Reform of the Internet Governance Forum

An excerpt from my forthcoming five minute video presentation to the IGF:

So what needs to be done to address these problems of legitimacy and effectiveness? Here’s an organisation chart that provides some ideas.

There are five main institutions represented here. The IGF means the forum sitting in plenary, as it does in the main sessions at Athens. The Secretariat and the Advisory Council exist already, though they will need to undertake some changes that I’ll make reference to shortly. But we’ll spend most time looking at the two new institutions that I propose; the Working Groups, and the Nominations Committee.

The Working Groups will be composed of any members of the IGF who wish to focus on a particular issue area. This is similar to what workshops do now, but workshops aren’t designed to exist for the long-term, nor necessarily to produce any tangible output. Working Groups will, and they will need to structure themselves to facilitate that, by appointing a chair and establishing facilities to work together on-line as well as at annual IGF meetings.

The Nominations Committee on the other hand has the sole purpose of deciding who should be appointed to the Advisory Council, appointing them for two-year terms. Any member of the IGF who wishes to volunteer to work on the Nominations Committee should be permitted to do so.

You will notice that the IGF is not at the bottom of the chart but at the top. This is because the IGF as a whole should have the final say on any decisions made by its subsidiary bodies, such as the decision of the Advisory Council to approve a new Working Group, or the proposal of a Working Group to put forward a particular code or resolution.

Now it is true that the IGF as a whole does not have a defined membership, and that is represented by the cloud-like shape in the diagram. It is for that reason that both the IGF, the Working Groups, and the Nominations Committee, should make decisions by consensus rather than by voting. This is because consensus does not require proportionally equal representation among the stakeholder groups.

In fact many bodies already involved in Internet governance, including the Internet Engineering Taskforce (IETF) and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) operate in a very similar manner; the IETF using the phrase “rough consensus” to denote that unanimity is not required.

The Advisory Council is a little different. Because the Nominations Committee can ensure that there is equal representation on the Council from each of the stakeholder groups, it can fall back to voting if it is unable to reach consensus. However aiming for consensus is still important to ensure that the various stakeholder groups do actively collaborate rather than just pursuing their own narrow interests.

Having a multi-stakeholder Nominations Committee determine the composition of the Advisory Council will also allow us to make it smaller and more efficient, because its legitimacy is not derived from a claim to be representative on its own account, but rather from the consensus of all stakeholders. Being accountable to the Nominations Committee, and thence to the IGF at large, will also force the Advisory Council to make its operations more transparent, bringing its discussions out from behind closed doors and private mailing lists.

Secretariat scales down its promises

Quietly (because the relevant page of the Web site still claims to have been last updated 31 July 2006), the IGF Secretariat has been backing away from some of its commitments about facilities to be made available at the meeting in Athens. Most notably it seems to have recanted on plans to facilitate the recording of five-minute statements at the IGF meeting to be played around the venue in a loop. It now seems to expect participants to record their own statements, saying that they “are encouraged to provide these statements both in video (specification: mpeg4 format) and in written document form”, with no longer any mention of them being played at the venue. Further, it is now merely “hoped that volunteers will monitor IM channels and will serve as proxies for the remote participants in making interventions”, rather than as before stating that official IM channels would be defined and monitored. Well, I’ll be doing so, via the IGF Community Site that Kieren McCarthy and I have put together, but what if I wasn’t? In fact, since it kicked off discussion on remote participation, the Secretariat have taken no action on the suggestions made, and have apparently ceded control over remote participation to myself and Kieren. There isn’t even a mailing list for IGF attendees (the closed and hidden IGF Members mailing list is for the Secretariat and the Advisory Group only). Is that too much to ask?

GigaNet slides available

I have just published the slides of my presentation to GigaNet titled ““The Sovereign Right of States”: Why Multi-Stakeholder Policy Development is Possible and Necessary” (which are still worth reading if you’ve read my proposal of the same name, as they’re quite different). You can view them online, or download the source in OpenDocument format, licensed under the same terms as this site.

A brief excerpt to whet your appetite:

How is the IGF doing?

  • The Advisory Council lacks legitimacy
    • Its appointment process was not transparent
    • Decisions are made on a closed mailing list
    • Democratic or consensual accountability is absent
  • The format of the meeting lacks effectiveness
    • Structured as a conference not an organisation
    • No procedures for building consensus
    • Remote participants not treated equally

What needs to be done?

