Having an Internet Governance workshop at ICANN meetings has become a norm in the past few years. The purpose of such workshops is to inform ICANN community of developments taking place at IGF fora, and to allow participants to exchange views on the various issues under debate.
At last week’s workshop at the ICANN meeting in Brussels, we witnessed a large number of attendees who actively engaged in discussions with panelists. Panelists who represent various stakeholders provided short introductory remarks on the history of the IGF, its mandate, and the process underway on continuing the IGF past its first 5-year mandate. Key to the IGF renewal process is the fact that while the IGF as well as the consultations on its continuation are a multistakeholder process, the decision as to whether or not the IGF will continue will be taken solely by Members States at the General Assembly in New York later this year. It is therefore important that stakeholders involved reach out to their respective governments to explain to them the role the IGF plays, and make sure they are well informed to make the right decision in New York.
Panelists also recognized how the IGF has evolved over the past five years leveraging its open, non-decision making nature in attracting many parties to engage freely in the dialogue and become effective in the process. As one panelist noted, the multistakeholder governance model of the Internet is a precedent that could be replicated in other industries. One example of the impact the IGF has made so far is the emergence of national and regional IGFs, which have been created by the respective communities in a bottom-up manner. Another example is the engagement of the business community in the IGF process as they have realized how significant the issues at stake are for the continuity of their business. One panelist talked about a survey conducted by the Internet Society (ISOC) for its members on the subject of continuation of the IGF. In that survey, respondents pronounced themselves generally satisfied, but identified a number of areas where the IGF could make some improvements. Such areas include: more weight to national and regional IGFs; more focused discussions; increasing participation particularly from developing countries; greater transparency of the multistakeholder advisory group (MAG); maintaining a role for the Internet technical community; and having a mechanism for sustainable funding.
Interventions made by participants underscored the multistakeholder, non-decision making character of the IGF, and stressed that it should maintain this core feature. Several participants emphasized the importance of the national and regional IGFs. While the majority thought that such initiatives should continue to be driven by a multistakeholder bottom-up effort, one participant was of the opinion that having national and regional IGFs coordinated through, and supported by a UN top-down mechanism would also be helpful. Some experiences were shared as to how national and regional IGFs were key in addressing community based needs, in raising awareness and in capacity building, and also in reaching out to parties that have never been involved in Internet governance issues.
Participants and panelists engaged in an interesting discussion about the cooperation and coordination between ICANN and IGF. There was a consensus that despite the fundamental difference between ICANN and IGF, building bridges across the two bodies was imperative. Some noted that the cross pollination between ICANN and IGF was already taking place, yet a lot more could be done. Some were of the opinion that ICANN issues should be addressed openly and extensively at IGF, to help those who never come to ICANN meetings know about ICANN, what it does and what it does not do. Some expressed the concern that using new comers to the IGF to sort of put pressure on ICANN may cause disturbance to the ICANN process. Some examples were shared as to how ICANN can better leverage the IGF space to inform the IGF community of what is going on at ICANN. It was mentioned that the ICANN open forum that has been on the IGF agenda for the past couple of years can be used this year to provide an update on progress made with respect to work done at ICANN and in particular on the Affirmation of Commitments (AoC), and work carried out by the Accountability and Transparency Review Team.
Finally, it was stressed again that the various stakeholders in the process are encouraged to speak to their respective governments and make sure they are well informed prior to voting on the continuation of the IGF at the UN General Assembly later this year.
The full audiocast of the workshop can be found here.