Participants in IGF-USA final plenary panel show unanimous support for global Internet Governance Forum process
A member of the gathered audience at the close of the first-ever Internet Governance Forum-USA in Washington, D.C., Oct. 2, 2009, offered his response to the open-ended and personal question about why the IGF is important to our future.
“No matter where you’re from,” he said, “you can share your ideas.”
That particular response, however understated and simple, seemed to carry the day and serve as the main thrust of the afternoon plenary session that assessed the IGF and its future.
Panelists on the daylong conference’s closing discussion continued to echo the importance of a multistakeholder dialogue, a concept that was initially raised during the opening session and continually referenced throughout the conference.
“What is important to me about multistakeholderism is not that it’s a formalized exercise in which you have a mechanism that puts a government person and a civil society person and a business person on a panel next to each other and assume they’re all speaking for their group,” said Milton Mueller, a professor in Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies who participated by remote video feed.
“What’s important is to maintain access to all the players that have real operational or political control over Internet governance.
It’s distributed, it’s decentralized. What’s important about the IGF is the extent to which it can bring together all those people and come up with solutions to those problems. – Milton Mueller
And open, unfettered discussions that don’t have to result in some kind of formal decree or decision have been a byproduct of putting several different opinions, ideologies and interests at the same table.
“We recognized that the information society is an ecosystem that involves all the players and it’s built by contributions from all,” said Art Reilly, senior director of strategic technology policy for Cisco.
“The IGF has evolved. Any issue is on the table and it can be dealt with frankly and honestly. Because there’s no decision making, I don’t have to worry about at the end of the day what that sentence is that’s going to describe that discussion.
“We have the opportunity to have a very frank discussion.”
Of course, moderator Marilyn Cade, principal of ICT Strategies, didn’t want to know only how IGF impacted those in attendance. She also wanted to know what people had done to help IGF during the last three years.
She and the panelists noted the evolution of the IGF from its first international conference in Athens to its upcoming meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
Richard Beaird, senior deputy and United States coordinator for international communications and information policy with the U.S. Department of State, said the U.S. government, specifically, has helped IGF during its course by supporting the organization since its inception and continuing to play an active role in its existence.
“We support the continuation of the IGF through it sessions, and we will continue to do so,” Beaird said. “We will be in Sharm el-Sheikh. Our participation is full, and we will continue to be available upon request to participate in workshops and panels.”
Beyond that, individual members of IGF have helped support the organization by offering an abundance of their time and energy toward ensuring that IGF hosts important and informative conferences.
“We have contributed significantly to shaping the agenda in the sense that we’ve been very willing to take on the controversial issues and promote the forum as a way of having a rational and intelligent dialogue about those issues,” Mueller said.
While the IGF has demonstrated great progress in its effective collaboration in the last three years, all panelists agreed that room for improvement was available.
They said the critical mission of the IGF – that it remain an informal organization that holds open discussions – shouldn’t change.
But Markus Kummer, the executive coordinator for the Internet Governance Forum, observed that some questions have been raised about whether the group’s core beliefs should be reanalyzed.
We have been changing throughout but we have maintained some core principles. Should these core principles be maintained or not? Some would like to change some of the principles and reorient the IGF more like a traditional UN body. Many governments are not used to this freewheeling type of discussion. But there is danger that governments could have the last word, so there is a need for an outreach. – Markus Kummer
Panelists and attendees ended the daylong event looking optimistically toward the global conference in Egypt and yet another opportunity to engage in an international dialogue about Internet issues.
“(The IGF) deals with global issues, transnational issues, ones that require coordination across political boundaries, and that is probably the most important thing about the IGF,” Mueller said. “We cannot deal with the Internet in a purely national context. We don’t want to put the Internet back into boxes for the purposes of regulation.”
-Colin Donohue, http://www.imaginingtheinternet.org