Was my judgment on the IGF too harsh?

Since a number of the shortcomings of the IGF Secretariat and Advisory Group that I have highlighted in my research are now being addressed, it might be argued that the verdict of my thesis (and the forthcoming book into which it has been adapted) has become too harsh. For example, I wrote of the process by which the Advisory Group was appointed for Athens, and re-appointed for Rio, that:

In no sense could the Secretariat’s selection of candidates for the Advisory Group, in a closed process pursuant to criteria that were never published, be described as consensual or democratic.

I also criticised the appointment of Advisory Group members in purely personal capacities, rather than as representatives of the stakeholder groups to which they connect in the wider Internet community, as it is through such representation that the legitimacy of the Advisory Group as a multi-stakeholder body is derived.

Thirdly I pointed out that by omitting to institutionalise mechanisms of accountability and transparency within the Advisory Group, “the group’s effective transparency [has been left] subject to the whim of the meeting’s participants (and in practice, highly opaque).”

Things began to change following the Rio meeting (some of which changes are reflected in the final revision of the thesis, and more of them in the forthcoming book). Initially, a terse report of the Advisory Group’s September 2007 meeting was released; then in February 2008, it was announced that anonymised digests of the discussion held within the Advisory Group would henceforth be made “available on the Forum Section on a regular basis”.

Most recently, the call for nominees to the renewed Advisory Group reveals a subtly improved understanding of the accountability that ought to attach to that position, and the transparency of the process by which appointments are made. The UN’s announcement of the renewal of the Advisory Group for the Hyderabad meeting states:

The Advisory Group will renew up to one third of its members within each stakeholder group.  All relevant stakeholder groups, representing Governments, private sector and civil society, including the academic and technical communities will submit names to the Internet Governance Forum Secretariat.  All members serve in their personal capacity, but are expected to have extensive linkages with relevant stakeholder groups.  Members need to be willing to reach out and ensure continuous flow of information to and from interested groups and to participate actively and constructively in the Group’s work.

This is the first time that the process by which the Advisory Group is reappointed has been made public and stakeholders have been invited to participate in that process. It is also now explicitly expected that appointees should remain accountable to those stakeholders following their appointment.

So has my judgment been too harsh? Yes and no. It is undeniable that progress has been made since the IGF’s inception, particularly in comparison to the pre-Rio state of the Advisory Group which met in complete secrecy and was re-appointed without any open consultation with stakeholders.

However, it is equally clear that there has been no fundamental change. The Advisory Group is still appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General, rather than by the stakeholders themselves, for example through a multi-stakeholder nominating committee. Neither have any detailed criteria for appointment have been released, and it is unclear whether any consideration will be given to nominations made other than through representative groups such as the ICC and IGC.

So I stand by my conclusions for now. But in any case, that is what this Web site is for: to act as a more dynamic commentary on the IGF that accompanies my written research and allows the community to engage with and question it. So if you disagree with what I’ve written (heck, even I disagree with some of my earlier postings), please register on this site and say so!

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