Can a multistakeholder approach truly work to govern the Internet?

When there are multiple stakeholders and interests to consider, such as in the process to transition the United States’ stewardship from IANA to the global Internet community, can a multistakeholder approach work?

Empty Meeting Room by sixninepixels (

The recent announcement by the United States (US) Government to transition its stewardship of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) to the global community has triggered considerable discussion worldwide. It has also been the impetus for Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to launch a consultation process on the transition approach:

  • ICANN  will  initiate  the  launch  of  the  multistakeholder‐designed  process  for  the  community  at  the  ICANN  49  Meeting  in  Singapore (21—27 March  2014) to  address  how  the  mechanisms  for  the  transition  should  occur.
  • Input  from  the  community discussions  will  be  compiled  into  materials  for  posting  subsequent  to  the  ICANN  49  Meeting  for  public  comments.
  • The  process  will  be  open,  global,  and  transparent,  and  will  ensure:
    • Full  engagement with  all  stakeholders  and  interested  or  affected  parties, including  discussions  at  respective  meetings.
    • Global reach,  including  translation  of  relevant  materials

As at the time of publishing, the ICANN 49 meeting has been on-going in Singapore, and one of the biggest discussions this week was on the IANA accountability transition, which was held on Monday, 24 March. Although it was recognised that the community sub-groupings might not yet have had an opportunity to discuss the US Government’s announcement among their own members and stakeholders, the session would begin early dialogue on the issue. Moreover, ICANN intends to incorporate the views and comments expressed into the consultation materials it is preparing and should be released on or around 7 April 2014 (Source: ICANN).

Singapore49_Logo_300x155_72 (Source- ICANN)However, having had an opportunity to listen to the entire session on IANA accountability transition, it began to highlight, first, the size of the community that needed to be engaged on the matter, which was extensive.  During the discussion, at least 20 organisations were identified as entities that should be contributing to process. However and perhaps more importantly, that preliminary discussion also began to highlight the broad range of interests that would (somehow) need to cohere into consensus to facilitate the anticipated transition.

Consultation versus a multistakeholder process

One of the issues that began to come to the fore was the difference between consultation and a multistakeholder process. As noted earlier, ICANN indicated that a consultation will soon be launched through which stakeholder views will be secured. However, participants were challenging that approach on the grounds that it is at odds with the process envisaged: a multistakeholder model.

Generally, a multistakeholder approach is a bottom-up consensus-building process with decentralised control, and according to ICANN’s own thoughts on the issue, attention is given to the voices of the community as much as to the voices of power. On the other hand, a consultation is tends to be a top-down approach. A proposal (or position) is posited by the consultation owner for which feedback is sought. The owner then processes the inputs received, and generates the final outcome, usually with limited additional feedback (if any) from stakeholders.

Having said this, and referring back to the IANA accountability transition discussion, should a true multistakeholder approach be adopted, the process is likely to experience with benefits and challenges, some of which are reflected in Table 1.

Table 1:  Benefits and challenges of multistakeholderism (Sources: ICANN, ICT Pulse)
Table 1: Select benefits and challenges of multistakeholderism (Sources: ICANN, ICT Pulse)

Initial thoughts

With ICANN 49 scheduled to draw to a close tomorrow, 27 March, we may soon learn whether or not, or the extent to which, ICANN intends to adopt a more “multistakeholder” approach to the IANA accountability transition than what it might have initially intended. It may also mean that a final agreed approach to facilitate the transition of stewardship might not be achieved by September 2015, which the current US Government contract ends. Notwithstanding, it is still incumbent on all of us to attempt to participate in the process – through our governments, local and regional representatives on the various Internet organisations, or even through ICANN directly – and it is critical that our views as stakeholders can be considered.


Image credit:  sixninepixels (;  ICANN



  • Naturally, if the process is a “transition” it has to be a consultation process. The holding US body already has the dynamics of the process under control and are currently administering it.. the experience and know how already resides there. They are merely seeking to hand the thing over intact.The international body assuming control must simply take it intact and once the “transition” is done only then seek to modify or adapt it according to their capability and future expectations of how the thing should be used. A multi-stakeholder transition runs the risk of raising too many issues prematurely and confusing or minimalising the transition process. Such a state of affairs will come about mainly because of the many misconceptions that might arise from inexperience of the thing itself compounded by having”too many cooks making the broth” so to speak. Through consultation the US can manage the transition and address only the issues they see pertinent to the transition and reduce the amount of “noise” that is likely to result from using such an approach as Multi- stakeholderism for an otherwise straightforward task of transitioning the process from one body to another. Consultation should move smoother except for the time it takes for feedback and assessment before action can be decided upon.Please note, I say this from a strictly definitive standpoint on how best a transition process can be undertaken and not from the standpoint of operational insight of the administrations doing the transition.

  • Hi Michele, great review of the proposed IANA functions transition to a multi-stakeholder model as announced by NTIA in March. To propose a way of approaching your question it may be useful to see how diverse the multi-stakeholder community would look like and in that token what are the intended means of achieving consensus on matters, as left undefined we may well be looking at inconclusive processes.

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