Recommendations on improvement of the IGF a missed opportunity

The Report of the Working Group on Improvements to the Internet Governance Forum has been presented at this week’s 15th meeting of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD), which also considered a more hastily-written report of last Friday’s (18 May) open consultation meeting on enhanced cooperation.

The clamour for more progress on the enhanced cooperation front shows up the conservatism of the Working Group’s report. Whilst it does acknowledge the need for more tangible policy outputs (though adding the weasel words “aimed at capacity building”), it maintains the fiction that the IGF was always to be a “non-decision-making” forum.

In fact this “non-decision-making” prescription does not come from anywhere in the Tunis Agenda, and indeed there may yet be a need for the IGF to take on a decision-making role (though still a non-binding one), as part of the enhanced cooperation process. The Working Group’s report ought not to have closed the door to this possibility.

If the IGF does not retain the flexibility to adapt its processes to include policy development, in the form of non-binding recommendations, then such processes will either continue to be developed by less-inclusive fora (such as by US-based Internet companies, or by narrower intergovernmental fora such as the OECD or Council of Europe), or pressure will remain for the development of a brand new institution that has that capacity, such as India’s proposed CIRP.

Whilst, in the end, the result might well be the formation of a separate body independent from the IGF, unlike IT for Change I don’t think that it is yet time to make that call, before all stakeholders have had a formal opportunity to develop other alternatives that could improve upon the CIRP proposal – some of which alternatives may be more IGF-centric.

Thus in the statement from Consumers International that I wrote,  we simply called for “the formation of a working group to design concrete mechanisms by which civil society can participate in the development of global public policies for the Internet”, without presupposing that those will resemble the CIRP model.

The conclusions of the CSTD meeting, currently being drafted, are likely to include the formation of such a working group, as a compromise between those who would maintain the status quo (claiming that enhanced cooperation is already taking place through a variety of decentralised mechanisms), and those who are seeking immediate progress towards the formation of a new intergovernmental forum.

Whilst funding remains a dilemma, it was narrow-minded of the CSTD Working Group not to leave scope for the IGF to extend its role to incorporate a higher-level policy-development function, as the enhanced cooperation mandate from Tunis envisages. By failing to provide for this, they may ironically only have fueled calls for a new and more intergovernmental enhanced cooperation mechanism.