range of ways to improve public participation, with the expectation that most of them will be in place in time for ICANN’s meeting in Seoul in October 2009.

The Committee also recognizes that this document will not be released within the document deadline it has sought to outline for the organization to enable effective community review before meetings.

However, in order to promote discussion and dialogue with the community on these issues and to encourage participation in the development of these changes, initial thoughts and ideas have been drawn up and are published below.

The Committee will be available on Wednesday 24 June 2009 at 9 a.m., for about 90 minutes, to discuss any aspect of these ideas and proposals, and those individual Board members on the Committee would also like to encourage community members to share their views and opinions with them directly if there is not sufficient time during that meeting or they are unable to attend.

Topics

The Committee has six main issues it is working on at the moment.

Three of them will be covered here in the form of status updates, and they are:

• Document deadlines
• Language
• Calendar of meetings

And the other three will be specific topics of discussion at the public meeting:

• Public comment process
• Public Forum
• Electronic tools for participation

Each is coverered individually below, in this order.

Document Deadlines – Status Update

The issue of document deadlines, i.e. introducing a cut-off date for the production of documents prior to ICANN international public meetings, was raised at the Committee’s previous meeting in Mexico City.

The idea having met with unanimous approval, the Committee moved forward, proposing a specific resolution to the whole Board at its May meeting.

As a result, the Board approved the introduction of two deadlines for Sydney, and charged the Public Participation Committee with developing a fuller policy in time for the Seoul meeting in October 2009.

The relevant resolutions can be found at: http://www.icann.org/en/minutes/prelim-report-21may09.htm , point 8).

Below is a quick summary of the feedback received on this point from the Mexico City meeting. Underneath that is an expanded explanation of document deadlines taken from Committee documents used in arriving at the Board-approved deadlines.

Feedback from Mexico City:

1. Support for idea of document deadlines (Note: This is now instituted)
2. But need to communicate that very clearly to SOs and ACs (Note: we hope to achieve that in Sydney)
3. May be useful to produce zip file of all documents for a meeting (Note: something that will be considered for the Seoul meeting as part of the development of an operational policy)
4. Need agenda and presentations earlier (Note: Again, something that will be considered as part of the operational policy)

Excerpt from Committee working documents:

The need for document deadlines

It has long been a complaint of the community that documents are published too late prior to an international public meeting for there to be full consideration of their contents before the meeting starts.

The Committee recognizes the improvements that ICANN staff has made in this respect and also notes that many documents require the input and review of a significant number of people, both staff and community members, which can make early publication of documents difficult.

Nonetheless, due to the strength of feeling expressed by the community on this issue and the fact that it is clear best practice to provide documents sufficiently far ahead of a meeting for their contents to be properly and fully digested, the Committee is making a series of firm recommendations on document deadlines.

It is our belief that these deadlines will make possible greater and more effective participation within ICANN processes.

Community feedback

At the Committee’s public meeting in Mexico City, there was widespread support for the production of document deadlines prior to international public meetings.

Among those who specifically supported the idea were: Chuck Gomes of VeriSign; Ayesha Hassan of the International Chamber of Commerce; Marilyn Cade, a member of ICANN’s President’s Strategy Committee; Zahid Jamil, a GNSO Councillor; and ICANN’s President and CEO, Paul Twomey.

ICANN CEO Paul Twomey publicly stated his comfort with the Board Committee for Public Participation recommending to the Board deadlines for the future production of documents for international public meetings.

The issue of document deadlines was also raised by the Governmental Advisory Committee both during its meetings in Mexico City and formally in its communiqué.

The communiqué states: “In order to facilitate better GAC input to ICANN policy making, the GAC proposes that all documents to be considered at ICANN meetings, be posted not less than 15 working days before the meeting. In the event that this is not possible, the GAC may need to defer discussion until the subsequent meeting.”

In light of this community feedback, the Committee is recommending to the Board in this memorandum the introduction of two document deadlines for international public meetings. A 15-working-day deadline should stand for documents intended for GAC review and for final approval by any of the Advisory Committee or Supporting Organization councils, and a 10-working-day deadline for all other documents intending to be provided to the community.

The Committee checked on the definition and intent of “working days” with General Counsel and was informed that the wording referred to week days i.e. Monday to Friday, and that public holidays were not exempt i.e. they are counted as one of the working days.

Sydney and beyond

The system outlined above provides the following deadlines for the Sydney meeting:

• All documents: Monday 8 June 2009, 07:00 UTC
• GAC and final approval documents: Monday 1 June 2009, 07:00 UTC

As this process started only recently, it is expected that a significant number of documents will not meet the deadline set for Sydney. Requesting explanations for late documents, however, should serve to inform the community and staff about the Board’s intentions, and inform the Board about the processes behind the production of documents.

