ICANN leadership positions

by Maria on March 11, 2011

I’m a member of the 2011 Nominating Committee which appoints several Board director and committee positions at ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names & Numbers). Funnily enough, when I was still on staff at ICANN, one of my last tasks was to support the 2009 committee, so though I’m a new member I’ve actually been through a cycle already. Our job is to attract and then sort through applications for positions doing unpaid work on fairly gritty issues in the technical coordination of the Internet’s naming & numbering systems.

So far, there are about 35 applications for 8 open positions. Half of them have applied to be Board Directors. None – not a single one – is from a woman. I have been told this is at least partly because previous nomcoms have disproportionately appointed men, discouraging women from applying. A propos of the thread below on the tiny number of women appointed to the new Irish cabinet, and their ghettoization in family-oriented ministries, I can only say this year’s nomcom is taking this criticism to heart. All other things being equal, we can only appoint women if they apply. There’s also a process to nominate a third person – you nominate, we contact them and ask if they want to go forward.

We’re participating in ICANN’s San Francisco meeting next week to rally troops and encourage people to apply for these positions, as well as to shine a bit of light on how the nomcom works. It’s been criticised – fairly, I believe – for being more secretive than is necessary, and this year’s committee is keen to open things up more. Nomcom is one of those highly imperfect processes that’s like democracy insofar as it’s the worst possible method to appoint directors and councillors, except for all the other methods. (The Internet election of ICANN Board directors you still hear some people banging on about almost a decade later was captured by the employees of a certain Japanese conglomerate – not quite the global demos we had hoped for.)

The nomcom’s rallying cry; “Apply Now to Join the ICANN Board, the Councils of GNSO and ccNSO, and the ALAC, won’t mean much to people not steeped in the depths of Internet governance. But if any CT readers are interested by the basic pitch and would like to know more, please ping me and I’ll happily explain.

I must say up front the positions are unpaid and take up more time than most people expect, much of it on anti-socially timed conference calls. But it can be rewarding in personal and professional terms to be involved in setting the policy for the Internet. I’ve been put on the nomcom by the non-commercial stakeholders, i.e. the nonprofit community, and I’m especially keen to attract people from that world.

People who get put on ICANN’s decision-making bodies would start work in December 2011, and be plunged into the nitty gritty of:

– the politics and practicalities of internationalising the domain space (e.g. Cyrillic domain names). For a broad intro to this topic, have a listen to an interview I did on Chicago Public Radio last year; – new top level domains (dot GAY, dot BERLIN and the like) and what if any veto role governments should have in them; – the ongoing tussle between the US government and the rest of the world, and between governments and everyone else on who should control the Internet.

The open positions this year are:

Two Board Directors
Three At-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC) representatives (one each from the Africa; Asia/Australia/Pacific; and Latin America/Caribbean regions)
Two councillors of the Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO)
One councillor of the Country-Code Names Supporting Organization (ccNSO)

So, please visit the nomcom page for more info, or ping me in the comments if you’d like to know more.



Anne-Rachel Inne 03.11.11 at 5:18 pm


I hope you get at least one woman!!! I have sent the threads to my network of ladies in the field of ICTs and outside. As you say, it is a combination of other NomComs not choosing women but also the amount of voluntary time required… we all know that Ladies tend to have ‘two jobs’ and a third one is just too much for quite a few of them. One said she may go for At Large two days ago so I hope they rally up in the end. Best. ar


Sumana Harihareswara 03.11.11 at 5:42 pm

Can you speak to what kind of experience or credentials you’d expect to see in a candidate?


Maria 03.11.11 at 5:43 pm

Thanks a million, Anne Rachel!


Maria 03.11.11 at 6:14 pm

Hi Sumana,

Yes indeed. The formal criteria are here, and you’ll see there’s some variety between the positions.
Informally, my personal take on what the committee should look for:

For Board Directors, pretty senior players, people who know their way around an international board room or political process. There’s some difference of opinion on how much technical expertise is required and whether it is sufficiently provided by the technical liaisons appointed to the board via other processes. I personally think the ball is swinging toward the heavy political/business/NGO hitters, but who have professional exposure to ICTs. Last year’s appointment of former MEP Erika Mann is widely seen as a good choice in this category.

On the GNSO and ccNSO positions, there’s a tendency to pick people who have some track record and experience within the Internet technical and policy community, as these committees really delve into the detail of a more defined set of policy & coordination issues than the Board does. In the past few years the GNSO appointments have aimed to put people in who can glue the highly divisive constituencies and now houses together. On the ccNSO side, I’ve observed appointments that try to introduce expertise or a point of view that may be a complement to the country code operators. As you can probably tell, both these aims – GNSO and ccNSO – are more easily seen in the rearview mirror than a terribly useful guide to applicants.

On the ALAC side, the geographic requirements are absolute, and then it’s a question of people who can best articulate the interests of Internet users and will be useful and credible committee members.

These are all my personal views, of course, but I don’t think they would be considered strange or unusual. One other thing I should say is that, typically, ‘everyone wants to be a Board Director’, and most people’s chances of success are far greater if they pick another position, albeit that they are suited for and can add a lot to.

(I’ll never forget the time when, as the policy support person for the GNSO, I did on-boarding for a newly appointed councillor who had thought they were appointed to the Board.)

The final criterion accepted by most nomcoms is geography, i.e. striking a global balance. This is probably not a great year to be a European who wants to be a Board Director, since last year’s nomcom put two on. That said, never say never. I will also say I’ve heard from quite a few people that the Board suffers from having lost and not replaced some very strong women Directors. That is very much in my mind right now, during the outreach phase where we’re trying to attract strong applicants.

I should have mentioned earlier that the deadline for applicants is 4 April 2011.


jim 03.11.11 at 10:49 pm

Shortly after I retired, Michael Froomkin put a similar post on his blog and I looked into it. My conclusion then was that these positions really did entail a lot of work — much more than the 12 hours a month promised, if one actually wanted to be effective. This might be OK for someone whose employer was willing to release him/her for such service, or for a freelance who needed the experience and exposure, but it seemed more than I was willing to commit for.

The other barrier was the application process itself. I’ve seen simpler academic application processes. I understand that a complex application process acts as a primary screen — if people aren’t that interested, they won’t push through — and thus reduces the applications you have to go through. But you may be putting people off applying that you’d like to consider.


Maria 03.15.11 at 5:42 pm

Hi Jim,

Sorry for the delay responding to you – mixture of my traveling and some outage with our site’s host.

Re. the application process, I’m not sure when you last looked into it, but it currently involves one detailed application form (‘statement of interest) and 2 personal references. AFAIK, you just need to submit the references’ names, not even necessarily the note of reference itself, at the beginning of the process. We chase up references later on. It’s quite time consuming to fill in the form. I would say it asks for more info than your average job application, but it’s not disproportionate when you think these are pretty responsible positions people are applying for. So, I’d say it’s not excessive and it’s relatively straightforward, involving one submission and being available for possible follow up phone calls or an interview.

Re. your concerns about the time commitment for successful appointees – absolutely, it’s long been understood that effective participation requires more time than we used to advertise. Right now, the estimate given on our marketing materials is 12 – 50 hours per month depending on the role, a much more realistic figure. It is a big ask, but we’re pretty up front about it.

Who can afford to volunteer this much time? Agreed, the profile includes consultants, people whose employers can offer up some time (e.g. from the noncommercial side EFF or EPIC), and, yes, retired people. So, please do give it some thought and email me at maria dot farrell at gmail dot com if you want to chat.

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