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At-Large Summit Briefing Material

Accountability and Transparency

19 February 2009

Introductory Text

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

ICANN Accountability and Transparency

What is the ICANN Commitment to Accountability and Transparency?

The credibility and operational legitimacy of ICANN’s multi-stakeholder governance model depends on the widest possible engagement of the Internet community. As a result, ICANN follows a bottom-up model of policy development and relies heavily on consensus decisions from its stakeholders. For this model to operate effectively, ICANN needs to encourage participation, instill trust, make information accessible, and have sound dispute and review mechanisms. Transparency and accountability are the foundations that support these elements in the operating model.

ICANN’s ability to work in a transparent, accountable manner, whether in matters of governance, policy-making, information sharing, financial stewardship or other issues, is critical to on-going stakeholder trust in the organization. ICANN’s commitment to accountability and transparency is captured in the organization’s bylaws, which require the organization to operate in an open and transparent manner to the maximum extent feasible while applying these important attributes to the policy development process and remaining accountable to the Internet community.

How Does ICANN Assess Its Efforts to Assure Transparency and Accountability?

In March 2007, ICANN released an independent review of its transparency and accountability structures and practices. Conducted by One World Trust (OWT), the review concluded that ICANN is a very transparent organization, providing large quantities of information through its website (see The OWT review found the overall level of transparency of the ICANN Board to be high and indicated that the organization maintains a robust approach to complaint handling and internal oversight. The report contained an action plan with 39 recommendations intended to improve further standards of accountability and transparency within ICANN, and ICANN accepted the bulk of the OWT recommendations. Later in 2007, ICANN issued a request for public comment on its performance in the area of transparency and accountability.

For its part, ICANN can claim a lengthy list of initiatives undertaken to foster its bottom-up decision-making process and multi-stakeholder model, as well as to support its commitment to transparent, accountable operations. In particular, in January 2008, the organization published Frameworks and Principles for Accountability and Transparency (hereinafter “Frameworks document”), which spells out ICANN’s information disclosure policy.

The Frameworks document begins by recognizing that ICANN is in many ways a unique organization - an international non-profit corporation, accountable as a corporation, but acting as a public trust. From a structural point of view, the organization combines multiple stakeholders, including businesses, governments, international treaty organizations and other interested parties. With this multi-layered composition in mind, the Framework identifies three levels of accountability:

  • Public sphere accountability which deals with mechanisms for assuring stakeholders that ICANN has behaved responsibly, particularly with respect to process transparency, information disclosure, reconsideration of decisions and audit of procedures and standards;
  • Corporate and legal accountability which covers the obligations that ICANN has through the U.S. state and federal legal systems and under its bylaws; and
  • Participating community accountability that ensures that the Board and executive perform functions in line with the wishes and expectations of the ICANN community. ICANN does not have members in the legal sense, allowing the organization to remain accountable to the public rather than to a particular member or group of members. Although Supporting Organizations and other bodies elect individuals to the ICANN Board of Directors, once elected directors are expected to serve the Internet community’s interests in its entirety. A similar expectation of community-wide service applies to a director’s performance of his or her fiduciary responsibilities and to that person’s compliance with other legal obligations.

The ICANN commitment to accountability and transparency extends far beyond publication of the Framework document. The organization publishes monthly newsletters and has extensive reports on all ICANN meetings. Other steps to enhance transparency and accountability include an improved public comments forum, posting of all inbound and outbound correspondence, improved extensive Board minutes, and transcription and archiving of public meeting links.

Is ICANN Transparency and Accountability an On-Going Concern?

Notwithstanding its commitment to operate in a transparent and accountable manner, some in the ICANN community still question whether existing ICANN structures, procedures and mechanisms allow the organization to fully realize its transparency and accountability goals. In particular, critics ask whether sufficient “sunlight” penetrates to the meetings, documents and activities of all ICANN decision-making bodies. Some perceive information disclosure as an on-going challenge for the organization, with improvement needed in several areas such as accessibility, information consistency and consistent compliance of information release. Critics question the length of time the public is given to comment on complicated policy issues as well as the absence of insight into how ICANN intends to use such commentary to inform policy development

While ICANN holds itself accountable to the State of California (where it is incorporated) and to the U.S. Government (under whose agreement it operates), critics question whether such accountability is sufficient, particularly given the global nature of the Internet and the far-flung interests of the ICANN community. Others question the absence of adequate checks and balances on ICANN Board decisions and have suggested approaches that would expand the ability of stakeholders to challenge such decisions. With expanded financial resources, others have said they would like to see the expansion of financial oversight and more timely release of financial audits of the organization.

As part of ICANN’s ongoing commitment to its evolution and improvement, the Board approved a comprehensive plan for organizational reviews of ICANN’s structures, as well as of the Board. As of this writing, independent evaluators have reviewed most of ICANN’s structures and these reviews, along with extensive public input, form the basis for improvement initiatives approved by the Board and implemented by ICANN’s structures. Many of these initiatives contain important upgrades that support transparency and accountability. More information can be found at

What are the Next Steps?

ICANN remains fully cognizant of both its on-going commitment to accountability and transparency as well as the on-going need to improve its performance in these areas. The organization has made such improvements part of its Improving Institutional Confidence Consultation effort. A special Transition Action Plan, released in September 2008, makes strengthening ICANN accountability to its community one of five key initiatives (see

Want to Learn More?

Read the ICANN Accountability and Transparency Frameworks and Principles here - -and review the external reviewer’s report on transparency and accountability