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Developing Trust in Multistakeholderism

Multistakeholderism (MS) and what it constitutes continues to be a topic of interest in many internet governance discussions and gatherings.


In the recently concluded IGF 2014 in Istanbul, I was one of the panelists in the session Developing meaningful multistakeholder participation mechanism http://www.intgovforum.org/cms/igf-2014/schedule-igf2014


Prior to speaking in this session, I participated in the session on Discussion in multistakeholderism in Africa http://www.intgovforum.org/cms/igf-2014/schedule-igf2014, a session that focused on mapping multistakeholders participation in Internet governance from an African perspective which brought concerns of an African nature to the table.

However, in my session, I was first asked to respond to the question of how do we develop trust in multistakeholderism?

These were my thoughts gleaned mostly from different discussions in different foras and conversations on this issue.

There is a lot of MS engagement in Africa. However, it is uneven, erratic, not institutionalized and not transparent. MS in Internet Governance is complex and various people have asked what exactly it is.  Further, how critical is it in Africa viz a viz other issues?

The Internet is distributed and a global resource. It therefore calls for multistakeholderism in its governance.It should be noted that different stakeholders participate for various reasons. For example, civil society tries to look at different existing problems in Internet Governance realm and pushes for their addressing. Governments  are in the discussions to either protect or adhere to treaties and agreements. Businesses/technical community, learn about the issues it may not have considered in its planning and implementation.

It is therefore important to appreciate that each stakeholder is unique, an expert in a policy issue and well placed to provide output. Further, acknowledge that each stakeholder brings onto the table something useful, and has a role in shaping the policy process in question. Multistakeholderism recognizes the need for various stakeholders’ participation in policy processes as well reflection of their views in the final outcome.  If for some reason these views are not reflected, then it is only reasonable to provide legitimate explanation for their lack of incorporation for example, that such views were not grounded in law, or are offensive to public, or are not empirical etc.Actions must be taken in light of what stakeholders have provided to avoid suspicion.

How is trust lost in multistakeholder practice?

This happens if one stakeholder wants to act as the superior one and chooses which stakeholder participates in which policy process(s),  then goes ahead to define the roles. Definition of the roles of each stakeholder should  be done in consultation and no stakeholder should determine the role and responsibility of the other without consultation. 
A question was raised on whether we need to allow governments special status in multistakeholderism and if they should participate on an equal footing like other stakeholders. The same was raised of businesses and what their role should be.


It would be important to convince governments to participate and work in a multistakeholder way so that they engage in an effective way. Businesses which have resources should also be encouraged to participate in MS processes.

However, stakeholders must be able to see the value in their participating in policy processes, and in what they  bring onto the table. They must also see that their voices matter.

Further, and in light of concerns raised by some on what exactly is multistakeholderism, there is need for it to be defined as well as who are the stakeholders, and how to handle who participates in this approach. There is also need to understand the different stakeholders and their different interests. This conversation if it happens should enrich all stakeholders.

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Comment by Deirdre Williams on October 15, 2014 at 4:42pm

Hi Grace. With reference to your final sentence it's rather sad that the conversation should be considered conditional "if it happens". It would seem that this conversation is rather urgently necessary.

I have been trying to pass on to people in Saint Lucia some of the ideas of "Internet Governance" through weekly short articles in the newspaper. Inspired by you this week's article is about "Multistakeholder", so I'm offering it as a contribution to the conversation.

"Have you noticed how many “magic” words there are in discussions these days? These are the words which are used to mark a contribution to discussion as authoritative and important and up-to-date. The one to be considered today is “multistakeholder” or MS.

This is a word that can be taken to pieces - “multi” and “stakeholder”. When it first arrived on the scene about ten years ago it had a hyphen to join the two parts “multi-stakeholder”, but nowadays it has become a single idea and lost its hyphen. “Multi” is easy; it crops up in many situations, carrying the meaning “many”. “Stakeholder” is more problematic. Originally “stakeholder” referred to the neutral third party who held the wager or stake until the result of a bet was decided, the human version of an escrow account. Subtly over time this meaning has shifted. There is an English idiom “to have a stake in something”, the word stake indicating some type of interest. In fact the stake that the stakeholder holds is the same stake that another person has; the function of the stakeholder is to keep the stake safe on behalf of the other person to whom it belongs. Over the last ten years these two meanings have slid together until now the stakeholder has become the stakeowner.

So who is a “stakeholder” now? Generally speaking anyone having any type of interest in a particular matter, and “anyone” can be an individual person or a multinational company.

Why does all this matter? The “multistakeholder model” is being proposed as a new way of governing, particularly as a new way of deciding on policy, especially international policy. Over the years citizens have become less satisfied with one man one vote democracy. There is a growing feeling that governments no longer represent the people who elected them, that, once elected, the government goes its own way and no longer truly considers the interests of the electorate whose creature it is.

So the multistakeholder model looks as if it could be a better way, since it appears to offer everyone the chance to be part of the decision. But does it?

One man one vote democracy in a situation with full adult suffrage makes everyone who is eligible to register to vote equal. In Saint Lucia being eligible means that you are at least 18 years old, that you are a Saint Lucian or a Commonwealth citizen who has lived in Saint Lucia for at least 7 years, that you are not currently serving a term in prison, and that you are not certified as insane, or adjudged to be of unsound mind.

Under the multistakeholder model there is no such definition of who is a stakeholder, and this creates a problem. “Everyone who is eligible” in the multistakeholder model may include individual people, organisations of people, governments, commercial interests of all sizes of companies, academic and research interests, and technical interests. Each of these will have its own perspective on the matter being considered. It must be obvious that some of them are much better equipped in many ways to put forward and to support their own particular perspective.

And as well as the “who” of the multistakeholder model the “how” must be considered. The multistakeholder model works on the idea of consensus rather than voting. Can the multistakeholder body engaged in, for example, a debate on a particular policy, reach a general agreement? And this then comes down to the question of the forum for the debate. How inclusive is it? How easy is it for all of these different types of stakeholders to bring their voice and their perspective to the table? Are some of these stakeholders more equal than others?"



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