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Internet Governance 16 November 2009

Remote Participation in the IGF: Towards a Code of Best Practices

Marilia Maciel, Remote Participation Working Group coordinator, opened the session by thanking everyone who attended.  Marilia emphasized the value of remote participation which is a reflection of what the working group and the people who worked together have done to make this happen, as well as what have been evaluated, how it has helped IGF in its main goal and how RP can be improve in the next meetings.

Markus Kummer also added several thoughts on his support for remote participation.  He specifically mentioned the addition of this “opportunity” to participate. Marcus even talked about being more interested in this workshop, and how preparing for this meeting encompassed how important web streaming is due to live captioning, especially for people who have disabilities. More emphasis was on how to get the message out about what’s happening in the meeting. He even used the phrase “no size fits al.”  I think what he meant was without this remote participation tool, participation is downsized to email and by the time it reaches the moderator, the question is already delayed, and the same goes to suggested chat meeting without moderation. Without moderation, irrelevant questions may be posted or relayed. So such platform has this moderation. There is also the possibility of bringing in new media  to the Webex system. Tweets are also effective way of communicating.  But, perhaps, what makes the remote participation valuable is that it makes RP participants get noticed. The concept of regional hubs make it easier to identify remote participant.  One more thing about RP is that there is never a demand for physical participation so there are informal interactions, and balance between physical and remote participation.  Bear in mind, though, that people took time off to attend the IGF and that means missing work and not being with their family for several days. There is also the financial effort being implemented.

Marilia then asked Markus as to what was the best lesson learned in the entire remote participation process. Markus replied that it is not so much about technology, although the best technology is used to serve this purpose, but rather, the moderation offered to participants.

The host country Egypt also gave their thoughts through Ms. Nermine El-Saadany. Ms El-Saadany informed the session attendees that the host country has been preparing on this ever since the preparation for the RP started. It is an issue that not everyone can travel to the IGF meetings, particularly due to financial constraints. But along the way, they were able to find several ways to improve the RP experience. It wasn’t that great before, according to Nermine, since theyhfaced so many difficulties. Then there was Webex technology and they could not find experts to work on this. Lastly, Nermine talked about capacity-building and how they can intervene, and what’s missing in Egypt is the capacity building with a  group of experts.

Jovan Kurbalija, Diplo Foundation Director, also gave his thoughts.  He talked about part of an attempt to open global meetings, and in four to five years they have been doing nice things to broader participation, even inclusiveness in other fields, too.  In order to have sustainable discussion, you need to involve as many communities as possible. Jovan also talked a bit about “traditional diplomacy” to cater to the wider interest of community. Another broader attempt on participation called e-participation, while setting a few practices that can be followed by others, and giving people a chance or way to send  or relay their message.  Jovan made an analogy to this kind of set-up, like those of the “town hall meetings” in the US (on the health bill reform).

Olga Cavalli from ISOC Argentina spoke about knowing what’s going on, knowing the process and how to get involved, as well as bringing people to participate.

Marilia concluded the session by talking on the technical aspect of RP.  She mentioned about  “technical evolution” – about not being afraid of technology or hitches.  The part on “improving RP” was once again mentioned since she said that the improvement of RP is also improving the legitimacy of IGF.  Then she also mentioned about the “lock-in” effect of debates or consensus built because if people don’t participate, they will find that, more or less, most things have been decided for them already.

So what needs to be done? Marilia again mentioned about learning from lessons, the need for professionalization like more help from the government, and the establishment of hubs as best practices needing procedural guidelines.

NOTE: During the session, I was in contact with our remote hub moderators in the Philippines, who are ISOC PH members.  They were remotely accessing the main session and also joined the RP workshop.

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Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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