E-participation does not replace in-person participation, nor diminish its importance. As a matter of fact, comments made by IG Thematic Amb. Bertrand de la Chappelle at the Geneva launch of the E-diplomacy Initiative have convinced me that not only is this true, but e-participation and remote participation in meetings and conferences is very likely enhancing and improving in-person attendance, and will continue to do so to an even greater extent in the near future.
As remote participants demand actual participation and inclusion, instead of just observation and 'attendance', suggested de la Chappelle, so will in-person attendees begin to realize that if they do not have actual engagement in the process, which requires their physical attendance, they might as well just watch the recorded webcast, or read the transcript at their convenience.
Is this a good thing? I think so. The Internet reflects the society we live in, and we are often disappointed with what we see. However, the Internet is changing society as well. Let's highlight the positive aspects like true engagement, as they develop. The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) has firmly established multistakeholder inclusion in the international Internet Governance policy processes as a step forward. The next step is in-person and remote or 'e' meetings and conferences that are truly interactive, where 'attendees' become a more active part of the process, not just listeners and observers. This trend is once again being led by the IGF process, as workshops and main sessions move to fewer panelists and speakers and more floor moderators and audience participation.
What benefits does this increased participation hold for traditional multilateral diplomacy? I can think of at least two. More innovative ideas and input can be brought into policy processes to find solutions to pressing problems. Second, the more inclusive a process is, the more people will accept ownership and be willing to implement findings. Signed international treaties won’t collect dust on the shelves but could actually address pressing global problems. They will matter.
This process is beneficial for all those involved. The only difficulty may be that the players must to realise the possibilities and go beyond traditional “policy suspicion”.
Will diplomats and governments see the engagement of world citizenry as a positive development, or will they be threatened and try to return to tighter control of processes? What do you think?