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Open Internet Standards

Reflecting on Two Terms of Internet Society Board Service

Editor’s Note: At the Internet Society’s Annual General Meeting in June 2016, Jason Livingood will be leaving the Board. We asked Jason to share his insights and answer several questions. Thank you Jason for your years of service and contributions to the Internet Society.

Looking back at my two terms serving on the Internet Society Board of Trustees, I feel gratitude for the opportunity to serve the Internet Society and further our mission. I think I was able to add a lot of value to the Board and the Internet Society, while also using it as an opportunity to learn a great deal and grow professionally. While it certainly can, at times, be a big time commitment, it is also personally and professionally fulfilling and so I definitely encourage others to consider future Internet Society Board service.

Potential Board candidates often wonder about what service entails. In what roles did you serve while on the Board?

Over my term I served for four years on the Finance Committee, and three of those I was Treasurer, which I really enjoyed. I also served four years on the Executive Committee. I chaired the Elections Committee for one year to help change the structure and duration of elections, and then transitioned to serve on the Nominations Committee for my last two years on the Board. I also chaired the Public Interest Registry (PIR) Nominations Committee for two years, which works to appoint PIR trustees.

Finally, I was also a member of the CEO Search Committee, which led to the hiring of Kathy Brown. That was such a critical decision for us, since the most senior leader of the organization obviously has a huge impact on the organization, the culture, staff, and our ability to achieve our goals. I also tried to help behind-the-scenes in our (much improved) relationship with ICANN, including our concerns related to their (now abandoned) NETmundial Initiative.

I also successfully pushed to recruit new Organization members, so as to broaden the Internet Society’s base of financial support. In my role as Treasurer for a few years, as well as a regular member of the Finance Committee, I pushed hard to simplify our annual budgeting process and the way we approach financial goals and oversight. That included setting new goals for investment, reserves, and continuity funds; moving to new investment advisors; and helping to lay the groundwork for the new IETF Endowment. And focusing on the financial basics was important; at one point our costs were growing faster than revenues, which was not sustainable. We had to adjust to flattening revenues, and get a grip on our costs, so that we could continue to execute on our mission but remain in a healthy financial position.

Finally, as we began conducting our CEO search, I encouraged the Board to retain some trusted advisors that I had experience with (from Osprey Leadership Consulting) to help the Board and future CEO work together as a high performance team, and for the Board itself to dramatically improve how we worked together, to build trust and communications, to improve openness and honesty, and to improve our overall performance. That seemed to me a foundational need in order for us to be able to better execute on our mission. Looking back at how the Board worked when I joined and how effective we were, compared to today, and I think that has been immensely helpful. While our outside advisors undoubtedly played a role, it also succeeded due to the deep personal engagement and commitment of our Board members over that time to improve how we worked and their desire to make a bigger difference – and we were lucky to have some pretty excellent Board members at critical points in the Internet Society’s development the past few years.

Finally, once we hired our new CEO, we helped to narrow the organization’s focus on fewer core activities on which we could go deeper.

What has been the Internet Society’s greatest success during your tenure on the Board?

Apart from what I already mentioned, we did a few other critical things I think we should all be proud of, including:

– We revised our bylaws to give Chapters, the IETF, and Organization members equal seats on the Board. This was an imbalance before and it made sense to equal it out, especially to increase the involvement of Chapters and the IETF.

– We played a key role in the continuation of the open, consensus-based, multistakeholder model of Internet standards and governance. In practical terms this meant things like continuing to maintain the IETF’s style of Internet standards, in contrast to the approach that ITU-T and others follow, to use just one example.

– We played a key role in getting to the point we are now on the IANA transition. While that has taken a long time and been a great focus of the organization, consensus always takes time to build and I think we’re in a good place right now.

What should the Internet Society focus on in the future? And what are the challenges?

There is always a temptation to do more and more things. I think it is important to bear in mind we have limited resources and so we need to focus on what we can realistically achieve with that. So continuing to maintain a focused mission that we can effectively execute on, rather than superficially working on a vast number of priorities; do a few things really, really well.

We also have to resist the temptation to simply react to what happens around us. As the Internet Society matures and becomes more effective, I hope we can increase the amount that we actively drive things ourselves.

I also think that Chapters are an incredibly valuable, underutilized asset. We should continue to ask what more can we do to help the Chapters execute their local mission, as well as how Chapters can help other Chapters as a group and the Internet Society as a whole. We haven’t cracked the code on that yet, but need to keep trying.

Finally, one of our core responsibilities is providing a home for and support for the IETF. The IETF is pondering their future evolution at the moment and so their needs may change in the coming years, and we should be sensitive to that. Ensuring that the IETF is strong and vibrant helps the entire Internet, since we all depend on their open, consensus-based standards.