If adopted prior to Sydney, the deadlines should have a significant impact by the time of the Seoul meeting in October, and if successfully implemented and adopted, represent a norm for the meeting in Africa in March 2010.

The need to communicate with ACs and SOs

The Committee was advised by a number of Board members, staff members and members of the community that document deadlines will need to be clearly communicated to the Advisory Committees and Supporting Organizations.

Most of the work produced by ICANN staff for meetings is community-driven and in many cases progression on documents is reliant on review by one or several advisory committees or supporting organizations. As such, it will be crucial that deadlines be clearly communicated, and their implications fully understood, by the ACs and SOs before becoming effective across the organization.

It will be necessary in many cases for community members and staff to set a series of deadlines over a number of months in order to reach the main meeting document deadline.

Adequate time and consideration will therefore need to be given to ensure that the document deadlines are seen as a valuable assistance rather than being perceived as an unreasonable expectation or an attempt to rush community deliberations.

Exceptions, where warranted.

The Committee acknowledges that there will be occasional exceptions to these deadlines, particularly for the first few meetings after they are adopted. In some cases it is not possible to prepare documents in time, either because of the last-minute nature of the subject or because of unforeseen or unavoidable delays.

However, it is the Committee’s position that these should be exceptions that become increasingly rare over time. Furthermore, in order to understand the various factors that may contribute to late document publication, the Committee will be asking for a full explanation from the relevant staff member for each and every document that is produced late, starting at the Sydney meeting in June 2009.

Exception explanations should be provided to the Committee a minimum of five working days before the first Committee meeting that follows the relevant international public meeting (the Committee’s first meeting after Sydney is held on Tuesday 21 July, so all explanations should be provided to the Committee before Tuesday 14 July).

Going forward

The Committee recognizes that in the production of an operational policy, a wide range of issues need to be reviewed, because of the impact that document deadlines are liable to have.

As such, a small and incomplete list of questions are produced below for discussion:

• What does the deadline apply to? Every document? What about agendas and presentations?
• Is a single 15-working-day deadline the right approach and figure?
• What implications does a deadline have (less time for work between meeting, for example)?
• How do we deal with exceptions?

Language – Status Update

The issue of language, with respect to both the use of terminology and the provision of materials in languages other than English – is something that the Committee continues to review and work on.

With respect to the translation and interpretation provided by ICANN as an organization: the amount, timeliness and quality of both has increased significantly over the past two years and continues to improve. The organization now has a full-time Translations Manager, we are moving toward a multilingual website, and have introduced a new system for community-requested translations.

Additionally, we will soon have new translation software at the back-end and this may soon enable ICANN to give the community a way to directly input translations into our system. ICANN also provided the online Question Box – where any community member is able to ask the Board a specific question – in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Spanish and Russian – for the Sydney meeting.

Nevertheless, the issue of translation remains a barrier to participation for a global audience and the Committee will continue to address how, organizationally, ICANN can improve.

Feedback from Mexico

• Attendees need to be able to speak and express themselves in different languages. (Note: Interpretation continues to be provided in all the main sessions and many of the smaller sessions when it is requested. We do note however that the use of headsets remains limited, raising questions about the level of demand for interpretation, and the costs involved.)

• Overuse of acronyms and lingo (Note: Since ICANN’s work typically concerns very specific issues with the domain name system, it is inevitable that a certain degree of lingo will be used. However to the extent that the use of such languages impedes effectives participation, the Committee will continue to examine ways to encourage communication in plain English.

• Translation expensive: so may only need translation of executive summaries. (Note: The Committee will shortly be addressing how best to provide executive summaries of all ICANN documents and the use of plain English as far as possible will be a key component of that process.)


Going forward:

• A new announcements process being developed will enable routine translation of announcements and public comment periods
• A multilingual front page – so people can find information in their language – is under development
• Increased translation. The Translations Manager has been very effective in reducing translation costs so that more translation is possible within the same budget. The translation budget will increase for FY2010; future increases will likely depend on evidence of community demand.
• ICANN is pioneering the use of interactive video transcripts in multiple languages so recordings of ICANN’s work (almost all of which is carried out in English) will be accessible to speakers of other languages.

Possible issues for discussion:

• A very high percentage of the ICANN community remains English-speaking: is this simply the reality of the work ICANN undertakes, or is use of language self-selecting participants?
• Does ICANN’s approach favor those from particular cultures? For example, the use of open microphones and email lists for raising and discussing issues.
• How does ICANN strike the balance between plain language and the fact that much of its work is quite technical in nature?

Calendar of Meetings – Status Update

In deciding on precise meeting dates for the future, ICANN gives careful consideration to international and religious holidays, as well as avoiding overlap with other large conferences, while allowing for adequate time between ICANN Meetings.

