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 forum.icann.org 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.”