Road-testing governance models with the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation

11 Apr 2019 11:00h - 13:00h

Event report


This session, led by the two members of the High-Level Panel, presented their main proposals on how current governments, mechanisms, and processes could engage better in the digital age. The final draft of the report will be ready in the beginning of May 2019 and will include three main chapters: inclusiveness, emerging digital issues, and governance and co-operation models for now and for the future.

The models

One of the starting points was to avoid reinventing the wheel, but build something well- functioning to promote improvement and to identify gaps in current Internet governance models. Several gaps were identified. First, the lack of space for an interdisciplinary approach to digital issues was pointed out. Second, a lack was identified of a ‘helpdesk’ or an entry point to help people and countries (especially small and developing ones) to access  appropriate entities and addressing issues. Third, it is not well understood that digital co-operation extends beyond the traditional negotiation spaces. There is a need to ‘connect the dots’ of the new and old discussion arenas and enable constructive sharing of information for policymakers. ‘The models should be functional enough not to impose on the setup we have, while solving these gaps’, it was said.

The first model is imagined as a ‘network of networks/experts’. Once an organisation, a company, or a government poses an issue, a call for organisations/think-tanks/universities that have signed an agreement of commitment to solve the issue would form an entity or a forum. This entity or a forum would convene for a certain period to answer the question and to propose a solution. Their work would be hosted at an established organisation (e.g. the International Telecommunication Union), which would act as an organisational catering for the discussion, inviting the global community to take part in answering the question. It would promote private-public-partnerships.

The second model is building on the Internet Governance (IGF) digital architecture. This IGF+ model would affirm the expertise of the IGF approach and philosophy, while moving the process to the next phase. To connect the dots between different discussion arenas it would act as a ‘coordination accelerator’. It would provide problem solving as a ‘policy incubator’, and would serve as a ‘helpdesk’ for developing nations in accessing resources.

The third model is the Digital Commons Platform, which would provide a place for better understanding of digital commons and global public goods. This platform would deal with public goods and commons related to the Sustainable Development Goals. It would be a technical body housed within the United Nations system.

Adopting new models of digital cooperation, next to an array of already existing ones, remained a hot question during the discussion. Why, how, and to what extent are the models better than the resources already in place?

What the Secretary-General will do with the report also determines which one of the three should be seen as a priority. The panel replied by saying that the Secretariat will have a serious discussion with member states before selecting a preferred model. The common goal is to start a discussion based on a multiplicity of opinions gathered by the panel and addressing the gaps in the status quo. Nothing is new under the sun, but the speed and amplified nature of issues calls for new governance models.

It was stressed that ‘digital is no longer a separate issue, as everything already is, or will soon be digital’. The panel recognised the need to reflect this change of paradigm, which determines how to move the discussion forward.

The models were guided by the principle of agency and reconciliation of communities, their interests, and commitment to funding. The status quo in processes such as that of the IGF tends to unintentionally exclude some voices. A participant asked why only these three models stood out and how is the notion of brokerage between policy arenas envisioned. The panel affirmed the need for ‘connecting the dots’ and coordinating IG arenas, and model 1 came out of this.

A question was raised about the problem of ‘land-grabs’ and managing political/economical interests in joining the ‘network of networks’. All stakeholders would have to make choices together in what they promote and do. Transparency, consistency, and confidence in the model were also pointed out. The panel noted that there is currently a discussion in the making about a so-called Declaration of Digital Interdependence that would reflect current values and principles, but add new elements, such as human rights issues, that are lacking. This could ensure more confidence in the model and open an honest space for debating interests of all actors.

Financial support and resources remain a crucial question. The panel stressed that as IGF strengthens its relevance, more funding will be available. Participants said that it is not only about who will join the discussion, but who will financially support it as well. The panel replied that they will provide concrete proposals for a trust fund for implementing one or more of the three governance models.

Participants also invited the panel to consider the issues of scalability, implementation, fundamental political differences, and ensuring that the UN remains fully devoted to furthering the process in upcoming years.


By Jana Mišić