The IGF has always struck a balance between continuity and incremental improvement in its themes and format. But overall, over nine years since the first meeting in 2006, whilst the names of themes and sessions formats have changed, there has been relatively little change in their substance. The IGF is still a discontinuous, face-to-face, four day meeting, composed of overlapping main sessions and workshops. For those who do not admit of gaps in current Internet governance arrangements or do not desire for those gaps to be filled by a natively multi-stakeholder institution, the IGF’s resistance to change is neither a problem, nor a coincidence.
But over the years as flaws in present arrangements have become apparent, the recognition of governance gaps has become more widespread and inspired more urgency for significant reform that would also better address developing country concerns. This has fuelled discussions outside of the IGF, such as the CSTD Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation and the Brazil Multi-stakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance, in which the possibility of a reformed IGF taking a more significant role in future Internet governance arrangements continues to come up.
The IGF is challenged to respond to this call for more substantial reform to its processes, and there is no better time to do this than in preparation for its ninth meeting in Istanbul in September 2014, following on from the Brazil meeting, and heading towards its second review by the UN General Assembly. With an entirely new IGF MAG also in place for 2014, the opportunity exists for a fresh start, in which a number of unchallenged assumptions about how the IGF should operate can be critically examined again, and new ideas tried out. Yet none of the suggestions for reform given here are actually new. Several of them have been made every year since the IGF’s formation in 2006, or earlier, but have never been adopted before now. The following are actionable immediately, without any need for change to the IGF’s mandate:
- While maintaining its own independence, the IGF should find space within its agenda to discuss, and if appropriate affirm and commit to implementing the recommendations from the Brazil Multi-stakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance.
- In general, the IGF should address policy questions that are controversial and/or time-critical, and that currently lack any other multi-stakeholder mechanism for global coordination. It should avoid themes that are too broadly framed like “openness” and “security” that are not grounded in any specific real-life context.
- The national IGFs should feed issues into the regional IGFs which should in turn feed issues into the Global IGF so that the the issues at the global level in part reflect the concerns and challenges raised by the national and regional IGFs – a reporting in session by IGFs (as is currently the case) is inadequate.
- To make the IGF more practically useful, designated workshops should be dedicated to developing non-binding opinions, recommending policy principles that stakeholders can follow to address pressing current issues. Workshop report formats should be standardised so that these recommendations, how they were arrived at, and any areas of divergence, can be easily communicated.
- Whilst there will always remain room for parallel workshop tracks, workshops should be purposeful and focussed, with emphasis on the main themes selected for the meeting. Efforts should be made to eliminate low-quality, repetitive and redundant workshops.
- Main sessions can and should also be used to develop outputs on the most important issues of cross-cutting importance. A number of Best Bits participants described one simple way in which such a session could work, in a statement issued on 20 May 2013 that is available at http://bestbits.net/igf-opinions/. Speed dialogues were another method considered by the MAG in the past, but never tried. Techniques used at the national and regional meetings should also be looked at.
- To that end, main sessions and workshops should be separated. When these overlap each other, it becomes impossible for all interested IGF participants to join together to address important shared issues in an outcome-oriented, deliberative plenary session. This will also require a limit on the number of plenary meetings, to balance the time spent on plenaries and workshops.
- The IGF should improve its capacity to sustain a work programme between meetings. A step towards this can be made very easily by offering IGF participants, when registering for the meeting or following it remotely, the opportunity to join an online collaborative platform for interacting with other participants throughout the year on issues of shared concern.
- Such a reform would add much value for online participants, essentially providing an online and intersessional equivalent of the annual IGF meeting. Currently, online participants have little incentive to invest in the IGF, because they are not granted the same status as those who attend the face-to-face meetings.
- Data from the IGF (including calendar data, publicly-available participant data, meeting transcripts, and working documents) should all be made available in open data formats.
