On March 3-4, UNESCO headquarters organised a multistakeholder conference dubbed CONNECTing the Dots: Options for Future Action ( http://en.unesco.org/events/connecting-dots-options-future-action).
The meeting was convened to deliberate on a study conducted by UNESCO on Internet related issues.
I was asked to give my comments on multistakeholderism as reflected in the study and here below were my talking points.
- This is a cross cutting theme in all the areas of the study namely access, freedom of expression, privacy and ethics.
- It is one pillar that informs the theoretical conception of Internet Universality in the study.
- Further it is worth noting that multistakeholder consultations were conducted as part of the data gathering for this study.
- The study’s multistakeholders are governments, private sector, CS, academia, tech community and international organizations.
- Multistakeholderism has a relationship which has a bearing on the constructing knowledge societies. And creation of knowledge societies is a joint effort that requires cooperation and partnership among all stakeholders.
- It is commendable that the study makes powerful case for nuanced outlining of MS in the development of the Internet policy and regulation. A proposal I agree with considering that the Internet is distributed and a global resource and therefore calls for MS in its governance.
What the study needs to do
- It should suggest indicators. For example what are the indicators of a successful multistakeholder process?
- It should clarify how meaningful participation is achieved and how stakeholders are decided upon.
- It must clearly frame frame the case for MS. Internet policy happens within a broad ecology of policy choices where a choice in one area may have unexpected outcomes. In such instances, MS could forestall the real and potential conflicts that are likely to fragment the Internet.
- The Indicators should for example infer why various stakeholders participate in Internet debates and its governance. That it is for different reasons and these conversations enrich all stakeholders. The idea is to talk to each other and have meaningful conversations, and MS creates a context for understanding consequences and developing policy frameworks.
- It is therefore important for stakeholders to see their value in participating in processes and in what they are bringing onto the table.
The study should recommend clear goals and measurements of success such as:
- A framework that maps how views and ideas suggested are reflected in an outcome document of a policy process. If views/suggestions from certain stakeholders are not taken on board, then legitimate reasons for their lack of incorporation (either grounded in law or offensive to public morality) must be provided. This is to avoid suspicion.
- No one stakeholder should act more superior than the other as to determine which stakeholder participates in which process(s). Therefore, roles and responsibilities for each stakeholder should be agreed on in a consultative process in a policy process.
- The quality of the MS is essential for effectiveness and sustainability.
As such governments in particular those from developing countries must be convinced to work in a multistakeholder environment so that the engage effectively. Some governments are known to insist that they conduct multistakeholderism, and yet it is just an initial consultation with no interaction afterward.
It should also highlight challenges such as:
- Debate continues on the complex nature of MS just like the internet itself which as it continues to evolve, new challenges crop up.
- There are questions on the exact definition of MS, and who exactly are the stakeholders, as well as what approach should be used to handle who participates in an MS policy process.
- Further whether there are best practice models of MS, etc.
Nevertheless, it should be noted that progress has been made in how internet issues are being addressed collectively by various stakeholders through MS, with the IGF and NetMundial being great examples. As such, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages of an MS approach in internet matters including in their formulation and regulation.