On the meaning of “consensus”

There are probably fewer than three people on the entire planet who read the whole of the output of the various online groups that address issues of internet governance. They are all/both academics with a professional interest.

I dip in and out as different topics flare up. I recently dipped into a discussion on the meaning of consensus in the context of ICANN’s  decision-making processes. The writer who caught my eye on this occasion was Milton Mueller. Here is my favourite, slightly edited extract

.….after 18 years….. I have less and less an idea what “consensus” means (within ICANN). The term has been abused so frequently…..I wince every time I hear it. I know what it used to mean – no objection from any engaged party (Quaker consensus). But neither ICANN nor…..anyone except perhaps Quakers actually operate that way.

Of late it seems it has become the fashion in ICANN (and other internet governance quarters) not to refer to a consensus because in truth there never is one. Instead we hear internet governance leaders refer to a rough consensus.  What does Milton make of that?

So  (now) we’re down to “rough consensus” or what I prefer to call “declared consensus” which means in essence that some Working Group chair gets to decide which people/opinions he or she is going to ignore….. 

Elsewhere Milton implies that simply voting isn’t a noticeably superior way of determining matters within ICANN, not least because of the way the weighted voting system itself has been constructed.

Ah well. What can I say? Once Alice followed the rabbit down the hole…..





About John Carr

John Carr is one of the world's leading authorities on children's and young people's use of digital technologies. He is Senior Technical Adviser to Bangkok-based global NGO ECPAT International, Technical Adviser to the European NGO Alliance for Child Safety Online, which is administered by Save the Children Italy and an Advisory Council Member of Beyond Borders (Canada). Amongst other things John is or has been an Adviser to the United Nations, ITU, the European Union, the Council of Europe and European Union Agency for Network and Information Security and is a former Executive Board Member of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety. He is Secretary of the UK's Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety. John has advised many of the world's largest internet companies on online child safety. In June, 2012, John was appointed a Visiting Senior Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science. This was renewed in 2018. More: http://johncarrcv.blogspot.com
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