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Public Participation in ICANN: Rebuttal In Action

My Berkman colleagues John Palfrey, Clifford Chen, Sam Hwang, and Noah Eisenkraft today published an interesting study on Public Participation in ICANN.  They very kindly offered me the opportunity write a concurrent response, and I was only too happy to oblige.  The result:  The Virtues of Deliberation: A Response to “Public Participation in ICANN”

Basically, I conclude that the study has two fundamental flaws: (1) it misunderstands both the theory and the practice of ICANN’s policy-development process, and (2) it leaps from its very narrow — indeed, myopic — focus on the online message boards at to a set of sweeping (and, in my view, unwarranted) conclusions about the success or failure of public participation in ICANN. I argue that ICANN is designed to be a deliberative, not an objectively “representative”, technical policy-making body;  that its is ICANN’s Supporting Organizations, not the online message boards, that are at the heart of the policy-development process. By limiting its methodology to counting identifiably pro and con messages posted on the unverified, unauthenticated message boards, the study missed the essence of how public input and participation in ICANN actually occurs. The validity of its conclusions suffer from that rather sizeable blind spot.

The money line: “In short, concluding that the ICANN experiment in public participation has been a failure because online public forums have been a failure is like saying that television has been a failure because Cop Rock was a failure.”


2 responses to “Public Participation in ICANN: Rebuttal In Action

  1. Anonymous says:

    Andrew, I agree. ICANN would be wiser in soliciting the opinions of top experts in various fields (e.g. informed bloggers would be a start) as a deliberative body (as you write) rather than by relying or not relying on opinions written in forums populated by geeks. Nothing against the geeks, mind you – some even claim that I am one myself – but they do not represent “the public”. I have in the past written several times directly to ICANN about important domain registration issues, but there appears to be no staff to answer questions in detail or to deal with the issues raised. If ICANN wants “public participation”, then they have to listen to the voices of the people out there – and that is us. When I write an e-mail directly to ICANN on a specific topic, this is far more important to me than if I am just making a comment somewhere in cyberspace. In any case, based on my communications with ICANN, I CAN answer the question of whether there is public participation in ICANN – the answer is no.
    Andis Kaulins, LawPundit

  2. Anonymous says:

    Very good site. Thank you!