  • The Advisory Council should be reformed
    • It should be smaller and more transparent
    • An open, multi-stakeholder Nominations Committee should appoint its members for two year terms
  • New structures are needed within the IGF
    • Workshops should evolve into Working Groups
    • Formed or dissolved on application to the Council
    • IGF in plenary ratifies this and their output

I have also finished half of Chapter 4 of my thesis on “Collaborative decision-making”, which is the last of it I’ll be able to finish before the IGF meets. You can also read that online or download it, but remember to stop reading after section 4.2 titled “Authoritarian” (ie. before you get to section 4.3 “Democratic”), because that’s the last section that’s finished.

(Oh, there are problems with the references in the downloadable versions of the thesis at the moment. I’m working on it and it will be fixed real soon now.)

IGF workshops

The workshops of the IGF will, unhelpfully, be held at the same time as the main plenary sessions. A much better format would have been like that of APRICOT, in which workshops are held in the days prior to the main conference. But this was another of those decisions made between the Secretariat and the Advisory Group that the rest of us weren’t consulted about and had no say in. There is a significant overlap between a lot of the workshops, which is hardly surprising given that the process by which proposals were submitted was a closed one. If workshop proposals had been developed in a collaborative online process, it would have been possible to consolidate many of them and to schedule them outside the times of the main sessions. (Calm blue ocean, calm blue ocean.) The timetable of workshops has recently been released (how recently I’m not sure – like most updates to the IGF Web site, this one wasn’t included in its rather useless and broken RSS feed). So I have had to decide which sessions to attend, and these are my choices:

Monday, 30 October

15:00 – 18:00 Multistakeholder Policy Dialogue – Setting the Scene A no-brainer, as it’s the only session held that day. Incidentally, the most important one, so thank God they didn’t schedule it against Free Expression or something.

Tuesday, 31 October

10:00 – 11:30 Openness It goes longer, but I’ll probably only be able to stick around for the first ninety minutes of this plenary session on freedom of expression, free flow of information, ideas and knowledge. 11:30 – 13:00 Participation This is one of the big ones, with ICANN, ISOC and representatives of the RIRs and ccTLDs on board. 13:30 – 15:00 IG for Participation A similar topic but from an entirely different angle, and a greater focus on development. It is run by CONGO, whose members include many large NGOs but none with much clue about the Internet. 15:00 – 17:30 – Security Back to the plenary sessions again, to catch most of this session on creating trust and confidence through collaboration. 17:30 – 19:00 – Enhancing Multi-stakeholder Participation in ICT Policy Making Wrapping up with the private-sector’s take on the whole governance issue. I’m not sure I’ll agree with everything they say, but I’ll be interested to hear them say it. Uh, and some time around here I’m also going to eat and sleep.

Wednesday, 1 November

9:30 – 11:00 – Legal Aspects Probably the second most-relevant workshop to my thesis, this sesssion will discuss the reach of various levels of legal system in addressing Internet-related issues. 11:30 – 13:00 – Human Rights and the Internet This session is run by the Council of Europe, which nowadays mainly functions as a human rights watchdog, and its subtitle is “How anonymous can and should we be?” 13:30 – 15:00 – The Internet Bill of Rights Eben Moglen is lined up for this one, so I can’t wait. I saw him before at, and he received a thunderous standing ovation there. 15:30 – 17:00 – Free flow of information in cyberspace UNESCO is hosting this presentation themed on freedom and openness of Internet communications. 17:30 – 19:00 – Building meaningful participation More of the same from yesterday, but this time co-hosted by the Canadian government. It seems that “multi-stakeholder” means that each stakeholder group hosts their own separate workshops on exactly the same topic. Way to go.

Thursday, 2 November

9:30 – 10:00 – Open Standards It is most frustrating that I will only be able to catch the first half-hour of this session organised by Sun and the W3C, amongst others. 10:00 – 11:30 – Conclusions and the Way Forward I could hardly miss the closing session, giving a summary and assessment of the first meeting and discussing plans for the next one in Rio. (No, you didn’t miss anything; there was no announcement or discussion of the decision that the second meeting would be held in 2007 in Rio. Say after me, “the Secretariat knows best”.) Hopefully they’ll be well into self-congratulatory back-slapping by the time I leave this session early for the next one. 11:30 – 13:00 – Intellectuals in the IGF Policy Process Subtitled “From knowledge to results”, this one is also very relevant to my thesis. David Clark will be there, which should be good. 15:00 – 17:00 – Emerging Issues A token panel of young people will be speaking at this one. Congratulations. Make sure there are no caucasians, though. And put them in wheelchairs.

