On September 30, 2016, the contract between the U.S. government and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) over the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) ended. This marked a process of almost 20 years that started with the privatization of the Domain Name System (DNS) in 1998. With the contract expired, taking stock of the process becomes critical. What unfolded for more two years was not just about the transition of a set of functions, critical to the operation of the Internet: it was also about the ability of the Internet community to stay true to the practices that have historically made the Internet evolve and work better. This paper outlines the key characteristics of collaboration that ensured the successful outcome of the IANA transition process.
Today’s discussions on IANA were very different to the ones of 1998 when IANA was set up and run by one individual, Jon Postel. Back then, we did not see the multiplicity of actors — individuals, businesses, governments or institutions – we see today having an interest in the operation and management of IANA. This does not indicate that IANA was not an important part of the Internet’s operation. At the time, however, the sheer number of participants did not call for institutional collaborative processes.
At the moment of the announcement, the IANA transition represented a ‘wicked problem’ in terms of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that were difficult to recognize. The interdependence between the communities and the effort to maintain a secure and reliable management of the Internet’s critical infrastructure often created problems with regards to what the Internet should look like in the future.
The operational communities have historically collaborated with regards to the running of IANA. But, it was the NTIA announcement in March 2014 that showed the need for a consistent and predictable collaborative framework to ensure the success of the IANA transition.
Our new paper, “Keys to Successful Collaboration and Solving Wicked Internet Problems”, identifies four keys to successful collaboration. In the IANA transition process, they apply as follows:
1. There was a unifying purpose. In the context of the IANA transition, the participants were united in their desire for an outcome that was ‘good’ for the Internet. That desire was twofold: an IANA framework for the globe and one where no single government had any specific role or function. This shared understanding of what was ‘good’, ensured the successful transition of the IANA functions.
2. Involved participants were committed and focused. Participants made skillful contributions that moved the discussions forward and ensured that the transition takes place. By operating on a specific timeframe, the participants were able to shut out distractions, which allowed them to work persistently towards achieving the end of the US government’s oversight role over the IANA functions.
3. Forward action required crossing boundaries and changing practices. In the context of IANA, the participants had to come up with a new plan that would ensure the accountability, consistency and predictability of IANA. This required the creation of innovative policy solutions and mechanisms. New ground was explored.
4. The successful outcome was measured in terms that were broader than individual gain. Ending the last vestiges of government control over the technical management of the Internet provided participants with something that was exciting. The IANA transition was far bigger than any individual community – it was ultimately about what was good for the future of the Internet.
The collaboration between all interested parties should be credited as the main value that allowed the IANA transition to occur. But, this collaboration was not something new. The Internet is replete with example of actors coming together to achieve a certain goal and this is one of them.
It shows that when parties collaborate in a true fashion the results can be astonishing and give room for innovative, practical and implementable solutions.
Note: This blog post and the accompanying report were written by Leslie Daigle, Konstantinos Komaitis and Phil Roberts. We apologize to Phil for the fact that our blog system only shows two of the three authors.