There is broad support within civil society for the continuation of a reformed and strengthened IGF. At the same time, it is undeniable that the almost decade-long evolution of the IGF has been very slow and cautious, in comparison to other fora and events such as NETmundial. This may have spurred the development of a number of other meetings and initiatives which, on some level, compete with the IGF.
Whilst this diversity of initiatives can be positive, there is also the risk that too many of them may sap energy and attention from the IGF itself, which has a particular impact on civil society whose resources to participate in multiple initiatives is the most constrained. This effect could be minimised if the IGF would be more responsive to suggestions that stakeholders have made, often repeatedly, to address observed deficits in the IGF’s structure and format.
One of the difficulties is that there is really no “IGF” to effectively evaluate and implement these suggestions; there is a Secretariat, with limited resources and a narrow self-assessed mandate to effect structural changes to the IGF, and there is a MAG which, overall, considers itself a programme committee only and is similarly reluctant to depart from established structures and formats.
The IGF would benefit from the appointment of a new, charismatic and visionary Executive Coordinator, with multi-stakeholder support, to personally evangelise for and drive the necessary changes. But in the interim, it would also be possible for the periodic open consultation meetings to be facilitated – perhaps by an independent professional – in a way that is more open to blue-sky thinking, rather than being limited to a narrow analysis of the annual meeting themes and the like.
Even the present consultation, which is limited to “format”, “schedule” and “themes”, reveals a certain narrowness of thinking in this regard. It does not lend itself very well to suggestions about the structural evolution of the IGF that might allow it to more fully execute its mandate, such as significant changes to its management structure, the execution of a coordinating function, or the establishment of issue-specific multistakeholder working groups.
Perhaps the most significant departure from previous practice at the Istanbul meeting was the new Best Practice Forum mechanism. This was effectively a compromise between the call by many for outputs from the IGF, and the reluctance of others for the IGF to adopt processes that could produce such outputs by consensus. A result of this compromise is that since the outcome documents (once they are released) do not represent a consensus, they may not be regarded as particularly persuasive or useful by external governance bodies.
More effective use could have been made of the academic community to contribute towards the development of the draft best practice recommendations, rather than expecting a self-selected multi-stakeholder group (and in practice, only a few individuals within the group) to develop these. The most distinctive contribution of a multi-stakeholder group is not its technical expertise in developing policy options, but rather the legitimacy that it provides by bringing multiple perspectives to bear on the task of deciding between those options.
Another relatively new practice, first adopted for the Bali meeting and repeated at the Istanbul meeting, was the call to the community for suggestions of policy questions to be addressed at the meeting. All of these – 49 in Bali and 31 in Istanbul – were simply collected and passed on to session organisers. This was not effective in practice and should not be repeated. Instead, a more collaborative process of developing a smaller list of pressing policy problems (like the five selected for the Best Practice Forums) should be used.
Despite various proposals made from time to time, the IGF has yet to experiment with any large-scale, participatory and deliberative session format aimed towards the development of consensus resolutions on policy issues, somewhat like the NETmundial process, which was a combination of online and face-to-face work utilising both small and large multi-stakeholder groups. The IGF should draw on the services of a specialist in participatory event organisation to experiment with this type of session format.
The scheduling of the IGF should cover the full year, including timelines for working groups to develop concrete proposals to be taken further at the IGF. This would give it the 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.
The workshop proposal review process remains flawed. There is a perception that workshops are partly scored based on whether panelists are confirmed to attend, but in many cases panelists’ attendance is contingent on the workshop being approved, which creates a vicious circle, and also provides an incentive for workshop organisers to misstate whether panelists are confirmed. Workshop proponents are given no feedback on why their workshops were not approved, and overall the process is not conducted transparently.
The face to face Best Practice Forums in Istanbul were not helped by being scheduled alongside workshops, with the result that most IGF participants did not take part in them. If the IGF is to develop outputs with the chance of gaining the broadest possible consensus and input from outside a small group of “usual suspects”, as the Best Practice Forums aimed to do, then there should be some focussed time allocated for this, free of the distraction of other simultaneous meetings.
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.
We propose that the overall theme of the 2015 IGF meeting should be “Internet governance for sustainable development and promotion of human rights”. We are conscious that some governments do not approve of an explicit mention of human rights in the IGF’s overall theme. As the IGF is not a conventional multilateral body but a multi-stakeholder one, we do not believe that a few governments should be able to exercise a veto in this case. As the NETmundial Principles amply demonstrate, there is rough consensus around the centrality of human rights to Internet governance, and this ought to be reflected in the overall theme for the 2015 meeting.
The IGF is in a unique position to democratise participation in Internet governance, by acting as both a coordinating mechanism to connect stakeholders to external Internet governance processes, and also as a policy venue in its own right where emerging or orphan issues can be addressed and consensus-based solutions found and documented. But the IGF has been hampered in fulfilling its potential by its lack of structures and processes appropriate to the execution of these tasks.
To change this will require both bold leadership to drive the required reforms to the IGF (most of which have been well documented by the UN CSTD Working Group on IGF Improvements as well as in the NETmundial Statement.), along with a stronger resource base to implement those reforms. The IGF’s present lack of either of these presents it with a chicken-and-egg dilemma. However as a first step, we strongly encourage UNDESA to forthwith appoint a new high-level Executive Coordinator to the IGF who can prioritise the implementation of the necessary reforms.
Endorsements of contribution taking stock of the Istanbul IGF meetingRead the petition
|1||Global Partners Digital||Global||Oct 26, 2014|
|2||Izumi Aizu||日本||Dec 01, 2014|
|1||Jeremy Malcolm||Oct 26, 2014|