A Short Summary of At-Large Participation Mechanisms
By the Staff of ICANN
This document was produced by the Staff of ICANN for information of At-Large Summit participants to provide basic information on some of the main subjects being considered during the Summit meetiings.
[End of Introduction]
At-Large Summit Briefing Note
At-Large Community Engagement
Ensuring that the voice of the individual Internet user is heard is a cornerstone of the bottom-up, consensus-based policy development architecture of ICANN. This paper is a basic introduction to the structure of and processes available to individual Internet users (known within ICANN as the “At-Large community”) in ICANN’s policy development activities.
Every individual Internet user has a stake in a stable, secure and reliable Internet. With over 1.4 billion Internet users worldwide, creating the structures capable of representing this vast community in a manner that is transparent, fair and open to input from all is a formidable challenge. Yet seeking broad, informed public participation is an ICANN core value and providing a basis for representation of individual user interests is the role of the at-large community.
Finding appropriate mechanisms for conducting this worldwide dialogue is a constant challenge. This paper discusses the current means and future prospects of maintaining a consistent and effective level of At-Large engagement within ICANN.
What Are the Current Participatory Structures that Allow Individual Internet Users To Participate in ICANN Policy?
To understand the challenges of representing the At-Large community in the ICANN policy development process, one must start with an understanding of the existing structures for participation.
At-Large Structures: The At-Large community is geographically dispersed, culturally and politically diverse, multilingual, and it is composed of individuals holding many Internet policy interests. More than 100 groups representing the views of individual Internet users are currently recognized and active in ICANN from around the world. Termed “At-Large Structures” (“ALSes”), such groups organize at the local or issue level. This means that the individuals in a given ALS may share a common geographic area or common interest in an Internet-related issue, such as civil society, consumer protection, intellectual property treatment or information security.
At-Large Structures are the focal point for information sharing between individuals and ICANN. An ALS is a self-organizing and self-funded group, using Internet-based mechanisms to facilitate group member discussion and participation. Those interested in forming an ALS can apply to ICANN to be certified.
Regional At-Large Organizations: Just as individual Internet users participate in ICANN through ALSes, the At-Large Structures themselves participate through Regional At-Large Organizations (RALOs). Within their respective regions, RALOs manage outreach to the At-Large community and public involvement with ICANN. There is one RALO in each of the five ICANN Bylaw-mandated Geographic Regions: Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America/Caribbean Islands, and North America. Each RALO’s ALS members elect two individuals to serve on the international At-Large Advisory Committee (“ALAC”) (an additional five individuals are selected by the ICANN Nominating Committee).
The At-Large Advisory Committee: The key channel through which individual Internet users (the At-Large community) make their voices heard on ICANN policy issues is the 15-member At-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC), one of several Advisory Committees to the ICANN Board of Directors.
It is the mandate of the ALAC to consider issues from the perspective of its various user groups (ALSes and RALOs) and provide advice to the ICANN Board. Among its many activities, the ALAC (1) works with RALOs to keep the Internet community informed on significant ICANN news and its policy development process, (2) promotes outreach activities, (3) develops information and education programs, (4) publicizes and analyzes ICANN policies and decisions and their regional impacts and (5) provides advice to various ICANN policy-making organizations. Formal ALAC advice is developed with the involvement and active input of the RALOs and the ALS representatives worldwide. Using a bottom-up process to form such advice is a challenge, both in terms of time and energy for volunteers.
What is Travel Support and Why Is it So Important?
Significant questions have arisen as to the ability of the At-Large community to truly engage with ICANN and represent the interests of Internet users in the ICANN policy development process. Perhaps of most immediate concern is the ability of the At-Large community to participate in ICANN’s face-to-face meetings and the extent to which ICANN should provide the financial resources necessary to conduct such travel.
An extensive consultation on travel support has been underway since late 2007, with draft proposals posted for public comment in June 2008 and, following a comment period, a revised community travel support procedure issued in August 2008. With the exception of an increased level of travel support provided to allow ALS representatives to attend the At-Large Summit in Paris, the procedure calls for support in concert with that level provided to other ICANN organizations (see http://www.icann.org/en/announcements/announcement-13aug08-en.htm). The ICANN Travel Support Procedure is described at http://www.icann.org/en/topics/travel-support/revised-procedure-11aug08-en.htm
The ability to participate face-to-face in policy discussions adds to (1) information sharing; (2) the ability to pursue questions at length and to place ideas into a fuller context; (3) the development of mutual understandings; (4) the creation of useful working relationships and (5) the expansion of overall productivity. Of course, there is not an unlimited source of funding to support travel support, and it has frequently been said that individual Internet users are not the only members of the ICANN community participant that need support to participate in-person in ICANN activities.
Further, it should be noted that, ultimately, ICANN’s policy-making processes are conducted online to ensure global access and participation. ICANN continues to make improvements in its online collaboration and information sharing tools, as well as in the remote participation tools used for ICANN meetings to provide widespread participation without the need to attend a meeting in person. Additionally, teleconferencing is a cost-saving alternative to personal travel, but its detractors point to deficiencies, particularly when simultaneous interpretation is often required for non English-fluent community members to participate on any basis of equality.
Developing a single travel policy that reflects ICANN’s commitment to inclusiveness, transparency and fairness is by no means a simple matter. While the At-Large community feels that its travel support requirements are uniquely its own, others point out that a common travel policy should not advantage one group over another and that doing so could ultimately compromise the independence of the organization.
What Are Other Issues That Affect Community Engagement?
The At-Large community is by definition multifaceted, adding significantly to the job of defining, from the bottom-up, a common set of interests and a common agenda. Given this diverse scope and broad range, the At-Large community often finds it difficult to coalesce around policy positions in the standard ICANN 30-day window for comments
Translation of ICANN documents, background materials and policy discussions is also an essential component of the bottom-up policy development model. The At-Large website currently supports six UN recognized languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. Non-English language content is regularly being augmented, but it is still a fraction of what is available in English only.
The At-Large community recognizes that the size and scope of the Internet community makes participation and engagement on-going challenges. Current At-Large structures may not meet the need of current and future Internet users. Engagement means assuring on-going outreach to encourage formation of new structures and new participants, and attracting ALSes from countries not presently represented, and from more user communities. Given this range of issues impacting at-large community engagement, the ICANN Board of Directors has convened a special subcommittee on participation.
Want to Learn More?
Visit the At-Large Community on the web at http://www.atlarge.icann.org/ for more information, to learn about supporting structures, and to get involved.
Thank you for your interest and participation.