Strengthening cooperation within the context of the IGF: Creating a roadmap for 2018

17 Dec 2017 16:00h - 18:00h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the 12th Internet Governance Forum]

This brainstorming session addressed the ways in which the IGF could play a role in strengthening co-operation, especially in the fields of cybersecurity and cybercrime, and  developping recommendations to feed into a report to be presented to the Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) in 2018. The session was moderated by Mr Wout de Natris, Consultant at De Natris Consult, and followed a loose, interactive format with inputs from all participants in a confidential way, which is why this report does not attribute statements to organisations and individuals.

There was a consensus among participants that Internet challenges take more than one expert group to solve, and therefore require multistakeholder collaboration. The IGF could potentially facilitate such ongoing discussions, in its annual meeting, but also through inter-sessional work. Inter-sessional work might be most valuable when it has clear end-points and targets, and is not just there for the sake of going on. In addition, from the outset, best practice forums and other IGF-related processes need to be established with the right perimeters and under the right conditions to have the most impact. Yet, inter-sessional work is often constrained by a lack of funding and time, especially when considering the many parallel ongoing processes, such as those taking place at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) or the Global Forum on Cyber Expertise (GFCE). This raises the question: What is the added value of the IGF?

The interplay between these processes is complex, and it is difficult to find concrete ways in which these processes could feed into each other. The desired role or mandate of the IGF is therefore a contentious point of discussion. One participant identified 2015’s WSIS+10 resolution as breaking with the past, and an opportunity to get concrete solutions out of the IGF. Yet not everyone agreed that this should be the role of the IGF, arguing that the IGF could inform and improve existing processes that lead towards solutions.

There was widespread agreement on the need to avoid reinventing the wheel if there are already well-functioning processes in place. One concrete example is the opportunity to link the Best Practice Forum on cybersecurity with the work of the GFCE, as their combined insights could benefit both processes. In this sense, the IGF has an important function to create broader awareness of all the initiatives and processes that have already been established and to identify whether other actors are working on solving similar problems.

The desired format of sessions at the IGF was another point of discussion. While digital technology facilitates online communication, it is unable to replace face-to-face meetings, which lends itself to more informal ways for discussion and brainstorming. At the same time, it is important to ensure that online participants are not left out, and are still able to contribute to the debate.

One of the main added values of the IGF identified by the participants is in bringing in new perspectives and individuals in policy processes that seem ‘stuck’, and moving them forward with new insights. Different from many intergovernmental or technical discussions, the IGF is truly multistakeholder, bringing together a broad range of representatives. New perspectives are also added through the contribution of national and regional IGFs towards the global discussion, as they are able to represent previously under-represented regions, and to create trust across cultures. The IGF’s advantage of attracting a broad range of stakeholders can be further enhanced by encouraging the participation of sectors that have so far been largely left out, such as journalists or law enforcement.

Yet there are still important limitations to what the IGF can and cannot do. For example, it might be difficult for the IGF to change the incentives of the most decisive stakeholders, and not all issues might fit into the IGF’s mould. One participant suggested that the IGF should focus on those issues that are relatively uncontroversial and that are widely accepted to benefit from multistakeholder discussions. Controversial and political issues might not be able to move forward in the framework of the IGF, if this is not in the interest of powerful stakeholders to do so.

The participants then identified a number of topics that could be particularly relevant to be further addressed by the IGF, which include:

  • The effects of digital technology on society, including the impact of artificial intelligence and changes in the workforce, but also issues such as fake news, corruption of online content and the loss of trust
  • Cybersecurity, not only as something provided by governments, but also the roles of individuals and small and medium enterprises
  • The protection of the rights of individuals in cyberspace
  • The political implications of engineering, and in particular of new technological (security) solutions

Finally, the participants proposed a number of recommendations to make the IGF more effective, including:

  • Share existing initiatives and avoid duplication of work
  • Attract different stakeholders that could contribute with new insights and topics through better communication with those groups
  • Strengthen remote participation to mitigate the challenges of money and time for those who are unable to physically join the IGF

By Barbara Rosen Jacobson