Reality of the answerability of multistakeholder model

7 Dec 2016 13:00h - 14:30h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the 11th Internet Governance Forum]

Workshop WS86 was styled as a round-table discussion centred on the following questions:

  1. How do international organisations build their “constitution”, structure and processes to respond to expectations such as transparency, openness, diversity, inclusion, legitimacy, representation and accountability?
  2. How do stakeholders, in particular civil society,  devise a strategy for their participation; what do the they use as mechanisms and approaches to justify their actions and maintain transparency?
  3. What is the influence of processes and restructuring within the organisations and stakeholders in terms of agenda-setting, issues framing and yielding outcomes?
  4. Can we envision a set of principles, best practices, mechanisms or even process a template that can be shared between all IG organisations and processes?

In discussing the first question, Prof. Jeanette Hoffman, Berlin Social Science Center (WZB), noted the need for precise language and awareness of the terms being used. These terms and wording have implications as the language itself can lead to definitions of groups or constituencies. Mr Matthew Shears, Center for Democracy & Technology, commented that the question of answerability is one of the most challenging from a governance perspective. He noted that there is a significant challenge when it comes to defining accountability in the Internet ecosystem, as it is difficult to understand the accountability and answerability relationships between the stakeholders and organisations involved.

Mr Andres Piazza, Latin American and Caribbean TLD Association (LACTLD), commented that the issues framing the IGF have been collectively discussed for more than 10 years.  He described the forum processes as useful for framing issues and expressed the view that this process has impacted regulatory environments, decision-making and policy processes. He pointed to the IANA transition process as an example of one area of impact.

A comment from the floor on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) process suggested that it was the efforts of civil society organisations working across borders that was important in stopping TPP from becoming a reality. It was noted that one should not wait until negotiations are under way to make their points known. The time to do it is before negotiations, so that the concerns are included in the negotiations.

Ms Michele Woods, WIPO, said that the WIPO is a multi-lateral organisation and described it as a specialised UN agency. She highlighted their experience in getting the Marrakesh VIP Treaty (Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works by Visually Impaired Persons and Persons with Print Disabilities) implemented. She indicated that the treaty started with stakeholders, the initial motivation behind the treaty came from the NGO community not governments.  She further noted that there was active participation throughout all the steps of the process, including at diplomatic conferences. Woods also commented that some civil society commentators described the process as a gold standard in multi-lateral organisations to bring elements of multistakeholder principles into the process. 

Ms Tatiana Tropina, Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law, Freiburg, began her presentation by noting that to figure out the question of answerability, we must first understand reality. On the question of cybersecurity, she indicated that there are many cybersecurity spaces, several of which are closed and noted that one must accept that most of these closed spaces are not inclusive, for example spaces that deal with critical infrastructure. Although the process should be multistakeholder based, she said that there are limitations. Tropina further commented that the fact that multistakeholder approach does not work in cybersecurity in many spaces is because it has a long history of other dynamics. Cybersecurity was not born out of a multistakeholder model. It has a history of power and government responsibility for protecting its citizens.  It is a mix of different responsibilities, and sometimes it is not about answerability, but about power. She further indicated that one of the most relevant areas of cybersecurity that can benefit from a multistakeholder approach is policy-making. Policy-making in this area will always be the responsibility of the government, but it can benefit from the multistakeholder approach.

Tropina also discussed what she termed as the dichotomy of legitimacy and transparency. Legitimacy does not always mean transparency, they can be mutually exclusive. Legitimate models do not always mean openness, especially if it concerns governments. One does not always need to be open when discussing cybersecurity issues. Tatiana concluded by saying that the priority should be for multistakeholder initiatives to focus in venues which are opened to them and work in those venues.

On the notion of representativeness, Hoffman noted that there is misunderstanding concerning the representative nature of civil society. Being a representative infers the responsibility of making decisions on behalf of someone. She noted that civil society does not make decisions on behalf of anyone.

Mr Steve DelBianco – Executive Director at Net Choice, responded by indicating that on the issue of representation there is downward accountability, where civil society is given an explicit role and voting rights as in the case of ICANN. We need to ask the question whether civil society groups represent the interest of entities the they were chartered to represent.

It was pointed out from the floor that civil society groups often speak as members of a constituent and sometimes on behalf of these constituents. Civil society also speaks with different constituents. Civil society therefore can make several representative claims and this brings accountability.

An attendee noted that in the multistakeholder model having representative power is fundamentally different than that power in government. You are obviously elected or appointed and represent a certain group of people. We participate willingly knowing that we represent a coalition or constituency. He concluded by saying that civil society does have a representative role in the multistakeholder model.

Hoffman responded that when we speak on behalf of an organisation it is a claim to some degree that we represent that organisation. However, without clear constituency where we know who the members are and how the relationship between the members exist, the question of representation can be problematic.

The discussion continued and it was noted that the multistakeholder model works and it has fundamentally changed the governance structure of a unique organisation at the core of the Internet and facilitated a government step back from the role of the DNS. However, there are questions that need to be asked, for example, is this model being used anywhere else? A participant responded that the multistakeholder model is new, not a panacea, it is a governance model and it will have its successes and failures.

In response, it was pointed out that the idea of getting various constituencies together to make better decisions because there is more diversity, is old. What is relatively new is the term ‘multistakeholder’ which was coined around 2005.

DelBianco suggested that groups such as the IETF and W3C are candidates for using the multistakeholder model. He described the IGF process as effective in generating discussion and gathering ideas, concerns and best practices.

Wolfgang, an attendee, described the multistakeholder process as being in the early days of a political invention that was born one and a half decades ago. The transition process is an incredible source of knowledge and experience and he pointed to some achievements namely:

  • The definition of Internet governance which was produced through the multistakeholder process
  • NETmundiale, the eight principles from São Paulo from 2014 are the result of a multistakeholder process, and this is an achievement

He further commented that we now have a mechanism and accountability system from the transition, we have a framework of principles with checks and balances.

Shears posed the question: what are the conditions for multistakeholder cooperation within an organization?

The response given by one of the participants in the CCWG-Accountability was as follows:

  • This was the one chance they had
  • There was a specific time-frame which created a sense of urgency
  • The approach used was a bottom up approach with input from civil society, businesses and government

In short, the urgency and the conditions forced the participants to work together.

On commenting on the way forward, Tropina suggested that we start with understanding the terms, understanding what we mean and identifing the domains in which the multistakeholder model could work. With respect to trade, it was pointed out that there are a set of issues that can be learned from the TPP process. This process did not start out with the multistakeholder approach.

The final comment summarised the session where it was noted that achievements were made because of working together, whether the process was liked or not. The process was not predictable to all participants. The hierarchy was less important than the expertise that was brought to the table. This allowed participants in the process to take each other seriously. We may not know all the necessary conditions; therefore, it is important to keep questioning ourselves, but also to be aware that this approach is more the exception than the rule.

by Trevor Phipps