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Governance of Internet governance: towards a plateau of productivity

Published on 28 January 2014
Updated on 05 April 2024

‘CIGI and Chatham House launch Global Commission on Internet Governance’ was a news headline from the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, adding to an avalanche of initiatives, panels, and events on the future of Internet governance (IG).

The new GCIG (if this abbreviation has not yet been used) adds to a ‘spaghetti tangle’ well described by  Samantha Dickinson (@sgdickinson) in her excellent article. We have ICANN’s HLPGICGM high-level panel, Brazil’s GMMIG conference, and the global 1Net cooperation. Add the EU-driven GIPO and the Geneva Internet Platform (GIP) initiative to the list – all this on top of the existing UN IGF and of course the WSIS+10 process.

Will more discussion and exchanges bring more ideas or further confuse the field? Will more mean less as often happens in life? It may seem so at the moment, but it may not necessarily end up so.

The IG spaghetti tangle in a nutshell

Unlike the UN’s highly political WSIS process and its offspring the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), which have been there for years and have a (more or less) clear mandate and format, most of the newly emerging initiatives seem to come as the result of a trend – thus without clear goals, mandates, and thematic coverage (and ‘legitimacy’, as some would emphasise). Yet, taking the political context of their emergence into account, we can recognise the differences in coverage and goals:

  • Brazil’s Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance, taking place 23-24 April in São Paolo, has a two-fold direct focus: IG principles, and a roadmap for the further evolution of the IG ecosystem.
  • The 1Net initiative, resulting from the Montevideo statement by the I* set of organisations (ISOC, ICANN, IAB/IETF, IANA and the 5 RIRs and W3C), is an (online) discussion platform connecting various constituencies throughout the year(s). 1Net aims to contribute to major IG forums (starting with the Brazil meeting) with ‘actionable collaborative solutions’ on, most likely, topics related to the Montevideo statement: Internet operations and ICANN/IANA functions, surveillance, global IG multistakeholder cooperation and equal participation of all (including governments), dangers of fragmentation, and IPv6 deployment.
  • ICANN’s High Level Panel on Global Internet Cooperation and Governance Mechanisms, which is expected to deliver a report by the summer of 2014, seems to focus on the ‘desirable properties’ of the future IG process: ecosystem legitimacy, effective and inclusive consensus-based system, ensuring global participation including from the developing world, and the co-existence of various  governance mechanisms (national and multilateral).
  • CIGI and ChathamHouse’s ‘Global Commission on Internet Governance’, as it seems from the address by its head, Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt, and news coverage, should have a two-year mandate and primarily focus on state censorship, privacy, and surveillance, through online discussions and several meetings.
  • The Geneva Internet Platform (GIP) will focus mainly on Geneva-based IG activities. It aims to assist diplomatic missions based in Geneva, international organisations, and other players in covering IG issues. The main focus will be in addressing the cross-cutting aspect of IG beyond policy silos. The GIP will include both online activities such as capacity building programmes and diplomatic webinar briefings, and in situ sessions, briefings, and conferences like the one planned in Geneva on 19-20 June 2014, which will focus on the results of the São Paolo conference.
  • The EU Global Internet Policy Observatory will be an online communication and database platform for knowledge and experience sharing across stakeholders worldwide. The GIPO should monitor IG policies, provide links across various initiatives, briefings, and reports on policy trends and processes.

At the basis, the UN’s Internet Governance Forum, whose 9th global meeting will take place 2-5 September 2014 in Istanbul, Turkey, thematically covers the widest possible range of IG topics; the agenda of the annual event is shaped by the Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) based on public input and will likely reflect the top trends raised in other forums as well. While it is a non-decision-making forum, the recent UN CSTD recommendations on the IGF improvements suggest moving towards more tangible outputs that can serve as ‘messages’ or non-binding policy recommendations – possibly akin to the IETF’s ‘Request for Comment’ (RFC) documents on technological standards.

You need more? There is more: the CSTD Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation discussing the role of governments in the IG process, regular ICANN meetings, the global Freedom Online conference, the ITU World Telecommunication Development Conferences (WTDC) and its Plenipotentiary Conference, etc. On top of this, of course, the WSIS+10 Overview process, culminating with the WSIS+10 event in 2015 – all feeding into a global millennium development goals (MDG) review.

Reaching a ‘plateau of productivity’

There is no doubt that many of these have been initiated as a response to trends and hypes and the growing importance of IG on the global political agenda. Using our e-diplomacy exercise, we may experiment with applying the Gartner Hype Cycle to an overall IG process as well, in order to envisage what will follow.

Governance of Internet governance: towards a plateau of productivity
Taken from https://blogs.gartner.com

WEF Davos usually marks a turning point with high – often inflated – expectations. For example, last year, MOOCs were prominent on the WEF agenda; this year, they have slid towards disillusionment. Accordingly, it may seem that the current mushrooming of IG initiatives corresponds to the ‘peak of inflated expectations’, and that the ‘trough of disillusionment’ is ahead (and I wonder what it might look like). On the other hand, it may well be that the WEF has this time marked the rising expectations at the turning point after the trough of disillusionment: the WSIS and the emergence of the IGF might have been at the peak of inflated expectations, while the accumulation of unresolved policy challenges in subsequent years have led to the trough – touched by the Snowden revelations, risks of Internet fragmentation, censorship, and cyberwar hypes. In such a scenario, we might now be moving up the ‘slope of enlightenment’ hoping to reach a ‘plateau of productivity’. Even if the latter is true – can we reach it at all?


Ordo ab chao

If we believe the old motto of the Craft Freemasonry that out of chaos comes order, we should start looking at how to move this plethora of initiatives towards productivity. ‘Governance of Internet Governance initiatives is needed’, Fernando Márquez (@feromalo) tweeted. Synchronisation across these silos is an important first step: various initiatives cover various IG aspects, so there is lots of complementary work; and where the same thematic areas are dealt with, two-way feeds (and even joint work) across initiatives would certainly add value. If linked together, each may make an important contribution to the overall IG process.

It may actually not be so hard to achieve this synchronisation providing good will exists: there are a number of people simultaneously serving on committees and panels of various initiatives – they may well serve as a link and assure much needed two-way communication. Additionally, the IGF’s MAG may connect various spaces and feed that work into its own agenda, thereby strengthening the role and positive impact of the IGF as the unique legitimate body.



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