APC perspective on the future of the Internet Governance Forum
, November 2009
Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to this important review.
The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) is of the view that the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) has fulfilled its core mandate in terms of paragraph 72 of the Tunis Agenda on the Information Society to constitute a space for multi-stakeholder policy dialogue on internet governance. As an international civil society network, which has participated in the formation of the IGF from the beginning, APC wishes to express its firm view that the IGF should continue.
Internet governance is distributed across a broad number of organizations responsible for the internet. It is a unique form of participatory governance that involves all stakeholders.
The IGF is also unique: a hybrid of UN, intergovernmental and non-governmental protocol and practice where individuals and institutions concerned with internet governance and development gather together for open dialogue and debate.
This unique hybrid is necessary to create a space where all stakeholders feel comfortable to the extent that they can contribute meaningfully and openly in discussion, debate and collaborative planning with other stakeholders.
It is important that we maintain this hybrid culture, which sits somewhat in the middle of the intergovernmental <==> non-governmental landscape.
However, it is also important that all stakeholders understand the nature of this hybrid culture, the challenges it presents and the negative impact and consequence of any stakeholder exploiting their access to this forum, or their position or power to control participation or determine outcomes. The purpose of a multi-stakeholder forum is to listen to others and try to reach common understanding instead of insisting on one’s own point of view.
Over the years of its existence the IGF has developed an adaptive ecosystem in which all stakeholders can interact on the basis of equality of input. This is an important dimension which depends on the adroit and careful shepherding of the IGF performed by the IGF secretariat under the effective and diplomatic leadership of Nitin Desai and Markus Kummer. The vital role of the IGF secretariat in its current form to the success of the IGF should not be under-estimated. We have heard a lot of corridor talk that the status of the secretariat should be changed in some way and located more firmly in the UN system. We feel that the IGF should continue to operate under the auspices of the UN while continually aiming to enhance its multi-stakeholder nature.
This has worked well in the past few years and we see no reason to change it. Indeed to change the status of the IGF secretariat will only serve to disrupt the IGF as a successful forum for dialogue.
We have also heard a perspective that says that those countries who provide financial support to the IGF have more say over its annual programme as a consequence of their funding of the IGF secretariat. We have not found this assertion to be true. The IGF secretariat needs independence from any form of undue influence. If this is a source of concern to some stakeholders, terms of reference for donations could be put in place to protect the IGF secretariat’s independence.
In view of the limited time for this review, consideration should be given to extend the time for written comment for three weeks to enable those who have been unable to express their views today to make an input into the review.
We also feel that the IGF should be allowed to evolve as a forum that can produce outputs and outcomes beyond those of a space purely of policy dialogue and deliberation. The exact modalities of such outputs and outcomes should be a matter for the stakeholders of the IGF to determine through an open dialogue. One way of doing this may be to hold inter-sessional thematic IGFs during the year that discuss key issues related to internet governance and which can feed the outputs of their deliberations into the annual IGF meetings as well as into relevant policy making forums. Regional and national IGFs are an example of decentralised IGFs that address national and regional priorities while also informing the main IGF and what we propose is that consideration be given to doing something similar on a thematic basis.
Overall, participation from developing countries should be improved – from all stakeholder groups. One way of doing this is to shift development from a crosscutting theme to a main theme of the IGF.
The IGF is an innovation in multi-stakeholder internet governance, it works, it is evolving and should continue.
[Presented for APC by Willie Currie, APC policy programme manager, at the Taking Stock and Looking Forward – on the desirability of the continuation of the Internet Governance Forum session
Fourth Internet Governance Forum meeting, 18 November 2009, Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt]