Internet Governance 3 July 2018

A Call To Action: Get involved with multistakeholder Internet policy efforts

Larry Strickling keynote at EuroDIG 2018

I come before you today to deliver a call to action to each and every one of you. A call to action that each of you commit to get personally involved in a multistakeholder effort to address key Internet policy issues, to find consensus approaches to dealing with the issues and to implement those solutions.

That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Now, to do this, you are going to need some help. And I am going to provide some help right now for those of you perplexed and confused by the multistakeholder process.

First, we need a shared understanding of what is the multistakeholder process. And we need a shared understanding of what it is not.

There is no single model of the multistakeholder process but for purposes of my remarks, let’s focus on the key attributes that define an authentic multistakeholder process.

One, it must be stakeholder driven in that stakeholders determine the process, scope and direction of work.

Two, it must be open and inclusive, both in terms of allowing broad participation and ensuring that all issues are addressed.

Three, the process must be transparent and accountable to all stakeholders and the public.

Four, outcomes must be consensus-based, delivering positive value to the greatest number of stakeholders.

A multistakeholder process that exhibits all of these attributes is most likely to be accepted as legitimate by stakeholders and the public.

Just as important as what is a multistakeholder process is understanding what it is not.

One, it is not an “ism.” The multistakeholder process is a set of tools to help people collaborate to solve problems. It is not a philosophy or a political ideology and we do the process a disservice to refer to it as an “ism” because encourages people to take sides about what should be a set of tools that can work for everyone.

Two, beware of those who haphazardly, or even manipulatively, attach the label “multistakeholder” to what in fact are multilateral or top-down processes. When a government or business runs a consultation that is open to input from stakeholders but keeps the decision-making to itself, it in no way is sponsoring an authentic multistakeholder process. Rarely do such efforts even allow for a collaboration among the stakeholders, much less decision-making by the stakeholders.

So, having described what is a multistakeholder process and what it is not, let me turn to my second point. Which is, that people are reluctant or afraid to take the initiative to establish a multistakeholder process.

Part of that fear stems from people not knowing how to organize and manage a multistakeholder process. That fear can be easily overcome. The Internet Society’s Collaborative Governance Project is developing training materials on running multistakeholder processes and there are already lots of instructional materials available from other sources. We in the Internet community may like to think that the multistakeholder process was born with the Internet but that’s simply not the case. Collaboration and consensus-building techniques have been around for decades—and there are many instructional guides and manuals available world-wide to anyone who wants some help. But trust me when I tell you that most of the keys to successful multistakeholder processes reflect simple common sense and basic stakeholder management principles. It is not rocket science and it is easy to learn.

Another part of that fear to convene stems from the sense that the problems we face today on the Internet—protecting privacy, battling cybersecurity threats, and the like—are so large that people are intimidated about trying to organize a response. Also, there is a predisposition to want comprehensive, enforceable solutions to these problems, which translates into waiting for government or some other organization to take the initiative.

I urge you not to let that fear deter you from taking action. The existing government processes to enact comprehensive legislation or write regulations or negotiate treaties are not well-equipped to deal with these fast-changing issues. They are slow and usually do not result in any outcome. And even when they do, the problem they intended to address often no longer exists. If they get it wrong, it is incredibly difficult to undo bad legislation or regulation.

Instead, I encourage each of you to think about how to address Internet policy challenges in smaller bits. Can you define a piece of the issue in a way such that a group of stakeholders in your country or region could address a specific topic, find a consensus solution, and then have the stakeholders implement it? We need to encourage experimentation. We need to encourage finding ways to make incremental progress on issues by solving parts of the problem and then build on the small successes through iterations of the process over time.

You will need to be creative. You have to focus on elements of these issues whose solutions are within the power of the participating stakeholders to implement. And implementation is key. Too often, participants in a multistakeholder process claim success when they reach consensus on the solution to an issue. But then they fail to address who will implement the solution how it will be implemented. You must focus right the start to define the problem to be solved in a way that allows the parties to the process to implement any consensus solution.

As an example of what I mean, take the issue of disinformation or fake news online. Some of the responses being discussed involve creating comprehensive regulatory frameworks for deciding what is disinformation and what to do about it. Absent a government convening a multistakeholder process to create such a framework, there is little use to organizing your own process to develop that type of scheme. You have no authority or ability to implement a framework and because of that fact, you would have a hard time sustaining such a discussion for any length of time.

But that does not mean you cannot make any contribution to solving the problem. What if you convened a multistakeholder process to develop and implement an educational program on media literacy? You could certainly identify a set of stakeholders who would have the ability and incentive to design and deliver such a program.

None of you can do this by yourself. You need to work together with others in your community. You need to recruit stakeholders who will represent all of the key views that need to be considered. What it takes is a catalyst—someone who steps forward and takes the lead to initiate the discussion. And each and every one of us can play that role.

No matter how narrow the issue or how limited the geographical extent of the discussion, every successful multistakeholder decision that is implemented provides input into new norms for answering the challenges before us. Over time, the successes will combine and compound into broad solutions. If and when governments decide to legislate a comprehensive, enforceable approach, they will be guided by the aggregation of these individual solutions.

Commentators refer to the Internet as having allowed permissionless innovation—the idea of allowing experimentation with new technologies without requiring government or competitor approval. These commentators have credited permissionless innovation for fueling the success of the Internet. What I am urging all of you today to do is to engage in permissionless problem-solving. If we all make it our responsibility, perhaps we can spur the next great leap forward for the Internet to better recognize and respect human rights to better deter cybercrime and cyberattacks and to better meet the needs of citizens around the world. All I ask is that you give it a try.

Thank you for listening.

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