The dates for 2010 meetings have already been fixed and the Committee is reviewing the dates for 2011, 2012 and 2013. Staff prepared a calendar of other events occuring through those years in order to help guide and explain the dates put forward.

The Committee is publishing that document so the community has an opportunity to highlight any events or dates that may have been overlooked.

The recommended dates for the 2011-13 are given below:

2011

13-18 March
19-24 June
09-14 October

2012

11-16 March
24-29 June
14-19 October

2013

07-12 April
14-19 July
17-22 November

Possible issues for discussion:

• Have any important dates or holidays been missed that would require review of the above dates?

Public comment process – For discussion

The public comment process – where the community is invited to review and comment on all substantive work that ICANN produces – is a crucial element of the way the organization works and helps ensure both transparency and accountability in its processes.

Despite ongoing improvements to the public comments system – including the provision of a public comment page and summary/analyses of all comments to individual periods – overall it still remains far from optimal.

Staff are currently reviewing three new software solutions that would greatly improve the comment process, and the Committee will soon examine ways to provide executive summaries for most documents, but there remain issues with the public comment process that needs to be addressed by the whole community in order to make the process more effective.

The issues:

• Public comment overload.

ICANN as a whole is producing more comment periods than ever before, leading some to complain of overload and an inability to keep track.

The problem is particularly acute close to ICANN international public meetings. Last month (May 2009), no less than 12 comment periods were opened; in June, so far, there have been a further six. At any given time, an average of eight comment periods open for review.

Does the community believe this is the most effective way for ICANN to do its business while retaining openness and accountability? Are there alternative solutions?

Should there be prescribed spacing out of comment periods? Should comment periods be longer to give more time to respond? Are there some issues or documents that do not need to go through the formal comment system?

• Approach taken.

Currently, all public comment periods are announced on the front page of the ICANN site, and all open and recently closed comment periods are placed on a dedicated public comment page, linked to several times on the front page of ICANN’s main website.

Nevertheless, ICANN continues to receive, on average, under 20 comments per comment period. And if you discount the very large comment periods (Applicant Guidebook versions), there are, on average, just over seven comments per comment period.

Is this a sufficient response to publicly posted documents? Are people being made sufficiently aware of the comment process? Should there be required outreach to identified affected stakeholders?

Is it possible to effectively participate in a comment period? For example, do large documents posted with an email address for comments hinder effective participation? If so, what changes could be made? Would advance notice of comment periods have an impact? Would online polling of particular questions be effective or misleading?

• Feedback.

Every person sending in a comment receives receipt of that comment along with an explanation of ways in which to participate within ICANN’s processes. But, typically, there are no more targeted updates after that point.

Should respondents be kept up-to-date with progress of the particular area? How does ICANN show the impact of public comments on progress of an issue? Should there be required discussion of comment summaries when the topic is discussed next by the relevant group?

• Rules and procedures.

Those within the community know and expect that all revised versions of documents will be put out for public comment for, typically, 30 days. There are also a set of consultation principles that ICANN abides by (http://www.icann.org/en/accountability/frameworks-principles/community.htm#d ).

However, those are very few stated rules and procedures attached to comment periods. Should there be? For example, who may start a comment period, how it is formatted, which topics require public comment and which do not, how are late comments dealt with, and so on.

The Committee wants to review this crucial process to make sure it is meeting both the organization’s and the community’s needs.

Public Forum – For discussion

The public forum session typically held on Thursday at ICANN’s international public meetings is a crucial point of participation for the community. Anyone may put a question directly to the Board in the long open microphone session.

For Mexico City and for Sydney, there has also been the option to ask a question through an online Question Box – allowing for those that are not physically at the meeting or who prefer not to publicly address the whole room to have their say.

However, the Committee feels that the public forum is not fulfilling its desired purpose which is to act as a place where there can be open and active dialogue between the community and the Board.

The Committee will be recommending a number of changes in the format of the public forum in an experiment and in an effort to improve the session.

Those changes reflect closely what the Committee was told by the community itself at the Committee’s public meeting in Mexico City, namely:

• That the public forum is dominated each time by the same few individuals
• That the current format is not effective at encouraging discussion on particular topic but rather encourages a series of unrelated statements to be read out

The Committee has also recognized that:

• There is not enough two-way interaction between Board and community
• The opportunity for effective remote participation is not being used well
• The Board should be seen to be paying more attention to the room

Suggestions for change to public forum:

• Have the start of forum led by questions sent in remotely (and also, where possible, to give remote participants priority over those in the room)
• Have two microphones and two queues – one for new topics, one for comment on topic currently being discussed.
• Give precedence to those who have not asked a question in a public forum before
• Request that Board members engage more with the room and spend less time looking at their laptop screens


Other feedback from Mexico City:

• Use of colored cards may be useful (Note: The Committee remains uncertain whether this would be a useful system to introduce.)
• Announce issues to be discussed on website earlier (Note: The Committee wonder how effective this would actually be to pulling people into the forum.)

