Transcript of my controversial ICANN intervention about Idea Rating Sheets

As a follow-up from the preceding post, here is what I actually said about outputs at the IGF that caused the private sector such angst. This was delivered ex tempore, so excuse the informal grammar in parts.

Markus Kummer: Ten years ago would have been unthinkable to have a discuss on net neutrality. People would have feared, there would be blood on the floor. But in Istanbul we had a reasoned discussion on net neutrality, and as Jeremy said, this is a delicate issue we are not ready to conclude, but at least the IGF allows this discussion in a sense of neutral respect. And I’ll close with that. Maybe Jeremy wants to follow up on it.

Jeremy Malcolm: Sure. So I can say a little bit about the methodology that Markus alluded to. But maybe before I go into that just a bit more background into why we’re moving in this direction for the IGF. And when we’re here at ICANN, particularly for people who aren’t following the IGF as closely, it might seem strange that there is such a big debate about whether the IGF should produce some kind of recommendations or outcomes because we do that at ICANN all the time. And so you might wonder why is the IGF seen as just being a talk shop or a conference that can’t produce outcomes. And it’s a good question because it wasn’t always intended to be that way. If we look at the IGF’s mandate in the Tunis Agenda it does actually provide for the IGF to be able to make recommendations. So it could in a way have become the ICANN for issues other than names and numbers, if it had been structured in that way. With the difference that its recommendations would be non-binding, of course, because the Tunis Agenda does say that and also it says there should be no duplication of existing mechanisms.

But having said that, there are really few, in any, existing mechanisms for Internet policy issues to be dealt with in a multistakeholder way. So there is a lot of scope potentially for the IGF to act as a body to produce these non-binding policy recommendations. Unlike at ICANN, however, there’s been a lot of historical reservation to that, from certain stakeholders, such as some developed country governments and some of the private sector stakeholders. And when the IGF was originally being formed, I guess there was perhaps one might argue some undue influence by certain stakeholders who didn’t want it to develop in that way. So baked into the IGF’s original DNA we see a conference-style format which didn’t have the capacity to develop recommendations through structures that were designed for that purpose. Unlike ICANN where those structures do exist.

So now we have the opportunity to try and revise the way that the IGF does things, but it has to be in an incremental way and hence these — these slow reforms that we’re now seeing. And I do think it is important that we do allow the IGF to develop these capacities, because otherwise, as I think it was Marilia alluded to or someone alluded to the fact that Internet issues are otherwise going into places that we don’t want to see them like multilateral trade agreements which are very closed to civil society are being used to decide issues like IP, free flow of information that is personal data protection, and even ccTLD management which has popped up in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. So we don’t really want to see closed fora like trade agreements or even necessarily the ITU deciding Internet governance issues and it would be better if we did have a way for the IGF to produce some non-binding policy recommendations.

So the way we’re doing that is in a very lightweight, non- threatening way. And the methodology that we’re looking at for this year for the dynamic coalitions at least is the use of something called idea rating sheets. So the dynamic coalitions have all produced input documents of their own using whatever methodology they had developed internally. But those documents are really just the product of the dynamic coalitions themselves. They’re not — they don’t have any greater validity than that. So what we’re trying to do is to publish those, to explain them to the IGF community, to reduce them into a set of ideas or propositions that the IGF community can express agreement or disagreement on. And then to have a session which is actually split into two where we can invite the IGF community to — to rate or to validate the ideas that it agrees with and to show the extent to which it may disagree with the outputs as well. And so we’re going to have the break between the session on the second to last day and the session on the last day for people to complete these idea rating sheets which will be placed around the room and also made available online. And then on the second day we’ll come back and review what that feedback has been. And how we take the feedback forward is really a matter for the dynamic coalitions and the chairs of the session. If there seems to be an overwhelming consensus in favor of something that a dynamic coalition has proposed then there is the option that the chair of the session could say hey, I think we have a rough consensus on this. But for more contentious issues — and net neutrality is probably one of those — we likely won’t see such a strong consensus that we can say there’s a validation of the output by the IGF as a whole. But what we may see is that the IGF has given enough feedback that the dynamic coalition can then go away and over the next year work to revise its document and to undergo further discussions and then maybe come back later once more of a consensus has developed. And in that way we can gradually see the accretion of some outputs from the IGF without falling into the trap of having something like an intergovernmental negotiation process which as many people have long feared would be dangerous — a dangerous road to head down.

So on the other hand, if these experiments do work, I think we can then become bolder over time, and then not be so afraid of the IGF producing outputs. And so that’s my hope for the future, that we will be able to see an IGF that eventually does produce some useful actionable policy recommendations for other institutions to take forward. Thank you.

Cheryl Miller [Verizon]: So I wanted to just clarify a few things. I don’t think it would be accurate to say the private sector doesn’t support outcomes. I think for a long time we’ve not been in favor of turning the IGF into more of a negotiated body, and I think the gentleman’s points before really are testament to that, because a lot of the value and the benefit that we do receive from the IGF and from participating in it is breaking down the silos and having some of the discussions on net neutrality and other issues where we can’t discuss them in other ways and in other forums in that way. … 

And then I guess my question to the panel would be: We’ve had a lot of discussion within the MAG about MAG self-assessment and IGF self-assessment, and so you all have been involved in this for many more years than some of us new members such as myself.

What are specific things that you think we as MAG members can do to make some of the changes that you think are really important to support the IGF and make it a stronger body moving forward?

Jeremy Malcolm: There was one question that came in this last round of questions about how the MAG can help the IGF to evolve and I think the MAG has got a problem in terms of its own working methods, in that it really relies on a full consensus to be able to make any changes to the IGF and that’s rather stifling. I think the MAG needs to self-assess how it can move beyond some of those roadblocks that may be raised by just one or two members which can stop the IGF from moving forward, being more open to outside ideas as well.

For this year, one of the independently organized sessions is deliberative poll, which is another idea of how the IGF in the future might be able to deliver some outputs. So ideas like that I think the MAG should consider and try and work through those internal roadblocks that stop it from actually making evolutionary changes to the way the IGF works. Thanks.