- It is vital that the development of the IGF’s online platform be adequately resourced. Even so, it would only incur a small fraction of the expense of the annual meeting, and need not be elaborate: for example, in other Internet governance institutions, participants are encouraged to join mailing lists, whereas most IGF participants are never offered that opportunity. Whilst individual stakeholders have attempted to provide community-based platforms for the IGF in the past, these have not been supported or publicised by the Secretariat. They should be, and where appropriate could be adopted officially.
- The Secretariat and the MAG conceived as a programme committee, are not sufficient high level structures for the IGF. In particular the reappointment of a Special Advisor as Chair is important to provide a charismatic public face for the IGF as well as a formal interface with the United Nations system and other high-level stakeholder representatives. A Special Advisor will also make it easier to attract funding for the event, and to provide leadership as the IGF undergoes necessary changes.
- There is no warrant for the MAG to be limited to the role of a programme committee, as it is now. It is also important for a multi-stakeholder committee of the IGF to perform substantive tasks such as:
- liaising with external bodies including national and regional IGFs (pursuant to IGF mandate 72(c));
- defining orphan issues and other areas in need of research, deliberation or recommendation;
- preparing or approving balanced briefing materials on issues to be addressed by the IGF;
- assessing the extent of consensus reached on proposed IGF outputs presented at a main session;
- reviewing and ensure the accountability of all fora involved in Internet governance (pursuant to IGF mandate 72(i));
- establishing ad hoc working groups; and
- preparing an annual report.
- For some of these tasks, it may be that smaller working groups of the larger MAG could perform them more efficiently than the full MAG. For others, the more organisational tasks should be offloaded to the Secretariat, allowing the MAG to perform more of a steering and oversight role.
- The MAG representatives should be appointed directly by the stakeholder groups without the intermediation of the UN Secretary General. Whilst the involvement of the UN was important to bootstrap the fledgling IGF, it can now stand on its own two feet and appoint its own representatives, through processes devolved to the stakeholder groups themselves. This should incorporate a formal rotational process, with some commonly agreed upon methods and criteria for stakeholder group appointments. Consultations should be held on the issue of whether the existing stakeholder groups recognised in the Tunis Agenda remain adequate today.
- A more flexible mechanism for funding the IGF is needed. The terms and conditions on which UN DESA accepts contributions to the IGF are unfavourable to donors, they lack transparency, and also limit the ability of participants to contribute small sums. There is no reason why a pool of funding separate to that administered by UN DESA could not be set up and administered transparently by a multi-stakeholder working group under the MAG’s oversight.
- Host country agreements should be made public, and host countries should be permitted to open tenders for non-security-essential services publicly, rather than being required to take these from UN DESA.
Endorsements of submission to IGF on themes and formats for the 2014 meetingRead the petition
|12||Our Rights (OR)||Nigeria||Oct 07, 2014|
|11||Movimento Mega||Brazil||Feb 15, 2014|
|10||Citizens' Coalition for Economic Justice||south korea||Feb 13, 2014|
|9||ARTICLE 19||Feb 10, 2014|
|8||EUROLINC||France||Feb 10, 2014|
|7||Individual endorsement||Kenya||Feb 09, 2014|
|6||Pasifika NEXUS||Feb 09, 2014|
|5||Access||Feb 07, 2014|
|4||Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication||Bangladesh||Feb 05, 2014|
|3||Public Knowledge||USA||Feb 05, 2014|
|2||Global Partners Digital||United Kingdom||Feb 04, 2014|
|1||Consumers International||Feb 04, 2014|
|5||Mwendwa Kivuva||Kenya||Feb 12, 2014|
|4||Cheryl Langdon-Orr||Australia||Feb 09, 2014|
|3||Salanieta Tamanikaiwaimaro||Fiji||Feb 09, 2014|
|2||Virginia (Ginger) Paque||USA||Feb 05, 2014|
|1||Manuel Pereira||Portugal||Feb 05, 2014|