From 25 to 29 May 2015, the ICT development community, joined by diplomats, academics, and business representatives, gathered to discuss topics related to Internet governance (IG). This year’s forum had the subtitle ‘Innovating together: Enabling ICTs for Sustainable Development’, which set the tone for the discussions that were held in the many sessions and panels during the week. A compilation of all sessions can be found in the WSIS Forum 2015 Outcome Document and we’ve taken the time to highlight some of the recurring themes of the forum.
The main topic of the forum, captured by the forum’s subtitle, was the interconnection between the WSIS aim of harnessing the potential of ICT for development and the post-2015 SDGs, a link that has been visualised in the WSIS-SDG matrix. Importantly, often-mentioned preconditions for ICT’s role in the development goals were the inter-related concepts of capacity building and creating an enabling environment.
Another recurring theme ‒cybersecurity ‒ was addressed from a wide range of angles. Apart from the need to make the Internet safer in relation to its infrastructure, there was an emphasis on the need to build confidence internationally to create an effective international IG regime, as well as the necessity of building trust at the user-level in how to safely use the Internet. The latter focus was also seen from a development angle, as the Internet can only be enabling when its users have trust in the devices they use.
The term multistakeholder was heard loud and often across the different sessions. There seemed to be a consensus on the importance of an approach that combines the voices of civil society, business, academia, and politics when addressing topics related to the Internet. Interestingly, despite the frequency by which this term was mentioned, there was no substantial effort to deconstruct this concept into concrete and workable terms. This effort will have to be made if the process is to culminate in a regulatory regime, as strategies needs to be crafted to incentivise powerful stakeholders to include others.
Even though the Internet of Things (IoT) may not have been one of the original focal points of the forum, the term was referred to frequently; future discussions about the Internet will very much depend on developments in IoT technologies. It has also been mentioned as an example of the difficulty of creating effective regulation, while attempting to keep up with fast-moving technologies. If the IoT is becoming the next big ‘thing’, it will be interesting to see how these technological changes will be reflected in IG forums next year.
In sum, the forum was effective in creating an environment of dialogue and providing a good platform for the different actors in the IG debate to meet and exchange information and views. At the same time, it made clear that core concepts will need to be deconstructed and made actionable, which will require much more discussion. Whether or not WSIS will remain a key discussion forum will depend on the outcome of the UN General Assembly meeting in December, which will review the progress made by WSIS towards achieving its goals and determine its future beyond 2015.