August 06

Expanding the Public Comment Process with New Conversations

For newcomers to ICANN and Internet governance, ICANN’s policy development process and public comment system can be difficult to follow and understand. Coming out of last week's ICANNLabs Kick-off Workshop, the Conversation Track team started laying out a product vision in the form of a hypothesis. Read on for the team's product vision, the riskiest assumptions associated with that vision, and the team's plan for mitigating those risks in the form of ongoing experiments. You can follow the team's progress and contribute your own thoughts on the Conversation Track page and through the ICANN Labs newsletter. We welcome your thoughts on our product vision and first experiment in the comments below.

Product Vision

We believe that creating a parallel space for facilitated, contextual conversation between ICANN community members representing different points of view might elucidate key issues and points of contention. This in turn might generate deeper interest and engagement in policy development.

Risky Assumptions

  • We can design a system that incentivizes ICANN community members and Internet governance experts to participate in a curated conversation about policy issues.
  • Users with a general interest in Internet governance don’t understand policy development, but would be interested in engaging if given the necessary context. Conversation could provide the necessary context.
  • We can find knowledgeable facilitators to curate these conversation, by asking the right questions and by inviting the right set of participants.
    • We can develop a user experience for annotated conversation across devices, languages, and other barriers to access.


A roundtable discussion among ICANN community members and Internet governance experts will help general interest users understand the relevance and impact of in-process policy development.


  • ICANN community members (supporting groups and advisory boards)
  • Members of other Internet governance organizations (e.g. ITU, IGF, ISOC)
  • Knowledgeable members of the Internet industry who are up to speed on policy issues and can provide a fresh perspective.
  • Newcomers, people who are not in a formal working group, who stand to learn from these facilitated, contextual policy conversations.
  • Bloggers, journalists, or ICANN ombudsman who are equipped to facilitate these conversations.


8/8 - 8/13


Demonstrate the value of these conversations vs. official policy documentation through qualitative interviews and quantitative tests.


  • Select 1-3 examples of policy that has been released for public comment on
  • Design a mock conversation with previously posted comments and gather qualitative feedback to measure the effectiveness of the conversation from an educational perspective.
  • Depending on the response to the mock conversation, consider using policy that is currently open for public comment to create a live conversation.

- ICANNLabs Conversation Track Team (


Posted by Greg Shatan over 2 years ago.

I know all the terminology and acronyms can be daunting to newcomers. It helps if those trying to lead the way use consistent terminology. Under participants, the first bullet point should read "ICANN community members (supporting organizations and advisory committees). That way, it is at least clear that you are referring to the supporting organizations (SOs) and the advisory committees (ACs) (unless of course you meant something different by "supporting groups and advisory boards"). I would go two steps further and revise it to reflect (1) some (many?) community members are not formally part of any AC or SO, and (2) to reflect that the SOs and ACs are made up of individuals/organizations (and at least in the GNSO are grouped into stakeholder groups and constituencies): "ICANN community members (including supporting organizations and advisory committees, and their members)."

Posted by Bertrand de LA CHAPELLE over 2 years ago.

Interesting. Thanks.

Just an editorial note: ICANN has Supporting Organizations (not Groups) and Advisory Committees (not Boards).

May change in the future :-), but for the moment these are the correct appellations.

Posted by Sally Costerton over 2 years ago.

Looking forward to see results of experiment

Posted by avri doria over 2 years ago.

so, i assume the experiment is now over. How did it go?

Posted by Clarissa over 2 years ago.


We created an initial experiment to test whether the ICANN community would find moderated conversations between experts with different points of view -- or “roundtables” -- to be highly valuable in better understanding an issue. Based on the feedback, we created an early prototype for an online platform to support community members in discovering and viewing the most relevant roundtables for their interests. We are currently putting the finishing touches on the prototype and will be unveiling the product early next week. Stay tuned for updates!

If you are interested in participating in our experiment, please email us at!

ICANN Labs Community Manager
Twitter: @bloomdm

Posted by Dr Ben Fuller over 2 years ago.

Some thoughts:
How do you determine an issue for a conversation? Will there be a vote of participants? Decision by the Board? Will there be mechanisms for participants to nominate new issue for discussion?

Giving participants some say in what they can discuss may help keep people interested. Aside from keeping participants engaged, having a gateway for ideas/issues "from the wild" is a good way to capture new concerns and trends into the wider ICANN discussions.

Posted by Raven over 2 years ago.

Hi Dr Ben,

Thanks for your comment - these are all great questions.

