Idea Rating Sheets for validation of IGF dynamic coalition outputs

According to an informed source, the IGF’s private sector stakeholders are raising a (quote) sh*tstorm about the presentation I gave at ICANN 54 about the process that the dynamic coalitions have developed for the validation of their outputs by the larger IGF community.

The concept for the endorsement of dynamic coalition outcomes by the main session has a long history. But it was only this year that a MAG informal working group on intersessional activities, in turn responding to a recommendation of the more formal CSTD Working Group on Improvements to the IGF, finally recommended that there should be an IGF main session at which the dynamic coalitions could “present their work and ask for validation from the broader IGF community”.

This recommendation was recorded in several sets of MAG minutes without adverse comment by the usual risk-averse private sector stakeholders (for clarity: this comprises the majority, but not all, of the long-time private sector voice on the MAG; Google, for example, is an exception), and so the dynamic coalitions proceeded to plan for such a session.

In the absence of any other suggestions for how they might do this, I came forward to propose that they should adopt the use of Idea Rating Sheets. Although we are tweaking the suggested methodology slightly (because the dynamic coalitions have a separate process for actually generating ideas; we only need one for rating them), this simple and low-cost methodology fits the bill quite well.

It allows the dynamic coalitions to explain their outputs to the meeting and then to present them for comment in a series of points. Members of the community, both online and offline, can record the extent to which they agree or disagree with those points, and optionally why, resulting in useful feedback. In the case that a given document reaches a certain high threshold of consensus within the participating IGF community, the meeting chair could declare that it has been “validated”, thereby imbuing it with a more authoritative (though still advisory) status.

It was this that has enraged the private sector. The first indication of this was when co-coordinator of the session, Markus Kummer, in his usual diplomatic fashion, declared that due to the “sensitivities” of certain members of the MAG, we would no longer be using the word “validation”. This got the goat of a number of dynamic coalition participants who had never agreed to stop using that word.

His suggested compromise, such as it was, is that individual dynamic coalitions could choose their own terminology to use about whatever it was that the IGF main session was doing to their outputs. Nonetheless he has made clear that he won’t be using the word “validation” in the main session. (I, on the other hand, most certainly will.)

Then came my presentation at ICANN 54, which essentially outlined the above. When I came to the point about the private sector being averse to the IGF producing tangible outcomes, the Verizon representative who was there present rose and declared that oh no, I had it all wrong! They are actually all in favour of IGF outcomes!

Yet it was that same individual who communicated the substance of my remarks to her private colleagues, thereby precipitating the aforementioned sh*tstorm. It’s exactly the same over-the-top reaction that these control freaks (my source’s words) pull in response to any measure aimed at empowering the IGF as a policy forum, from 2005 (when they opposed the IGF’s very formation) until today.

I also observed during the ICANN session (no transcript is yet available unfortunately, and my remarks were ex tempore), the fact that the MAG self-imposes a requirement of essentially a full consensus before any changes to the IGF’s format can be made or any outside ideas accepted, is probably the greatest weakness of the institution as a whole.

Consequently there will always be a few self-interested private sector participants (“bad actors”, to use the terminology of another IGF working group) who will misuse their position on the MAG to block needed change. But multi-stakeholder processes don’t (or shouldn’t) work that way. The IGF MAG, its Chair Jānis Kārkliņš, and the chairs of its working groups such as Markus Kummer, simply need to have the guts to tell these actors: Thanks for your feedback, but the IGF has a mandate to make recommendations, the CSTD has affirmed that these need to take the form of more tangible outputs, and a MAG working group has worked with the dynamic coalitions in an open process to define how those outputs will be produced.

Or, more concisely:

Sorry private sector, but you are not the boss of the IGF.