Perhaps a more important outcome of NETmundial than the multistakeholder statement of São Paulo is what its participants have learned in experimenting to jointly create a multi-stakeholder conference, inclusive of online and offline participants from all sectors, that produces shared outcomes.
The process was designed as an open one, in which the organising committees were (mostly) self-selected by their communities, and who shepherded the process of compiling a basic text from 188 comments that were contributed online by participants from 46 countries. This compilation was then opened for comment using an online tool that drew 1370 paragraph-level comments and ratings. Further comments were taken during the meeting itself, both from those present in person, and others interacting online or from remote hubs.
This kind of process has been practised in Internet technical fora such as the IETF for many years, but until now has not been successfully tried in developing broader public policy principles. For example the Internet Governance Forum, another Internet governance institution, has drawn criticism for being just a “talk shop”, and its improvement is a focus of some of the recommendations of NETmundial.
Whilst successful to a point, NETmundial shows that multi-stakeholder Internet governance remains a work in progress. It was still possible for industry lobbyists to dictate language when the text moved from the plenary meeting into smaller, multi-stakeholder drafting groups. But even then, those groups were exposed to public view, with the drafting process being open to all stakeholders to observe. This lies in very stark contrast to the closed process of negotiation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, for example, whose negotiators often claim that text on contentious issues cannot be negotiated in public – a claim that NETmundial now shows to be false.
NETmundial is not a continuing event; its conclusions will have to go into other fora to be taken further. So too, hopefully, will its innovative methods.