The non-traditional methods of the IGF echo the innovative nature of the big and unwieldy Internet. Photo Credit: Daan Roosegaarde.
With the 2010 IGF Meetingcurrently underway in Vilnius, Lithuania (Sept. 14-17), it seems appropriate to describe briefly the Internet Governance Forum, and why it matters.
The IGF site itself explains its origins in the IGF Mandate calling on the UN Secretary-General to convene “a meeting of the new forum for multi-stakeholder policy dialogue.” This description belies the true nature of the IGF, for as soon as most people hear about a UN-created body, their minds usually conjure images of stately delegates endlessly debating minutiae, agreeing on little. To be sure, such debates are not unheard of at IGF meetings (see blog post on whether round-table type discussions should be allowed), and stately delegates are part of the IGF. However, the forum has two interesting features.
First, it’s huge: The 2010 IGF Meeting will have over 2,000 participants. While this creates myriad logistic and practical challenges (the 2010 Programme Paperinforms participants that the main conference room only holds 1,500 people while the meeting rooms hold 80 to 140 people), it also fosters a rich, dynamic environment that will (hopefully) breed innovation.
Second, and in accordance with its stated “multilateral, multi-stakeholder, democratic and transparent approach to discussions of Internet-related public policy issues,” the IGF includes voices from a wide range of constituencies. This includes states, multi-national non-government organizations (NGOs), private sector interests (businesses), academics and technical specialists. (On a personal note, I am often surprised when technical specialists, a.k.a. the geeks, are left out of policy discussions in highly technical fields, and it is telling that the IGF goes out of its way to note their participation).
It is this truly multi-stakeholder approach that matters. It has passed into common knowledge that the Internet is too big, too fluid and too important to be governed by traditional means. As Patrik Fältström describeda year ago, traditional hierarchical structures are not up to the task. It is beyond the scope of this post to examine how or why the Internet evolved as it did, but it is sufficient to say that the technology was not created by traditional structures. It would be worrying if those same traditional structures were to try now to impose their own brand of governance.
As the 2010 meeting continues to unfold, it has been (and will be) interesting to watch whether the discussions within that multi-stakeholder body reflect the innovative nature of the Internet itself, rather than the staid tone normally associated with governing organizations.
The Media Policy Initiative has been following the proceedings at IGF and will be posting updates soon. You can follow the 2010 IGF Meeting using any of these tools:
Live webcast: http://webcast.intgovforum.org
Live text stream: http://www.intgovforum.org/cms/remote-participation