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Preparing Evaluators for the New gTLD Application Process

by Michael Salazar | 22 November 2011

The names of the global firms that will serve as the evaluation panels for new generic Top Level Domain (gTLD) applications were recently announced during the ICANN 42 Dakar meeting.

As Program Director for the New gTLD Program responsible for the design and deployment of the New gTLD Application Processing Program and managing the process as it takes flight, I am extremely proud of the selections we have made. All of the organizations chosen are highly qualified, global, and are respected experts in the areas for which they have been selected.

Whom did we select?

We followed a thorough, fair, detailed process to select the evaluation panels.  The process, which is described on our website under “Call for Applicant Evaluation Panel Expressions of Interest” began in February of 2009.  When I came on board in July 2009 I quickly understood the heightened level of interest in providing services for this relatively new Program. In all, twelve global firms formally submitted responses. Out of that pool, we selected: The Economist Intelligence Unit, Ernst & Young, InterConnect Communications (partnering with the University College London), Interisle Consulting Group, JAS Global Advisors, and KPMG.

These firms will work together in various combinations to evaluate applications during the process as follows:

String Reviews

  • String Similarity - InterConnect Communications/University College London
  • DNS Stability - Interisle Consulting Group
  • Geographic Names - The Economist Intelligence Unit and InterConnect Communications/University College London

Applicant Reviews

  • Technical and Operational - Ernst & Young, JAS Global Advisors, and KPMG
  • Financial Capability - Ernst & Young, JAS Global Advisors, and KPMG
  • Registry Services - Interisle Consulting Group
  • Community Priority - The Economist Intelligence Unit and InterConnect Communications

Why is there more than one firm for each of the evaluation types? Three reasons:

  • To provide sufficient bandwidth to conduct the number of necessary evaluations,
  • To provide an alternate channel to avoid conflicts of interest,
  • To provide for continued competition among service providers to ensure quality and value going forward.

All of the firms exhibit characteristics that are important to the integrity of this process. For example, KPMG and Ernst & Young both have large global footprints and can effectively scale to ensure timely and culturally sensitive processing of applications. Their strong and long history in providing audit, tax, and advisory services makes them well suited to serve as the panels for financial and technical/operational evaluations. JAS Global Advisors has a decade of experience in due diligence, Internet security, and global IT operations as well as an intimate knowledge of ICANN. The Economist Intelligence Unit, the sister organization of The Economist, incorporates a solid understanding of global corporate and government processes. InterConnect Communications, in conjunction with the University College London brings an internationally recognized and diverse linguistics resources offering an abundance of subject matter expertise. And finally, Interisle Consulting Group has a very specific, excellent subject matter expertise in the DNS. 

How are we ensuring an effective and efficient evaluation effort?

Ensuring that we have an effective and efficient evaluation effort is one of the most important aspects of building this program - and this starts with how we are preparing the evaluation panels. 

The first step begins with simulation exercises. Currently, my team is conducting simulation exercises using mock applications. The simulation exercises have been instrumental in testing the evaluation process, understanding the level of effort to review an application, and equally as important, to calibrate the analysis across the firms.

The next step is building and implementing a robust training program. We are finalizing a training program that all evaluators are required to complete before performing an evaluation. Any individual serving on a panel will need to complete the training program prior to starting. The training program seeks to ensure consistency across all processes and scoring methods so that all applications are evaluated equally. 

Finally, we are implementing a Quality Control program to ensure that applications have followed the same evaluation process and have been evaluated consistently. I strongly believe that the Quality Control function is a paramount component of the Program. In addition to performing the critical task of ensuring consistency, Quality Control will enable us to identify areas for improvement. These will in turn create initiatives that will bring enhanced effectiveness to the overall program as well as improvements in costs as we consider future rounds.

How will ICANN address any conflicts of interest?

Conflict of interest is an area that ICANN takes very seriously as it impacts the integrity of the Program. In fact, our processes are built to avoid and adequately deal with potential conflicts of interest.  For example, where feasible, we have multiple firms providing services making sure that no evaluators have a conflict with a particular application.

I helped craft applicable language in the Applicant Guidebook and have made the topic the subject of contract negotiations with each firm reinforcing the importance of avoiding conflict of interest (inherent or perceived). There is also a code of conduct that we have asked each firm to abide. Some of the guidelines under the code of conduct restrict the evaluators from speaking at meetings or conferences on the topic of New gTLDs and interacting with entities or individuals that have identified themselves as potential applicants of the New gTLD Program.  See Module 2 of the Applicant Guidebook (Section 2.4.3 Code of Conduct Guidelines for Panelists) for more information on the Code of Conduct and Conflict of Interest guidelines.

The New gTLD Application Program is a major undertaking for ICANN and the global Internet community.  We are very excited to get this program underway.  Stay tuned for additional announcements as we continue to prepare for launch on 12 January 2012.

If you have any questions about the gTLD Program, the evaluation process or the evaluation firms selected, please send your questions to: