Engaging under-represented communities in regional and global internet governance debates

6 May 2016 09:00h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the WSIS Forum 2016.]

The session focused on the challenges to participating in local, national, regional, and global Internet governance (IG) debates and processes, and suggested ways to better engage under-represented communities. Mr Ayden Férdeline (session moderator and member of ICANN’s Non-Commercial User Constituency (NCUC)) opened the session by introducing the geographic regions frameworks of various multi-lateral institutions which set Internet policy. This showed that the distribution of countries into geographical regions is not consistent across the IG ecosystem. Countries are grouped into regions as this is seen as a proxy for diversity; however, geographic regions are not a reliable indicator of population diversity as the world is much too diverse on all major dimensions to permit such simple generalisations.

Dr Olivier Crépin-Leblond (Chair of ICANN’s European At-Large Organisation (EURALO)) addressed how regional groupings propose new challenges, both online and offline. Online challenges include problems posed by geography – such as the time when meetings are scheduled – the effect of culture on participation – such as which individuals will speak up, dissent, or take the floor – and technological barriers like bandwidth issues or dropped calls. Offline challenges regard geography and cost. He stressed that meetings are hard to access, especially for those from Pacific islands as they sometimes have to fly more than 40 hours to access a meeting in person or may have to leave many days in advance because there is only one weekly flight. Meetings are very expensive, especially if participants are not sponsored. He said the IG community must find new ways to fund participants who are under-involved, further away from policy centres like Geneva, and are harder to access. He offered solutions like expanding remote hubs, creating ‘hubs in a box’, and sponsoring fellows for more than one meeting to sustain their involvement.

Ms Marilyn Cade (Chief catalyst of IGF-USA) spoke about national and regional initiatives (NRIs), and how they incorporate new voices. She said many links are being forged between stakeholders involved in NRIs, which is leading to increased collaboration between stakeholder groups. NRIs have also helped spur policy development at national level with senior policymakers thanks to increased efforts to outreach to government stakeholders and build relationships. Cade suggested that if someone wants to start their own NRI, it takes great patience, tolerance, organisation, enthusiasm, and collaboration, especially with individuals and organisations that have different kinds of experience, resources, and expertise. Getting space donated for the NRI is a significant way to support the NRI that is often-cited, but the IGF Secretariat will provide support as well. Lastly, she highlighted the Women’s Alliance for Virtual Exchange (WAVE), which is empowering women in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia to impact national policy even though there are many obstacles to overcome including accessibility and literacy issues.

Mr Nick Ashton-Hart (international Internet policy and operations consultant) shared insights gained from conducting Internet-related earthquake reconstruction and development work in Nepal. He said many people involved in the country’s Internet environment were unaware of the WSIS process, much less larger IG processes and knowledge. He highlighted how Internet development is intrinsically tied to other forms of development that seeks to improve living standards or in Nepal’s case, to rebuild. Ashton-Hart recommended that if the IG community wants to attract the under-involved, it needs to find out what they care about both online and in general and design a process that incorporates what they care about in larger Internet policy. Moreover, he said there are issues with multistakeholder involvement in places with complex political dynamics such as Nepal because of the specific culture of governance. For instance, instead of working at the national level on policy and development, he suggests working with local village heads to help prioritise reconstruction work like building a school with Internet access. He also emphasised that local priorities need to be included when considering how to increase involvement, and those who are not in underdeveloped areas must learn how to make policy and development that is inclusive of local perspectives and needs.

Ms Sylvia Cadena (Community Partnerships Sponsorships at APNIC) said there are historical, operational, and technical reasons behind how regions are grouped. Operational and historical reasons include language and culture, for instance, some parts of Asia are covered under RIPE NCC because they speak Russian while ARIN includes English-speaking Caribbean islands and LANIC covers Spanish-speaking ones. Cadena said technical reasons include IP address allocations and the amount and kind of resources available. She also discussed the capacity building activities APNIC hosts to spur involvement and participation, including fellowships, sponsoring individuals or organisations to take part in discussions, a wide-range of e-learning tools offered every Wednesday in nine languages, and shipping recordings of webinars and other capacity building resources to Pacific islands. She said the team consists of 4 people who cover 56 economies, so they work hard but are limited. Cadena suggested facilitating online participation, uploading recorded sessions and minutes, using mailing lists and social media, and hosting webcasts or briefing sessions can all increase participation in IG processes.

Ms Jennifer Chung (Director of Corporate Knowledge at DotAsia Organisation) stressed that geographic groupings may be challenged more widely in the future and that DotAsia’s grouping is not based on shared culture or language. Since the cost of attending an Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is very high in terms of time, cost, and commitment, outreach and capacity building are important to spur involvement – not merely increasing awareness but also encouraging individuals to understand why IG is important. She also praised remote participation but said those who are not participating in person miss out on many aspects of an IG event. Lastly, she highlighted how DotAsia’s Netmission Ambassador programme helps university students in the region to get involved and participate.

Dr Renata Aquino Ribeiro (professor at Universidade Federal do Ceará and IGF MAG member) joined via remote participation and described Brazilian participation in IG debates and processes in the Amazon and in the northeast of Brazil. She highlighted the disparity between participation based on geographic location within the region. As equity is the handmaiden of democracy, and democracy is, in a pluralist world, the foundation for legitimacy, Dr Ribeiro suggested that remodelling how the world’s regions are composed might well be a step towards enhancing legitimacy in the decision-making processes of those bodies which make decisions that impact the Internet.

Mr Klaus Stoll (Executive Director of Global Knowledge Partnership Foundation and Vice-Chair of NPOC) compared IG to a country where 99% of the population does not know that the government exists, while 1% are cybercriminals, fought by law enforcement (another 1%). Real cybersecurity can only be achieved when the remaining 98% are aware and engage to combat the problem. Speaking about ICANN outreach specifically, he said outreach should come primarily from the community, not staff. He added that awareness and capacity building are critical for increasing participation.

Mr James Gannon (technologist at IP Justice) stressed that when planning IG meetings, there is not enough attention paid to context and cultures when catering outreach or increasing participation. He suggested that the community must assess the enabling technologies that will be used in order to include more voices and facilitate their participation.

by Michael Oghia