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Internet Governance 17 March 2018

Let’s Reform the IGF to Ensure Its Healthy Future

Raúl Echeberría
By Raúl EcheberríaFormer Vice President, Global Engagement, and Former Trustee

It seems like yesterday we were in Tunis at the 2005 World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), where I was involved in the negotiations that led to the formation of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). When I look back at the evolution of Internet governance since then, it is amazing!

But the decisions we have made before are in constant scrutiny of the reality check. Geopolitical forces around the world have been changing and increased challenges with rapid Internet evolution have impacted global society as never before. Nevertheless, the IGF community is showing signs of fatigue – less government and high level attendance, difficulties to confirm the host country in advance, fewer contributions for the intersessional work – while there are heated debates on the Internet front regarding cybersecurity, the digital economy, and the future of jobs and education with IoT and AI.

Thus, it is urgent that the community takes the responsibility of introducing the reform the IGF needs to continue its brilliant journey. The IGF has an amazing opportunity ahead to adapt and inspire people to work effectively in support of people-centered development.

The world is much better with the IGF than without it!

The IGF has become a very good place for setting the global agenda on policy issues related to the Internet in an open and multistakeholder manner where everyone has a voice – and “one stop shopping” to keep track of international debates and to be aware of different views around them, including through several national, regional and sub-regional IGF-type initiatives, and more recently thematic IGFs for women, youth, and other groups.

The broad understanding of the importance of the Internet for advancing the SDGs brings more and more people, and especially governments, to discuss different international Internet-related policy matters. In a recent meeting we had with the UN Secretary General, it was clear that these issues are also of great importance to him.

During the IGF’s time, there has been some criticism, including: lack of more concrete outcomes, unbalanced stakeholder groups participations, lack of resources and funding, low-level attendance and difficulty confirming host countries. But despite those criticisms, the world is much better with the IGF than without it.

New Internet governance issues are emerging all the time and governments express concerns about several things associated with the impact of the Internet and ICTs. The intensity of the debate across the world is increasing. Therefore, it is necessary to take one more step ahead in advancing the multistakeholder model on Internet governance matters – and improving the IGF.

We need venues for these discussions and the IGF should host these debates by all stakeholders. If not, other venues will be created – and it’s likely these new bodies or forums will not be as friendly as the IGF for the participation of everyone. We should keep one crucial thing in mind: people should be at the center. That’s the only way we can develop policies that contribute to building an Internet that brings benefits to all the people around the world.

It’s time to reform the IGF!

It’s important that we introduce changes to the IGF that continue to increase its value as the appropriate platform for dealing with topics that are relevant to global stakeholders. The CSTD WG IGF has made good suggestions. These and other changes could be introduced almost immediately, if there is agreement, in order to keep the IGF as a central forum in the Internet governance international debate:

Simplify the current complexity of the IGF, reducing the number of competing sessions and increase the focus to a limited number of issues. A more simple structure of the annual meeting would make it cheaper and more attractive for a number of countries in the world to be candidates for hosting the IGF.

Make the discussions more interactive and concrete with fewer panels and speakers.

Build on existing outcomes (such as best practices and policy forums) and balance the participation of all stakeholders, by adopting some of the Netmundial practices. We should move the high-level session from the beginning of the meeting to the end and review at a very high level the outcomes of the sessions of the previous days. It would also facilitate the participation of policymakers.

Improve outreach work to bring to the IGF the people we need to be involved in the discussions. For example, we should find out how to take better advantage of the work we can do in between annual meetings, what we call the “intersessional work.” There is a lot of potential to produce more recommendations and best practices working in a collaborative manner as a permanent platform and not only during the meetings.

We need to be pragmatic and to act now!

I still remember the days when I was serving as a member of the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) and we have started to discuss the proposal to create a global forum with all stakeholders to tackle complex Internet governance issues.

It is incredible all we have done so far, and I am personally proud of the contribution I have made to this from my 8 years in the Multistakeholder Advisory Group IGF-MAG. That’s why I am still actively participating in every IGF, contributing as much as possible to the success of this forum.

But now it is time to move forward with new ideas. The strategic discussions about IGF improvement are much broader and include, of course, financial aspects. However, at this moment, we need to be pragmatic and implement some tactical changes this year.

These are not final ideas, just food for thought. I would like to invite the community to reflect and contribute to this conversation. Make your voice heard! The future of the Internet relies on each of us!

The 2018 IGF MAG will meet for the first time next week. It’s an opportunity we can’t lose to set new promising paths for IGF and guarantee its future relevant existence.

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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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