The IGF’s Drupal site

Kieren McCarthy and I have put together a Drupal site for the IGF which will provide a semi-official site for remote participants to involve themselves in the activities of the Internet Governance Forum through chat, polls, blogs and discussion boards. On the one hand I think it is great that the Secretariat seem to be willing to allow the community to pitch in to build participation fora for the IGF that otherwise probably wouldn’t exist. On the other hand I find it slightly scary that it should be entrusted to a freelance IT journalist and an IT lawyer (well, student now). On another note, Drupal is really impressive. I’ve been using WebGUI before, because I’m a Perl person rather than a PHP person, but Drupal seems much more logical and easy to administer, if a little less customisable out of the box.

The Plaza is back on again

Good news: it seems that the Plaza hasn’t been cancelled after all, only scaled down to what it should have been at first, and made free! In a message received this morning, George Sadowski who is chair of ICANN’s Nomcom, indicated that he and a colleague had assumed responsibility for the event. He writes:

My sense is that the Plaza will consist of a number of tables, each with several chairs, that can be used by people wishing to display projects, ideas, themes or organizations as long as the purpose is directly connected with Internet governance. … At this moment, we believe that there will be no cost to the participants using the tables, and that the host committee will pay whatever costs are associated with the Plaza.

I’d better get to work on my display.

Civil Society Governance Caucus chartered

The Civil Society Internet Governance Caucus is the evolution of a peak body of civil society seeking to be involved in Internet governance, that first came together at the WSIS. Less than a month short of the IGF, voting on the Governance Caucus’ charter has just closed, with the following results: The charter was accepted with a vote of:

  • 56 votes for
  • 3 votes against

Voting style was determined as being open with the opportunity for the coordinators to close a vote, subject to appeal:

  • 19 for Secret ballots
  • 30 for Open ballots

Regarding the method of selecting the Appeals Team:

  • 35 in favor of using a Nomcom
  • 9 in favor of voting

Regarding the method of selecting nominees to other bodies:

  • 34 in favor of using a nomcom
  • 10 in favor of voting

The charter is well worth a read. Although I demur at the suggestion that civil society necessarily constitutes only “progressive” groups and actors – this is too prescriptive – I think that the Caucus has otherwise gotten most everything right, and will be interested to see where it goes from here.

In other news, my presentation for the GigaNet conference has been accepted, so I suppose that I had better start writing it.

Web accessibility does not mean a site needs to be plain.

As a Web developer, part of my job is to understand what a Web site says to its visitors. Does the design attract the target audience; that kind of thing. I’ve just been browsing through the Internet Governance Forum’s Web site for the first time, and was presented with an impression that the site was there purely because there needed to be a site that made such information available, but didn’t really want to attract attention. Given the subject matter, I suspect this is not supposed to be the impression drawn from the site. If the IGF were serious about a setting up a framework where anyone can contribute, it needs to have a site – which is likely the first point of contact for a lot of people – that tells visitors they are serious about what they’re doing, not just with words, and also create a design that attracts people to want to come back – and not just people who have to be there for whatever reason. A bland white/grey/black site that looks like it was designed by someone with minimal HTML knowledge is not the way. For goodness sake, at least have a consistent menu on each page! I think it’s great that they have an accessibility note at the bottom of the home page that states:

“This Web site aims to promote the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). It tries to meet the highest standards set by the W3C. Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can use the Web, and that they can contribute to the Web.”

However, this accessibility does not mean the design needs to resort to the lowest common denominator. If I thought my input would actually be listened to, I might first suggest that the site needs more colour. As Kieran points out on the IGF’s discussion forum, “I can’t go on enough about how much more people interact with websites if they are colourful.” Even what could be considered a very basic design such as the one on this IGF Watch site would attract more visitors than what currently exists. As was also pointed out to me, the “NEW” news posts on the home page are not published in any particular order. One standard that is often adopted when posting news or updates on a Web site is that it is published in reverse chronological order. This is to enable visitors to scroll down the page only as far as the last entry they read, and to know what is most current. I would also like to see in the menu a link to the discussion forum. One advantage to a consistent menu (such as having an external php file that spits out the same menu on each page) is that you only need to change one file, not multiple, when a new menu item is required.

Get your free porn now at… the IGF Web site?!

