I’ve recently been appointed by the NonCommercial Users’ Constituency to ICANN’s Nominating Committee. The job of the committee this year is to appoint two Board Directors, three members of the At Large Advisory Committee, two GNSO Councillors and one ccNSO Councillor. This year’s committee, chaired by Adam Peake, has decided to grab the transparency bull by the horns and set up its own blog.
Over the years, NomCom has been criticised for being too secretive about what it does. Picking Board Directors and other key leadership positions is a touchy business. People send in very detailed applications for these roles and are assessed by an appointed committee of their peers. It’s not surprising that the community wants privacy for applicants, on one hand, and to understand what’s happening and when, on the other.
To me, it’s pretty clear that as a committee we can communicate a lot more about what we’re doing on, say, recruitment, or when we’ll meet and broadly what we’ll be doing – while keeping complete confidentiality for the candidates. That’s where the blog comes in. It’s not an ‘official’ communications channel. For formal announcements of deadlines and such, http://nomcom.icann.org will always be the authoritative place to go. But for talking to and hearing back on, for example, how we can do recruitment better, there’s no better place.
Where improved transparency gets a bit knotty is in developing and using black and white selection criteria or very detailed role descriptions to make the final decisions. This is one of the recommendations of the draft ATRT report, and is a good idea on the face of it.But the fact is that selection priorities change from year to year. One year, the Board may need geographic diversity from a particular region, the next; management expertise is the priority. And the perennial dilemma of continuity versus change will always be with us. To accommodate the reality of different priorities in different years, we could end up with document so broad as not to be terribly useful, either practically to the NomCom, or reassuringly to the community we come from.
Checklists and box-ticking are extremely useful in highly formalised operations where the decision tree is complex, but nonetheless finite and well understood. Like, say, open heart surgery or flying a plane. These approaches are of less value if applied strictly to the NomCom situation where, let’s be honest, it’s decision-making by committee in a politicised environment where no one even agrees on what success looks like, apart from having a slate of agreed candidates by the end of June 2011.
Fundamentally, it’s a question of trust, and trust has to be earned. Being open about what we do and how we go about it is an essential step. Developing and adopting selection criteria is one part of that. Taking action to communicate about the NomCom and listen, consider, discuss and act on what we hear back will be the hallmark of this year’s committee.
As someone who was staff support to the 2009 committee as a member of Paul Levins’ team (who created and pushed the transparency and accountability agenda within ICANN), and is now a member of the 2011 NomCom, I am really happy to continue playing this one forward.