If we could do just one thing that would make a difference to our communication problems, to our understanding of the world, to the conflict we live in – what should it be? We could bridge the digital divide – dedicate more tools and resources to facilitate increased participation and inclusion in national, regional and global policy processes. One of the strongest resources we have for bridging that divide is e-participation. E-participation brings people into the processes that govern the world, ensuring that the diversity and complexity of voices are heard. Real problems are addressed and citizens are involved in the ownership of the solutions.
Since its inception at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) process has made frequent mention of the digital divide. As the IGF matures, we have learned that the divides are various and go beyond the traditional one of Internet access. One of the divides is between those who can impact Internet policy and those who cannot. Even at the most successful IGFs we do not have more than 2000 participants. What about the remaining billions who will be impacted by Internet policy but have no input into the process? This is where e-participation and its potential fit in. E-participation can be as simple as broadcasting/webcasting (remote observation). However the IGF has made concrete steps towards moving from remote observation to actual remote participation. Workshop, and even main session presentations are now delivered remotely, as are audience interventions in main sessions and workshops. E-participation is used from the beginning of the IGF work year for open consultations by e-mail, mailing lists, and websites, to encourage input into the planning and organisation of the agenda each year. This year, over 35 remote hubs around the world will meet in parallel and connect to the IGF main meeting in Nairobi, in addition to hundreds of individual remote participants.
Now that we have tested and proven the basic concept and technical structures of e-participation, it is time to study the principles that should guide this important tool. So Diplo is organizing Workshop 67 to be held on 29 September at 9 a.m. Nairobi, (EAT UTC/GMT +3) where participants and panellists will analyse and propose basic principles for e-participation in global policy processes, as well as noting guidelines for e-participation that emerge during the workshop.
The output of this roundtable will be a draft list of principles for later discussion. These principles will not simply be guidelines, such as: 'all panels should have a remote moderator to interact with remote participants and facilitate their interventions in the sessions', although we expect to hear and note such guidelines as well. Rather, the objective of the workshop is to gather input for principles such as (informal draft possibility) 'E-participation, and specifically remote participation should be offered to ensure inclusion of unheard voices in global policy process meetings.'
Your ideas and input are important to this process. If you will not be in Nairobi for the IGF, please try to join us remotely, following the links that will be available at www.intgovforum.org during the IGF, from 27-30 September. You are also invited to post your ideas here for inclusion in the discussion. How can and should e-participation be used to reduce the digital divide? What should be the standard e-participation framework for international policy conferences and policy processes? Your voice is important. Let us know!