As partially documented here and here, various working groups have periodically tackled the issue of how to improve the IGF by making it more useful and relevant, and in particular by ensuring that it would have the capacity to address one of the forgotten paragraphs of its mandate from paragraph 72(g) of the Tunis Agenda; to “Identify emerging issues, bring them to the attention of the relevant bodies and the general public, and, where appropriate, make recommendations.”
However recommendations for improvement of the outcome orientation of the IGF have been held back by the need to reach a consensus with stakeholders with a vested interest in keeping the IGF in its box, resulting in milquetoast recommendations at best (such as publishing “Chairman’s Summaries” of meetings). Yet another Working Group on IGF Improvements was established this year, but it seems to be limiting itself to cataloging and assessing progress against these already-vetted proposals, as seen here.
The kind of reforms that I’ve always been more interested in are more ambitious reforms relating to the development of policy recommendations within the IGF, either using face-to-face deliberative democratic methods, and/or innovative online tools. In the few cases where deeper critiques of the IGF have recognized the need for such more ambitious reforms, such as in a 2014 report by Edward Roche, the IGF MAG and/or Secretariat have acted as gatekeeper to bury these and prevent them from being addressed.
My most recent effort to circumvent these blocks by introducing more ambitious procedural innovations to the IGF from the bottom up, viz. through the Dynamic Coalitions, or from the side, viz. through Stanford University’s independent side project on Deliberative Polling, have met with similar difficulty due to obstruction and delay from those opposed to the idea of the IGF producing recommendations.
But another attempt to crack this nut is about to begin, through another IGF working groups that the MAG established for this year, the Multi-year Strategic Work Programme group chaired by MAG chair and former ISOC President/CEO Lynn St Amour. Today, the group accepted the following mandate for a new drafting group that would produce a short option paper for consideration of the full working group, outlining a range of possible approaches towards the fulfilment of the IGF’s mandate in paragraph 72(g). Without prejudging that any changes from current practice are necessary, the option paper would address:
- What factors would make it more or less appropriate for the IGF to produce an output addressing a particular policy issue in conformance with its mandate in section 72(g)?
- For example—strong and broad consensus around the issue, no other multi-stakeholder body directly addressing the issue
- Are existing mechanisms for the developments of outputs within the IGF (eg. Dynamic Coalitions or Best Practice Fora) appropriate for the generation of draft text on such an issue from the IGF?
- If not, what new mechanisms (such as expert working groups, or participatory political processes such as the “citizens jury”, etc.) could be used to develop such draft text?
- What form or forms could these outputs of the IGF take that would be consistent with its status as a forum for multi-stakeholder policy dialogue through a non-binding process?
- For example, are Internet technical community processes of offering voluntarily-adopted “Requests for Comment” applicable?
- Once draft text has been produced, what kinds of further process could allow for the IGF as a plenary body to meaningfully consider and provide feedback on it, and what institutional reforms to the IGF would be necessary to support that process?
- What should be the threshold standard for the publication of a text as such an output of the IGF?
- For example, would it be necessary to achieve a “rough consensus” standard within the community of registered on-site and online IGF participants?
This has the potential to be quite a breakthrough, given that so many previous endeavours to suggest improvements the IGF have deliberately avoided addressing paragraph 72(g) head-on. As a member of this new drafting group and of the full working group, I will do my best to help draft a persuasive option paper that illustrates that the development of non-binding recommendations need not be the death knell for the IGF as many fear, but could on the contrary be the salvation of an institution that some say is on its last legs.