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Fixing ICANN: Step 2

Alex Tajirian
September 22, 2010

If ICANN seriously wants to attain effective self-management, it must go beyond its stated objectives and confront two areas it has so far ignored: development and implementation of mindset-changing solutions as well as formal performance measures.

Mindset Solutions
ICANN has a major shakeup in mind for the domain name market—the plan to launch new TLDs, to take one example, represents a structural change to the industry ecosystem.

People who have been shaken up tend to want an explanation as to why, but ICANN hasn’t provided one. Instead it has simply presented its initiatives as technical solutions.

Successful companies, whether established or startups, relay new messages to their stakeholders by presenting motivational springboard stories that usher listeners into a new world. They don’t treat technical solutions as enough in themselves to bring success. They know that implementing is only half the job; you also need to change minds.

ICANN has yet to learn that lesson. Instead of simply announcing that there will be new TLDs, it must tell stakeholders why the world will be better because of the new TLDs. It must provide the vision that goes with the new order.

Performance Measures
For ICANN to succeed in meeting its objectives, it must also develop formal performance measures, including measures that capture changes in stakeholders’ mindset.

Publicly traded companies can tell how they’re doing by a look at their stock price. Management behavior is disciplined and guided by the feedback. But ICANN doesn’t have that advantage and must develop and monitor appropriate performance measures of its own.

Of course, any attempt to do so faces some hurdles:

  • The presence of multi-stakeholders with conflicting interests. Devising a simple, coherent customer-focused strategy becomes difficult when there is no typical customer with a typical set of needs to be protected.

  • The inadequacy of any standardized performance metrics, since a good performance measure for one company is not necessarily good for another.

  • The inadequacy of informal, network-driven initiatives when dealing with an organization of ICANN’s complexity.

The obstacles are real but can be tackled, as can the job of developing a way to continuously monitor and challenge the assumptions behind ICANN’s objectives and performance measures. For now, however, the organization is flying blind.

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