On Becoming An NGO

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New York, September 10, 2015 – In early 2014 we applied to the United Nations requesting that we be granted Special Consultative Status. A tad over a year later, on April 20, 2015, we received a message from the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations saying “your organization’s application for consultative status by the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations will take place during its 2015 Resumed Session in New York, scheduled for 26 May – 3 June 2015.”

UN Resumed Session May 2015The email went on to say “Your presence is not mandatory and will not in any way affect the consideration of your application” and that “given the large volume of new and deferred applications for the Committee’s consideration, it is not possible to determine the exact date at which your application will be reviewed during the session.”

Despite the indefinite review date, we thought that, being located in New York, I’d attend the meeting in the hope that I might be available to contribute to the review process. Minimally I’d get to spend a day at the UN which always inspires me. So I wrote the NGO Committee that I’d be there for the afternoon session on May 28.

Everything worked out well that day and we’re now an NGO. But a friend thought the story of my experience on the 28th was amusing and suggested I share it. Here goes.

At about noon on the 28th, as I was preparing to depart for the UN, an email arrived from the NGO Committee inquiring about the response we’d submitted to question #11, which asked if Connecting.nyc Inc. was an international organization. I responded with some clarifying detail and headed out to the UN.

At the UN I found the Committee meeting in Conference Room 4, a very impressive room (pictured above). Near the entrance I found an official and explained my situation. She checked her computer and noted that my response to question #11 had already made its way through the review process and was available for the members for consideration. I asked if there was  anything further I could do to aide my application. She asked if I would be available for the Q&A which began at 5 PM. Not clear what that was, but eager to please, I said sure. She concluded with “5 PM no earlier.”

There was another meeting nearby that interested me and I left Conference Room 4 for about 1/2 an hour. Returning at 20 of 5, I took a seat at the rear. Seconds after settling into my seat the chair, speaking Spanish, said something that seemed to conclude with “Connecting.nyc.” Startled, I slowly stood, tried to imagine what he might have said, and listened intently a few seconds later when he repeated the statement that clearly included “Connecting.nyc.”

Unclear as to what to do, I looked around for guidance. The woman at the entry desk motioned to say “Yes it is related to you” and urged me to move toward a desk closer to the front. As I approached that desk the fellow there waved me on, to continue toward the front. Looking ahead I saw yet another desk just to the right of the dais, and felt sure my answer would be found there. But as I reached it the two occupants waved me forward. With no desks ahead I stood motionless. Then a woman just on the dais whispered that I was to “sit there” and motioned to the rightmost chair near her.

So within 30 seconds of hearing “Connecting.nyc” I found myself seated on the dais and wondering what was next.

Shortly the chair stated, in English, that I had 10 minutes to address the Committee’s 19 members. With nothing prepared I conjured an impromptu brief about our history and goals, and clarified our botched response to question #11. Q&A followed with the representative form Nicaragua asking how we expected to deliver our services to the member states. I indicated that our web presence would be primary, but that we hoped to reach nation states and their cities through our special consultative status. I then awaited another question. A few seconds passed and the chair said “Any more questions?” Receiving no response he nodded for me to leave.

As I rose and turned to depart the woman who had directed me to my seat said “Congratulations”. I must have looked perplexed, and she followed with “You’ve been approved.” And indeed, the Committee had recommended granting special consultative status to the organization. (Several weeks later Economic and Social Council formalized the approval.)

As I walked back to my seat in the rear I was stopped by two others who offered their congratulations and I began to realize what a remarkable few minutes I’d spent in good old Conference Room 4.

A few months later we received official confirmation of our acceptance as an NGO with special consultative status.

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Innovation, Bureaucracies & New Haven

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velibe biles paris Jackson Hts., New York, April 13, 2015 – I attended the ICANN’s June 2008 board of directors meeting in Paris which passed the fundamental resolution for its New TLD Program.

Now, 7 years later, with New York City actively issuing domain names, I’ve come to wonder why it’s not functioning as I’d imagined. A recent thought on that might be worth civic or scholarly consideration and is presented here.

Let me first note that the mismatch between dream and reality is not for lack of interest or competence within the bureaucracy. My encounters with the city administration have uniformly been with highly intelligent and caring people.

The challenge originates with the lack of preparation for the idea’s arrival. With a bureaucracy crafted from hundreds of years of bad experiences, city government is a multi-layered, lumbering, behemoth. And sometimes a new idea is thrust upon it without proper awareness as to its appropriate location. In the instance of the .nyc TLD, we advocated for its being part of the city planning department. But responsibility seems to be scattered through several departments.

