The draft schedule for the Rio IGF meeting, and an explanation of it, have just been released. One of the most widespread complaints about the Athens meeting was that there was too much overlap between plenary sessions and other events. This has been addressed in the Rio schedule… by increasing the number of overlapping sessions, from four to as many as seven.
The main plenary sessions have been split into two rooms and two segments of two hours each: one of the character of the Athens sessions but with a maximum panel size of six, and the other a “speed dialogue” featuring a succession of three round-table discussions to be held in groups of ten to twenty.
Also held in one of the main meeting rooms will be a “reporting back” session which summarises some of the parallel sessions that delegates might have missed, though ironically this itself is held in parallel with one of the main plenary sessions.
The three concurrent workshop streams remain, but are now divided into thematic workshops on one of the four main themes, and open workshops which may be on any other Internet governance topic (including such vital excluded topics as the role of the IGF, future Internet governance arrangements, and ICANN).
Another new stream is the Open Forum/Best Practices Forum. The Open Forum sessions are designed to allow other Internet governance institutions such as the ITU and (perhaps) ICANN to “present and discuss their activities”. This is presumably designed as a sop to those fogeys who still believe the IGF has a responsibility to fulfil its mandate in paragraph 72 of the Tunis Agenda, such as:
(b) Facilitate discourse between bodies dealing with different cross-cutting international public policies regarding the Internet and discuss issues that do not fall within the scope of any existing body;
(c) Interface with appropriate inter-governmental organizations and other institutions on matters under their purview;
(i) Promote and assess, on an ongoing basis, the embodiment of WSIS principles in Internet governance processes;
The Open Forum alternates with the Best Practices Forum, which presents moderated sessions designed to allow stakeholders to present their own experiences of best practices in Internet governance at a regional and local level.
Finally, some room has been reserved for meetings of Dynamic Coalitions, and “other meetings”, though exactly how and when they are to be given an opportunity to present their proposals or recommendations to the IGF at large, and what the IGF is to be expected to do with them, remains unspecified.
Sadly, if predictably, no attention has been given to the views strongly expressed by many during the February consultation that the plenary sessions ought to be expanded to include a meta-governance theme, to deal with institutional and procedural issues such as:
- Is the IGF fulfilling its mandate? If not, what can be done to address this?
- What should be the relationship between the IGF and its Dynamic Coalitions, and how should it respond to their output?
- How and by whom will policy oversight of Internet governance processes be exercised in the future?
- Is ICANN sufficiently democratic and accountable?
Thankfully, it is not too late to register your strong concern at the omission of these issues from the schedule, which is currently still only a draft. Comments received prior to 17 May will be incorporated into a synthesis paper and distributed to those attending the 23 May consultation meeting at which the draft schedule is to be discussed.