Steps towards Hyderabad

The May open consultation held in preparation for the third meeting of the Internet Governance Forum, to be held this year in Hyderabad, India, finished about twelve hours ago. As usual, progress is slow, with many of the same points being raised time and again without any decisions being taken on them. Having said that, there does now seem to be a firmer resolve to increase the focus and interactivity of the Hyderabad meeting and its interconnection with the IGF’s subsidiary processes. Marcus Kummer’s summing up of contributions received as input to the consultation was more balanced in his opening address than it had been in the recently-released synthesis paper. In particular I was surprised (but gratified) to hear amongst his first words an apology to me for the omission of my most recent submission from his synthesis report. However this balance came at the cost that fewer even tentative conclusions were drawn. Amongst those on which broad agreement was identified (none of which are at all new) were that:

  • The main sessions should focus more on specific issues rather than broad generalities, and should explicitly draw in the forum’s cross-cutting priorities;
  • Broader participation should be fostered by limiting both the number of speakers and their dominance of the main sessions, and by improving mechanisms of remote participation; and
  • Workshops and dynamic coalitions should represent a broad diversity of views, which should be a factor in more clearly defining coalitions’ status and linkage to the IGF.

Two of the contentious questions on the draft Hyderabad program were whether the two streams should be respectively on “Universalisation of the Internet” or “Expanding the Internet”, and “Managing the Internet” or “Using the Internet”. Whilst the IGF does have an operational mandate to further the expansion of the Internet, for which universalisation seems a close enough synonym, there is far less in common between management and use of the Internet, and a far better fit with the IGF’s mandate in the former case. So it probably wasn’t surprising that long-time opponents of an expansive role for the IGF such as ICC/BASIS, WITSA and ISOC opted for the tame option of “using the Internet”, along with various left-field topics such as environmental governance over which the IGF clearly has no power to influence policy. (Ridiculously, there is now a dynamic coalition on Internet and climate change.) Parminder Jeet Singh from IT for Change put the contrary position very well when he said, “Managing the Internet is, in fact, a watered-down version of governing the Internet. And either of them would be fine. But it can’t be replaced by using the Internet, because the set of issues are very different.” Another disagreement was over which of the two draft schedules put forward for Hyderabad – “A” and “B” – should be preferred. The former was closer to the formats of Athens and Rio, stuffed with many concurrent workshops, and the latter was more spaced out and would require more consideration to be given to the consolidation of similar workshops. Given the amount of unnecessary overlap experienced in previous meetings, option “B” has much to commend it, but it seemed to draw sparse support at the open consultation. In his morning closing statement Nitin Desai effectively killed the idea of a debate or “big fight” that had been mooted for Hyderabad, sensing that the idea had drawn resistence from some participants. In a sense, it is true that the debate format is an inappropriate one for the development of a deliberative consensus – but so too is the existing conference format. What is needed is something of a hybrid that does pit opposing views against each other, but in a constructive, small-group moderated setting. Thus in the afternoon, Vladimir Radunovic from DiploFoundation suggested in an interesting remote contribution that the Advisory Group should consider introducing more innovative formats such as simulations and role-playing games to engage participants more actively and productively. Opportunity was also taken in the afternoon for various dynamic coalitions and other groups to report back on their activities, including national initiatives such as the UK IGF and a new German IGF that was announced for 11 November. Finally, Parminder Singh locked horns with Nitin Desai over enhanced cooperation, which is the new model put forward in the Tunis Agenda for the development of globally applicable public policy principles for Internet governance in a multi-stakeholder context, but the details of which are unspecified. Whereas Desai was (and has always been) dismissive of the IGF’s role in this process, claiming that it should be the preserve of the CSTD which is formally engaged in the WSIS follow-up process, Parminder took him up on this describing the need for multi-stakeholder involvement in the evolution of the enhanced cooperation model as “a basic issue of multistakeholder participation and openness and transparency”. As well regarded as Nitin Desai is by most stakeholders, his ability and resolve to shape the process should not be underestimated. He is a canny diplomat, and takes full advantage of the power he wields as Chairman. All along, one of his implicit objectives has been to hold civil society back from challenging governmental authority over public policy development for the Internet. But while he remains successful in this, the IGF will never fulfil its mandate.