While there’s a booster club that likes to say New York City’s government is innovative, we see it being the “seal of approval” city. Generally, when New York adopts a new process or service, it’s been thoroughly vetted elsewhere, e.g., Paris’ Velibe paving a path for Citibike. The city’s philosophy in Broadway-speak might be expressed as “Work out the kinks in New Haven” (ref.). With New York among the first cities to adopt a TLD, that New Haven stop was skipped, and we’re playing the role and price of pioneer. (Commons image courtesy of Wikimedia.)

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Introducing the NYCommons

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Jackson Hts., New York, March 12, 2015 – Yesterday I received an invitation from Peter H. Kostmayer, CEO of Citizens Committee for New York City to a most interesting meeting taking place this evening. Here’s the invite:

I’m writing to invite you to a meeting and introduce NYCommons, a project of the Urban Justice Center, Common Cause New York, and the Fund for Public Advocacy.

NYCommons is in the planning stages, and they would like your input to help shape a citywide coalition to influence policy making around how the city deals with its public assets.

One of the goals of the project is to provide local stakeholders with tools needed to impact decisions around the future of their parks, libraries, community gardens, housing and other publicly held spaces.  By creating accessible information about who controls these public assets, how decisions about the properties are made, and how members of the public can influence these choices, NYCommons seeks to build a coalition to help communities raise their voices to ensure that local people will continue to enjoy the benefits of shared space for generations to come. Together we will develop a citywide framework to address the issues raised by decisions affecting future use of public places.

As a New Yorker I have a vital interest in knowing “who controls these public assets, how decisions about the properties are made, and how members of the public can influence these choices” and will be there tonight. And I’ll be stressing the need to add .nyc to the list of commons resources.

For some background see our Public Spaces page on our wiki.

The meeting’s tonight, March 12, from 6:30-8 at the Urban Justice Center, 123 William Street (16th Floor), Downtown Manhattan. For more on the event see here.

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A Governance Model For the .nyc TLD

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of by for the people

Jackson Hts., New York, December 3, 2014 – The existing term of the members of the mayor’s .NYC Community Advisory Board expires on December 31. What’s next?

At a recent New York meeting before key participants in the city’s Internet industry, ICANN’s CEO Fadi Chehade suggested that CGI.br, the Brazilian governance body overseeing the .br TLD, might provide a good lesson for cities looking at governance models. For background on CGI.br we put this page together. Additionally, our wiki has several background pages on the Internet Governance Ecology.

To address the issue, a December 17 meeting of the .NYC Community Advisory Board has been scheduled. The preliminary call set the following parameters:

We would like to propose a facilitated discussion on best practices in internet governance. The hope is that this discussion will provide us with a clear set of priorities and goals for 2015, thereby allowing us to set a specific course of action for the coming year.

 Sounds like the right move.

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Fadi’s Chehade’s Advice for “The Reference City”

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ICANN's Fadi Chehade at NYC's Municipal Building November 24, 2014Jackson Hts., New York, November 27, 2014  – ICANN’s CEO Fadi Chehade met Monday with a group of New Yorkers from city government, civil society, and business in the offices of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

After introductions and an update on .nyc’s status, Fadi told the attendees that in his travels he is often asked by mayors “What is New York doing about .nyc?” To the mayors, he noted, “New York is the reference city.”

(The inside joke is that most new things are tried and tested elsewhere and then adopted in New York. But they receive their first wide publicity only after the city’s mass of media gives notice. The city’s pols sometimes shine their innovator credentials with new developments and feed the originality myth. In this instance however, the idea of a city-TLD did originate here. And now, as Fadi said, the whole world is watching.)

So how do we make .nyc a positive reference for the hundreds of cities that will be be acquiring their TLDs over the next few years? Fadi was very interested in the city’s nexus policy and suggested it fit with one of the unique development’s he’s seen for new TLDs – authentication. As an example he noted that the Catholic Church has a 10 year plan to replace its centuries old Red Book, the current authoritative listing of Catholic organizations, with the .catholic TLD. Message #1, make nexus work and build upon it.

Fadi also encouraged the city to find a good model for public participation in our TLD’s governance. He pointed to the success Brazil has experienced with its “multistakeholder” governance structure for the .br TLD. Most interesting, the governance entity has 21 members with the government appointing 9 – a minority. Fadi, turning to the government officials present suggested that “ceding a little bit of the city’s power creates a community which is very powerful.” As a resident it seems a gamble worth taking. But government loosening its grip on power is indeed a rare event. More on the .br oversight by CGI.br can be found here.

For the meeting’s full recording which, in addition to the above, touched on global Internet governance issues, see here. Commons Graphic shows Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade.

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