Nitin Desai’s monologue and more highlights

Although the official transcript has just been released, I might as well continue to post my notes of Nitin Desai’s long wrap-up speech that I took last night, and the additional comments of stakeholders that followed it (at least, those that the sometimes-flaky Webcast allowed me to hear). To his credit, Nitin at least attempted to cover all of the key concerns that have long been expressed in this forum, and by me and others in previous submissions; namely concerns over the transparency of the Advisory Group, the lack of attention being paid to remote participation, and the question of outcomes and the fulfilment of the ignored paragraphs of the IGF’s mandate in paragraph 72 of the Tunis Agenda. On the Advisory Group’s transparency, he assured those assembled that their desire to be kept better informed has been taken on board and will be taken care of. Although he suggested that the Advisory Group had already been working in an open fashion (what, because of two Geneva-hosted public meetings?), he indicated that this process would be strengthened between now and Rio. He also indicated that he would pass on comments about the composition of the Advisory Group to the Secretary-General. On the issue of remote participation, he surprised me by appearing to trump our official announcement of the Online Collaboration Dynamic Coalition (IGF-OCDC) earlier that evening, by revealing that a number of people in the Advisory Group had decided to come together in a loose informal coalition to look at online participation issues. This is a prime example of precisely how open the Advisory Committee isn’t; that they must have known of the work Kieren and I have been doing in the IGF-OCDC since early last year when no serious attention was being given to remote participation by the Advisory Group, yet they have now suddenly thought fit to trump our efforts through their own back-room machinations without reference to us. Then on the question of outcomes and developing the capacity for the IGF to make recommendations as required by the Tunis Agenda, again – finally, after how many months! – we have the first glimmer of recognition of this issue, with the statement “I appreciate the sentiment that you can’t carry on for five years just doing education and awareness.” However he persisted in the misapprehension that “the IGF is not a membership body, so we cannot have a formal process of approval of anything. The people physically present there may vary, as may those present remotely. The idea of a body that approves anything is almost alien to the IGF. Before we move down that track, we need to consider what we want out of that process.” Even so, his allowance, finally, that “this is something we need to address as we go down the road” is progress at last. For WGIG and WSIS alumnus Wolfgang Kleinw├Ąchter who spoke subsequently, the idea of the IGF making “recommendations” is too strong as even the aim of reaching rough consensus would stifle discussion, in his view. Rather, but he allowed that the IGF could issue “messages” to other organisations – perhaps “mixed messages” in cases where no clear collective view existed. However more insightful in my view was the comment of Ralf Bendrath from the University of Bremen, a member of the Privacy Dynamic Coalition, who pointed out that the mere fact that there is no defined membership in the IGF does not mean that it is not possible to reach rough consensus. He noted that “during the WSIS process, where I participated in civil society, there was no clear membership on who was a member of civil society, who can decide and vote and whatever on our joint documents. But we still managed to come up with a lot of joint documents … using more innovative, more open, more tolerant mechanisms instead of the diplomatic negotiation mechanism.” Yes, civil society has begun to make some gains and even to convince government stakeholders of the potential of the new paradigm of multi-stakeholder governance. The feeling in the room was certainly much more receptive towards an empowered and collaborative role for the forum than could have been discerned from either of the previous public consultations. So for the first time in a while, I am hopeful of what is in store for Rio and, even more so, the IGF’s following meetings.

One thought on “Nitin Desai’s monologue and more highlights

  1. Just a correction to this. It has since been made clear by an Advisory Group member that Nitin was referring to the Online Collaboration Dynamic Coalition (IGF-OCDC) in his remarks about the loose coalition that was coming together to look at remote participation; he just wrongly attributed its formation to the Advisory Group.

    But I also sense that there is more in this than a simple mistake. The IGF-OCDC’s mailing list has always been open and and a free forum for discussion and debate. Recently, it has become necessary for us to go beyond discussion, and actually make some decisions. Not big ones; just things like what domain name we are going to use as the successor to igf2006.info.

    But this D word provokes indignation and horror amongst members of the Advisory Group who cannot sanction any decisions being made that could affect the IGF as a whole over which they do not have the final say. It is insisted that all Advisory Group members with an interest in decisions being made must have the opportunity to participate in them.

    Yet they have had the opportunity all along. It is called joining the mailing list. Yet despite invitation, they have failed to do so. And then they try to call foul when the dynamic coalition proceeds to conduct its business without them? Are we only to make decisions in the diplomatic fashion, over glasses of sherry in Geneva and chummy long distance telephone calls?

    You probably think that I’m exaggerating. Then get this: so great was the dissention at the prospect of the IGF-OCDC actually making decisions on its own that public editing rights on the IGF Community Particiption Site were actually briefly suspended so as to prevent any notification of decisions made on the mailing list being posted to the IGF-OCDC’s wiki page!

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