I'm the Designer on this project. I love your comment about giving participants a way to say what they want to discuss. We're currently working on that very feature!

The idea right now is to announce the topic of an upcoming Roundtable 1-2 weeks in advance. From then until the Roundtable takes place, folks will be able to submit questions that they have about that topic - things they don't understand or need clarification on. We'd like to include up/down vote functionality so the Roundtable participants can get a sense for which questions to prioritize.

At this point topic selection is determined by signals from the ICANN community and by what people are heavily discussing on other networks around the internet. In the future, we might focus them more closely around ICANN Public Comments in order to help folks better understand how they can respond to an individual item of discourse. In the future there might also be a community suggestion tool - we love this feature, but before we can ask the community to generate Roundtable discussion items, we need to determine whether there's interest and value in Roundtables.

Our plan is to let the moderator select the participants who best represent different perspectives in the discussion. We have this concept of the neutral moderator who does not have a vested interest in any single side of the story, but we need to validate that this person exists! We're in the process of putting together a real Roundtable to begin finding the answers to these and other questions.

Again, thank you for your feedback - please don't hesitate to send additional thoughts and ideas. If you'd like to discuss in more depth and/or share your experiences with ICANN, please shoot me an email and I'd love to set up a time to talk by phone -


Posted by Dr Ben Fuller over 2 years ago.


Thanks for the kind words. Glad to hear you are thinking about this kind of feature. You are right, it is necessary to have some vetting of topics, otherwise things get weird. But, its not always the experts who have the insight -- I've learned this often in 20 years of post apartheid development work in Namibia where sometimes a guy sharing a beer with you 100 kilometers from the nearest petrol pump has the clearest vision you can find on a complicated issue. Then again, sometimes you can also hear some pretty whacky stuff as well. :-)
Have you given any thought to language? It looks like ICANN wants to engage people from many parts of the world. Places where English use may not be an every day opportunity. Hence the level of comprehension can vary. Its one thing to be able to carry out a basic conversation, another to understand and participate in Internet governance/policy discussions. I speak one local language almost fluently, four others at different levels of competence. When discussions get technical I have to have a translator. Perhaps links to Google translate or some other service would help people who are not strong in English. Just a thought.
If you want to talk, Skype is best. I am at GMT +1. the first two weeks of September will time when I have some flexibility in my schedule. Will send the details to icannconvos

Posted by Raven over 2 years ago.

Hi Ben,

Thanks for your feedback!

I agree with you that experts don't have all of the answers (no single person does!) and that many individuals without recognized titles have great insights. We're starting with a seeded conversation while we work through the mechanics of the basic tool - fewer variables makes it easier to recognize what's working and what isn't.

The other challenge is that we've seen many online forums become unproductive. That tool already exists and we don't want to replicate it - we want to try to make something more useful.

Our hypothesis is that if we:
- identify a topic the community cares about
- announce that there will be a Roundtable discussion about that topic
- ask the community to select a moderator and to tell her which specific points to address
- then pull in folks who have deep knowledge on those points

then maybe we can create a discussion that helps community members better understand the topic and its impact.

That;s a lot to figure out, but it's the first layer. Once we get this first piece in decent shape, and once we're getting feedback that it is effective, we'll begin experimenting with the next layer of community input - did this discussion cover the points you care about? Now that you know more about this discussion, do you want to suggest any revisions to relevant ICANN policy development? This last part is the big goal - how do we enable people to contribute to internet governance discourse.

The goal is to create a place where people don't just say what they don't like about a discussion (i.e. "i hate this") but why they don't like it and what can be done to make it better ("please explain more about how this impacts..." or "i'm worried we've entirely overlooked..." and so on).

We have thought about language - it's a concern we've heard from ICANN members we've spoken with from Puerto Rico, Ghana and various other places around the world. Also, half of our ICANN Labs team is based in Montevideo, Uruguay so there's a lot of concern within our office about translation.

If this experiment does create value then we'll need to plug resources into the translation layer. But for the immediate future, until we figure out how to make this tool useful, we're limiting the complexity by working in English.

Google translate is certainly something to explore. If you have any additional strategic advice about translation, I'd love to talk more when we get to that bridge.

Thank you again for your feedback, Ben. Thanks for addressing language. I want to hear more about your insights on additional local access issues. A friend in Ghana told us a lot about his local bandwidth issues - and his insight is going to influence the way we build this tool. We'd love to understand the unique needs and challenges of your area as well so we know what we can do to make this tool better.

Looking forward to talk more over Skype.