Opinion Article

Tips For Newcomers At ICANN Fellowship

Written by Said Zazai

The ICANN fellowship is a prestigious opportunity which allows us to get involved in the core internet infrastructure working issues and also policy development. After 10 years of the ICANN fellowship program, more than 600 individuals from around the globe particularly from the developing world have been given opportunities to work along the engineers of the Internet names and numbers. Many of these fellows are part of various working groups and task forces volunteering a number of hours on daily/weekly basis to contribute to the overall ICANN community. One of the ICANN fellow is now taking on the ICANN board of directors role. So the ICANN fellowship is definitely a path that contributes significantly to ICANN community and helps integrate local/national communities with the global Internet Governance community.

My personal Internet Governance involvement started with ICANN 52 in Singapore. I met a number of people from ICANN staff and community members from my region (Asia) and following up with them helped me transform my experiences into opportunities for other members of my local community.

During the last day at ICANN 59 fellowship session, I held the microphone and said that I will not give advice to my old and newcomer fellows and I still insist that I won’t, however, I do have some tips that I have made note of and I would certainly like to share them with all. Some of these tips were given to me by others and I have practiced them myself and they have worked wonders. The list is not sequential but the purpose is to highlight some of the key areas to work on before and after the ICANN meetings.

  1. Plan ahead of time. Find the purpose of the meeting and your participation. What is your expectation of the meeting? What are you bringing in? ICANN sessions could be overwhelming when you look at the schedule or the website but when you understand the structure of the organization you’ll get a good sense of what goes on at the meeting. Knowing the purpose of the meeting and knowing the purpose of participation helps understand your scope.
  2. One thing that I have personally experienced is that being part of many working groups, constituencies or task forces is not very helpful. But its rather distracting and the number of emails that goes in to each of the mailing list could drain your energy without any particular contribution coming from you to the group. Try to be part of working groups that entice you and limit yourself to those.
  3. Understand your local/national issues/challenges before you come to the meeting and discuss them with ICANN fellows and others at the meeting and seek their guidance. No one will be able to resolve your local Internet shutdown, Internet censorship or your local ccTLD issues and you will get the same answer to all those questions and that is that these matters do not fall under ICANN jurisdiction, which is correct, but don’t get disappointed. Find people who will discuss it further with you and provide you references to other similar cases and how they resolved their issues, and help you address your local challenges in your local context.
  4. How do you plan to transform your gained knowledge and experience at ICANN meeting into opportunities for others in your community? If you are a civil society advocate you will understand the importance of greater community engagement at such platforms. Think about ways to encourage others in your local community to the various working groups of ICANN. If domain names industry is not your area of expertise, find someone from your local community and encourage her/him to get involved with ICANN. When I realized that I need someone to be with me on Task Force on Arabic Internationalized Domain Names (TF-AIDN) to represent the many languages from Afghanistan, I encouraged someone who has never been to any ICANN meetings so far but is part of the task force and volunteers to the greater ICANN community.
  5. Find fellows, peers, connections that you could approach directly for knowledge sharing and discussions, during and after the meeting. The reason ICANN fellowship has been regarded as a successful program is partly because of the fellows engagement with one another on ICANN matters and also matters beyond ICANN such as forming a school on Internet Governance, a national IGF, a local Network Operators Group etc.
  6. Don’t worry about selfies and photos of yourself, your performance is not (or hopefully not) evaluated based on the number of times you appeared in photos. But some memories need to be documented and I am not beholding you from that.
  7. Ask questions but do do your home work! Take ICANN Learn courses and ICANN get started courses before you come to the meeting. These courses will give you the preliminary understanding on ICANN processes and will encourage you to ask questions, and provide feedback and comments, which is important for your personal growth and exposure at the ICANN community.
  8. Take notes regardless of the video recordings, slides and all other material availability. When you take notes you collect meta data about the sessions, you log the whole system and within your notes you make references to time, slide page number, persons etc., and that is more crucial if you a few grey hair like me.
  9. Document what you like and what you don’t like during each session and in between the sessions. ICANN meeting is a process and most importantly its open to our feedback and assessment. Our feedback on logistical issues and/or policy issues help transform this community to be more transparent and accountable.
  10. Monitor the ICANN blog. And watch the session recordings by going to ICANN Remote Participation page, click on the previous ICANN meeting (ICANN 59 in this case) and then click on the schedule. In the schedule, click on the individual session title, go to the end of the page and click on the link in front of Adobe Connect.
  11. Use the ICANN App. Right before the meeting there will be a new app in Play store that will provide you with meeting schedule, information about the city and a list of participants. Currently there is a new app for every meeting but hopefully they will be able to develop one App for all ICANN meetings so that one could also check previous meetings schedules.
  12. Follow up with the people you have collected business cards from. If your question was not answered or if you are looking for a particular report or document that the presenter made a reference to, write to the presenter and continue your discussion via email or publicly via twitter/facebook.

Specific to Policy Forums

15. ICANN policy forums are different because there is not enough variety in terms of sessions that will push you to run from one room to another but there’s still plenty to observe. In fact, policy forum is a great opportunity to dive deep into a subject area. Most of the meetings are continuation of the discussions that happen on mailing lists and most of the discussions take place during the face to face meetings and attending these sessions will get you on-board immediately.

16. At the policy forums there are still sessions that are primarily technical and introductory in nature, and are ideal for newcomers. The DNSSEC and techday workshops provided training on technical topics related to registry and security matters. Other cross-community sessions and reports to ALAC constituency provided a basic understanding and also status of the subject area.

17. At ICANN59 policy forum, the ICANN fellowship management at the ICANN information booth organized several casual sessions for ICANN fellows and NextGen participants, but were also open to all others, to have a direct chat with senior management. My session was with Dave Piscitello who is the VP Security and ICT Coordinator at ICANN. Dave provided an hour long hands-on session explaining the Dark web and security aspects of the internet architecture. During the session Dave also shared a number of tools and research paper for further analysis, which turned out to be highly useful.

18. Who sets ICANN’s priorities? This was one of the important sessions during ICANN59 where the goal was to “to secure agreement from across the ICANN system about how to establish priorities for the organization in future.” Watch it here.


The purpose of these meetings/conferences as participants is not only to network with peers, researchers and management but also to gather and absorb as much knowledge as possible. The structure of ICANN organization and the policy development process understanding is very critical to working in any working group or getting involved in the larger community. And the best way to get the most out of the first meeting is to do proper homework ahead of the meeting. But most importantly, one thing that I have realized is that the ICANN journey starts once the meeting is over.

About the author

Said Zazai

1 Comment

  • Thanks for the useful tips. Keeping these tips in mind will definitely help the newcomers at their first ICANN meeting.

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