Community Projects 7 September 2014

IGF 2014: Linking local initiatives

By Noelle Francesca De GuzmanDirector, Policy and External Engagement

The global Internet Governance Forum was not the only one showing vibrancy in Istanbul this week. At the Inter-regional and National Dialogue, national and regional IGFs around the world helped to demonstrate just how far the multi-stakeholder initiative has gone on its ninth year. There are innovations left and right—in strategies, processes and practices: In Asia-Pacific, a growing  youth IGF has been successfully integrated into the main regional agenda. In Canada, the coordinating body conducts a bi-annual national survey through which topics for the next IGF are determined. In the US, a ‘policy slam’ helps to identify issues and recommendations that are to be taken forward. These are ideas which could further enrich Internet governance activities worldwide, but participants at this year’s IGF have also noted a continuing disconnect between and among global, regional and national IG efforts.

Local coordinators, especially those who come from less open and conducive political and socio-economic environments, have stressed the importance of linkages and knowledge-sharing to enable IGFs at all levels to feed into and learn from each other. A number of participants believe that this can be done through the global IGF’s Multi-stakeholder Advisory Group (MAG). Suggestions to revise the MAG’s configuration to accommodate new developments like localised IGFs–by alloting  seats for  those who maintain a strong involvement in their respective regions–were countered  by those who believed it would further complicate what was perceived as an already complex selection criteria for the MAG. Others who thought that MAG members should be required to proactively engage with coordinating groups from their region or country of origin were opposed by those who were concerned that additional duties would place a heavier burden on members’ workload.Yet another proposal to improve regional  representation was to ensure that local coordinators regularly attend the MAG’s open consultation sessions—but even this cannot be guaranteed by  organisers who are already working on a strained budget.

Coordinators think that local IGFs’ visibility, both among regions and at the global level can be significantly improved though concrete output, perhaps through a neat and reader-friendly document that MAG members can also peruse to help them understand—and champion–local priorities.  Some envision this as a central repository in which short  summaries of regional and national discussions can be stored, or a clearinghouse with links to the rich content that many local IGFs are already making available online. With many coordinating groups structured rather loosely, however, there is concern that these reports may not come out in time for the regions to influence the next global IGF agenda. And again, their feasibility largely depends on the amount of support that organisers can pull in.

Indeed, many of the challenges identified in the dialogue seems to circle back to the problem of funding.There are a few, such as the Asia-Pacific IGF and the European Dialogue for Internet Governance (EuroDIG), which have been receiving consistent backing from the likes of APNIC, DotAsia and NCC RIPE. For the majority however, financial restrictions are a continuing constraint that, if solved, could enable them to launch more awareness campaigns on Internet governance approaches, as well as aid the attendance of more stakeholder representatives, particularly those from governments and marginalised sectors, to these gatherings, thus boosting both the number and the diversity of participants in local and global IGFs. It is one of the dilemmas for which the newly established IGF Support Association (IGFSA) was founded, but while it is still building its strength, national and regional organisers need to find other ways to address the dearth in local language resources on Internet affairs, or to reach out to entities who have an increasing stake in Internet oversight but have yet to be involved in Internet governance discussions.

There is a strong sense that national and regional initiatives will continue to prosper, as organisers’ commitment to soldier on is much more palpable than the barriers that lie ahead. Local and regional coordinators agree that IGFs bring innumerable benefits to their communities, from increasing understanding of topical issues like the IANA transition, to threshing out region-specific concerns like the new TLDs across Urasia, to introducing multi-stakeholderism to new democracies. IGF initiatives continue to grow around the world, and already, a number are generating tangible outcomes—some of the Nigerian IGF’s recommendations, which it circulates post-event, have been adopted by the Nigerian government. The Egyptian IGF, through its mailing list, has likewise produced and submitted community-driven proposals for both the NetMundial and the IANA transition. If the energy by which tireless organisers from various sectors pursue these initiatives is any indication, we can expect even greater things from national and regional IGFs in the years to come, showirng that bottom-up collaboration is alive and well in the spaces that really matter.

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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