Excerpt from Committee working documents:

This memo represents the deliberations of the Committee with respect to the Public Forum held at the most recent ICANN meeting in Mexico City, as well as the previous international public meetings in Cairo and Paris.

1. Purpose

What is the public forum appropriate for and what is it not appropriate for?

Many hours are given over to the public forum/open microphone at each ICANN meeting and while its purpose is clear – to give the community a clear voice to raise questions or concerns – it is not clear that that purpose is being effectively realized with the current arrangements.

Too often, the public forum is not used as a forum to ask questions but rather as a way for individuals to make statements on the record. This greatly reduces the interactive nature of the forum and also consumes considerable time.

Also, the statements or views expressed are frequently the summation of views already expressed in a number of different fora during the previous days of the meeting.

There needs to be a trade-off between the one-way provision of (often repetitious) information to the Board and a more interactive two-way dialogue between Board and community. It may be worth exploring different avenues for the provision of official statements.

One suggestion is a second standing microphone which is used only for follow-up questions and statements on the particular topic currently being discussed.

2. Participants

It is notable that among approximately 1,200 attendees that the public forum/open microphone is dominated by a very small number of the same individuals at each meeting. The Committee would like to see broader and wider participation of the community during the public forum.

One suggestion put forward during the Board’s own session in Mexico City, and supported by some Committee members, is to reserve the start of the public forum for those that have not asked a question before in the public forum.

3. Remote Participation

The forum is an ideal venue for effective remote participation. However it needs to be recognized that effective remote participation can only be achieved if remote participants are given priority over those physically present.

The Committee wonders whether to recommend that the first hour of the public forum (or appropriate time period) is given over entirely to remote participants. It may be possible to take a number of questions provided by remote participants as the start point for further discussion within the room.

4. Board interaction

It is a consistent complaint that the Board does not interact sufficiently with the community during the public forum. In particular the sight of Board members on stage peering at open laptops rather than looking at the audience has been identified as a source of some consternation.

From the Board’s perspective there are two main issues in this respect. Firstly, much of the information is one-way – with Board members expected to listen to several hours of position statements. Secondly, during the public forum much of the flow of information – which is particularly high due to the session’s nature – is done electronically.

Despite that situation however, the Committee feels that all Board members on stage should demonstrate their attention to the debate during these public discussions. Glancing at the scribe feed on the screens in front of them is understandable, even advisable, but only modest attention should be paid to chat and email while the public forum is going on.

Electronic tools for participation – For discussion

Since ICANN is an Internet organization, it has always sought ways to use the Internet’s unique ability to communicate, to achieve effective participation.

Typically, such participation is carried out in two ways: firstly, through the provision and sharing of information on ICANN’s main website; and secondly, through remote participation tools while a physical meeting is going on.

The Committee is taking a particular interest in the use of electronic tools for remote participation, since it believes effective remote participation is essential to ICANN’s future and also represents significant future cost savings. As such, it recommended to the Board at its meeting in May that the organization take a more formal approach to determining what systems may be best suited to public participation in the context of ICANN.

The Committee’s Charter states that it should identify and encourage the development of effective tools, strategies, and methods for Public Participation activities, and it also agrees with the Chairman’s publicly stated view that ICANN should become a world leader in remote participation.

With this in mind, the Committee is working with staff to assess the suitability for use and best practices for remote participation tools, technologies and approaches in an effort to enable the community to enable greater participation (while also accounting for remote participation capabilities in developing countries).

Possible issues for discussion:

• What tools that ICANN currently uses are most effective, and which are least effective?
• Are there limits to what can be achieved through remote participation? If so, what are they?
• What type of tools does ICANN not currently use that might be useful?
• How can we foster participation from people in countries and regions with limited technical tools (access, connectivity, bandwidth, cost…)?
• What improvements could be made to existing systems?
• Will remote participation become more or less important over time?

Website usability study

ICANN’s website is the main entry point for the community to follow the work of the organization, but it remains far from optimal.

The Committee notes, and will follow with particular interest, a usability study that staff are carrying out with respect to the ICANN.org website where the community is being encouraged to provide its views on the website and where it can be adjusted or improved.

The Committee encourages all community members to fill in the online survey form opened prior to the Sydney meeting to gather information, and would like to discuss input into that process, the issues that people have with the current website.

Possible issues for discussion:

• What do people expect from the ICANN.org website?
• How easy is the navigation on the site?
• What features would be useful on the website?

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