The IGF has just added four new topics at its discussion forum, covering the four main themes of openness, security, diversity and access. Unfortunately the only posting so far is by a poster called “Big tiits”, which contains inline pornographic images, including an explicit photograph of intercourse (just a warning).

Appropriately enough, this posting has been to the “security” topic (though on the other hand perhaps a better topic may have been “openness”, since that’s the theme under which content regulation will be discussed?).

As usual, the new topics have been added without any announcement (just as the cancellation of the Forum has yet to be formally announced on the IGF Web site). In fact, is it just me, or is the IGF Secretariat a little uncommunicative generally regarding their activities?

I have just reported the abusive post to them, but from previous experience the IGF Secretariat is not always quick to reply or act on email. Looking back, I see that most of my communications with the Secretariat have gone unanswered:

Date Topic Outcome
13 February 2006 Sending questionnaire response for ISOC-AU Posted
22 February 2006 Reporting problem with Web site No response but fixed
27 February 2006 Sending submission for ISOC-AU No response but posted
29 March 2006 Nomination for Advisory Group No response or action
31 March 2006 Sending submission for ISOC-AU No response but posted
2 August 2006 Sending private submission No response but posted
14 August 2006 Asking questions re IGF Meeting format Response on 3 September
3 September 2006 Asking questions re blogosphere report No response
18 September 2006 Sending related activities link No response or action
27 September 2006 Sending offer for use of collaboration software No response or action

Perhaps they are a little overwhelmed? Perhaps they should open up a little more to allow volunteers from the community to give them a hand?

“The Sovereign Right of States”: Why Multi-Stakeholder Policy Development is Possible and Necessary

I have applied to speak at the inaugural annual conference of GigaNet, a new network of Internet governance scholars. Here’s what I intend to talk about:

The Tunis Agenda states in paragraph 35(a) that “Policy authority for Internet-related public policy issues is the sovereign right of States”. It is therefore taken that governments are to lead the development of Internet-related public policy within the Internet Governance Forum, and that the appropriate roles of the other stakeholders in this endeavour – that is, the roles of the private sector, civil society and intergovernmental organisations – are merely consultative (see paragraph 68). However there is a tension here between the traditional conception of public policy governance, as a process led by governments in which public input is received through written submissions and public hearings, and the increasingly prevalent understanding that states are no longer sovereign over public policy issues that transcend their borders, and must admit other stakeholders as full co-decision makers if their governance is to be perceived as legitimate. Is it still therefore accurate to say, as the Tunis Agenda does, that the development of transnational public policy is the sole responsibility of governments? If not, was it ever accurate to say so, and if it was, how and when did this change? I propose to speak about these issues by contending that governments alone can no longer legitimately claim sole authority over the development of public policy for the Internet, due to the diffusion of their sovereignty in respect of transnational issues upward, downward and outward to other actors, who whilst not endowed with (legal) authority, are better placed to address them. On this basis it can be understood that the traditional international order of Westphalian states now shares the mantle of transnational governance with regimes in which private sector or civil society stakeholders dominate – that of ICANN, to give one obvious example. Whilst the other stakeholders can add legitimacy to the governance process – for example, the private sector that of the efficiency of markets, and civil society the moral force of the substantive values it represents – they are no more legitimate in their own right than governments are. Rather, it is as a network, in which all stakeholders collaborate, that transnational public policy can be developed most legitimately (and incidentally most effectively). The IGF is, at least potentially, such a network. To suggest that the IGF could develop public policy for the Internet, when it is neither representative nor has yet had the opportunity to develop the perception of legitimacy within either the Internet community or the international order at large, perhaps seems outlandish. And so it is – at the moment. But the potential for the IGF to develop into a legitimate and effective governance network, that is perceived as such, exists now and should not be squandered. What is required in order for this lofty objective to be realised, and to save the IGF from becoming simply another irrelevant “talk shop”? Its multi-stakeholder composition, laudable and important as it is, is not sufficient. The IGF must not only be constituted appropriately, but its structure and procedures must also support its inclusive and collaborative ideals if it is to truly become a multi-stakeholder governance network. In determining what these procedures can be, much can be learned from observing the processes of other bodies already involved in Internet governance, such as the IETF, that successfully make decisions by consensus, and from the theory of deliberative democracy which values opinion formation as much as decision-making, and which is particularly well-suited to bodies such as the IGF in which stakeholders from radically different backgrounds are involved.