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Building Trust 21 October 2013

Internet Governance: Showing Up, Being Present, Making Decisions

Dawit Bekele
By Dawit BekeleRegional Vice President - Africa

 ”The only way to avoid malware and viruses is to use Linux!”

“Stop saying that or I will hit you with my Microsoft Surface!”

So went a rather uh, heated discussion about cyber security at the pre-IGF meetings that the ISOC Ambassadors, Fellows and Chapter Leaders were at. Termed the Collaborative Leadership Exchange (CLX), its objectives were to get participants prepared for the intensive workshop circus that is the annual IGF conference.

But I think we’ve all already taken away much, much more than that. Preparation for conference workshops tend to be humdrum and mind-numbing – but these two days of pre-IGF workshops is by far one of the most positive experiences in group prep I’ve had the privilege of attending. These two days saw some intensive discussions on ISOC chapter management issues, Internet governance problems and how to solve them, discussions on specific topics such as building a safe internet, creating and sustaining online communities, developing local content, cyber security (which led to the exchange you read above), amongst other issues.

As we spend the rest of the week conferencing in beautiful Bali with amazing food, it seems appropriate to approach the question culinarily: what’s the secret sauce to having a good discussion? Here are the ingredients:

1. An external moderator who is prepared
Ruud Janssen is a rock star – spent his birthday with us sorry folk rather than with his family. He came prepared, understanding the organisation, its objectives, and the opportunities that the platform could give discussants.

2. A facilitation technology that actually encourages active discussion
I quite like the Fish Bowl facilitation method of discussion – 8 seats in the inner circle, 16 seats outside; all seats save 1 in the inner/discussant circle should be filled; 16 seats outside aka observers cannot speak but can request to enter the inner circle by claiming the empty seat, after which conversation must stop until someone leaves the inner circle. This allows
(1) good discussion among a small group of people,
(2) peer pressure keeps the loudmouths down, especially if the inner circle has swapped many times – seat hogs don’t stay seat hogs too long,
(3) it gives opportunity to jump in if you want, or stay as an observer if you don’t want,
(4) it is strict and adheres to rules (no more talking once the inner circle ceases to make 7 pax)

The second part of the Fish Bowl is to peer- solve your solutions, where participants are grouped in tables of about 7, and for 35mins, the table focuses on one problem that’s been defined, providing perspectives and offering solutions.
(5) This was particularly useful as it filled a gap many have complained about before: after meetings, participants have no time to ruminate on solutions to issues that have been raised. Now “thinking time” is built into the programme.

3. People who care
I’ve had a day to mull over it, and after numerous informal chats with my fellow IGF Ambassadors, there is a sense that the people at the table – at OUR table, the ISOC peeps, in the CLX room – we are all fully present and in the moment, and ready to roll up our sleeves to help. This bunch of people want to help. These bunch of people are interested in the issues raise. This bunch of people actually bother. They will to participate and contribute, even if they disagree with you (on what OS you use), even if they don’t feel much for your topic, and even if it’s after lunch and time for a siesta.

My key takeaway these two days? That decisions are made by people who show up AND contribute.

That, and maybe I should look into using Linux. Tell me Nabil, can I buy it from iTunes? 😉

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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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