The primary objective of this workshop was to present diverse perspectives from academia, civil society, government and the private sector about the current trends, opportunities, and threats facing the multi-stakeholder IGF model at the country and regional levels, and to think about how this might impact the international IGF.
This session was designed as an interactive roundtable that included panelists representing each stakeholder group from five different regions, three of whom were women, as well as about 35 audience members and remote participants, who actively contributed to the discussion. National and regional IGFs are not formally connected to the international IGF and are organic in nature resulting in differences in form and substance, and thus the goal was to understand different experiences of those who participated and what they felt worked or did not. Since formal approval is not required to host a national or regional IGF, these IGFs are entirely independent from the UN and the international IGF and this workshop was an opportunity to discuss best practices, challenges and emerging issues.
Although there was a debate about whether the IGF format should be a template or just inspiration, panelists and audience alike agreed that the national and regional IGFs should maintain the integrity of the UN methodology as it pertains to the maintenance of a multi-stakeholder forum. In order for an IGF to be effective, it must create a space that is open and includes all stakeholders – representatives from civil society, academia, private sector and government.
The Arab IGF was described as a good example of an inclusive, mulitstakeholder regional IGF: it included an open call for participation in the MAG, which received 60 applications and resulted in a multi-stakeholder MAG including 12 representatives from government, six from civil society, six from private sector and six from the tech community. As a result, the level of discussion at the Arab IGF was perceived as productive. However, despite the overall success of the Arab IGF, some felt that civil society was not adequately prepared to participate at full capacity due to the new and technical nature of the Internet governance field.
The under-participation of civil society in national and regional IGFs is also seen in other regions, which illustrates that additional training on Internet governance for civil society and awareness raising campaigns regarding the potential impact of the IGF are needed globally. For example, in South Eastern Europe, discussions on Internet freedom only included representatives from government and the private sector; while in Latin America, civil society actors are only beginning to engage on Internet issues and, thus, treat the regional IGF as a learning forum instead of a forum for action. All agreed that it is essential that civil society actors become more active and knowledgeable IGF participants, not only to ensure that their voices are heard on the national, regional and international level, but also to ensure that their input is taken into account in the process leading up to each IGF during which the themes are decided upon.
As human rights issues online are becoming more significant, it is becoming increasingly important to discuss human rights issues at the IGF and in the context of internet governance. It is easier for the private sector and the government to come together and consolidate their positions on issues of Internet governance than it is for civil society. It is important to make sure that all stakeholders are represented. Other observations included:
A national IGF was held in Tunisia in 2011. It was very hard to organize since the level of understanding about the IGF format and process was low among civil society. There was no indication that this national level IGF fed into either the Arab IGF or the Africa IGF. Tunisia will hold another national IGF in 2013.
There is a healthy civil society presence at the IGF USA, but most are from within the Beltway (from the Washington DC area). The IGF USA includes discussions on new topics, such as big data, moving to the cloud and intermediary liability, and, thus, makes a substantive contribution to the theory and field of Internet governance.
There is a lack of private sector involvement at the LAC IGF.
The multi-stakeholder aspect of the India IGF is coming to fruition. Representatives from academia, civil society, youth (YouDIG, youth debate on Internet governance), and the tech industry all actively participate in the India IGF.
At the international IGF, the academia stakeholder group is under-represented.
The issue of funding
There was a debate over whether and how funding for IGFs enables multistakeholder participation, especially by civil society and academia. Several felt it was difficult for civil society actors to engage in the IGF in large numbers due to a lack of funding needed to support travel and lodging. Some of the issues, and potential solutions, raised included:
Remote participation vs. physical participation: Some felt funding is not an issue because those who cannot afford to travel to the IGF can participate remotely. Others noted that remote participation does not compare to actual physical participation, which is about far more than the workshops.
The LAC IGF has a couple scholarships that help civil society actors attend, but they are limited and usually sponsor different individuals each year.
Should funding for the IGF be public? Some in the audience felt that all IGF funding should be public, while others (including the panelists) did not see a problem with private funding. Many IGFs are funded through a combination of UN and private money; others are even funded by governmental money (Tunisia) and private sponsors (Kuwait). Currently, there is not one funding model for IGFs, however, it is essential that they funding source be neutral.
Learning from IGFs
Those present at the workshop agreed that the IGF forum should be bottom up. Since national IGFs bring together a high concentration of individuals who know the local context, that knowledge should bubble up to the corresponding regional IGF in order to make the regional IGF a more effective and focused forum. In the same way, knowledge coming out of the regional IGFs should bubble up to the international IGF. However, because no database or central clearing house exists where outcomes from each national/regional IGF are codified (or at least none that any people in the room knew about) or where specialized knowledge coming out of these fora are housed and shared, this process of systematized information sharing is not happening and much of the knowledge gained at national and regional IGFs seems to be getting lost or at least is not accessible to an average participant. In order to get the most out of the national and regional IGFs and to make the international IGF a more effective forum, an easily accessible platform housing information and lessons learned from all IGFs could be developed and used to as a starting point to share best practices, how-tos and outcome documents. If such a clearinghouse exists then far greater efforts should be made to ensure that IGF participants at all levels and those interested in internet governance are aware of and have access to it.