Last week, I was in Nairobi for the United Nations coordinated Internet Governance Forum (IGF). The IGF brings together governments, private sector, academia, and civil society in an informal, democratic and transparent structure. There are no mechanisms at the IGF to make binding decisions; its objectives are simply to facilitate dialogue and find solutions to policy issues, to foster the sustainability and robustness of the Internet, and to facilitate development. That said, it’s much more than a talk shop. It is an appropriate venue to discuss, in an “apolitical,” multistakeholder environment, issues confronting the Internet.
The IGF provides numerous opportunities to discuss and debate many different issues. It’s also a venue for national and regional Internet governance forums to present their local concerns and issues.
I participated in a panel to discuss how regional and national governance fora related to the global IGF, and presented the process and findings from the 2011 Canadian Internet Forum, a CIRA-led initiative where we engaged Canadians in dialogue on issues related to Internet governance. The CIF was incredibly successful, and we will be launching the second CIF in a few short weeks.
It was very interesting to hear the experiences of the other panellists, some of whom were presenting on behalf of regional IGFs (for example, West Africa, Asia-Pacific) and others on behalf of national IGFs (such as United Kingdom and Japan). Depending on the region, very different processes and themes emerged. While IGF-USA engages in scenario exercises, where they considerer different Internet governance models, East Africa’s IGF looks at ways of improving access and infrastructure. While some national IGFs last for one or more days, others take on a year-long project format.
Though there are very real fundamental differences between national and regional IGFs, there are some surprising similarities. For example, improving digital literacy and access to the Internet, two major themes that emerged at the CIF, were also top-of-mind at most regional and national IGFs. As well, while the global IGF is a discussion forum with no decision-making ability or concrete outcomes necessary, the opposite is often true for regional and national IGFs. Concrete, practical policy recommendations are common.
Local discussion of Internet issues are fed up to the global community. The debate and best practice sharing this amazing dialogue produces makes the global IGF experience rich, rewarding, and crucial to maintaining the multi-stakeholder governance model we currently enjoy.
As I mentioned, we’re planning the launch of Canada’s next Internet forum in a few weeks. We’re looking forward to hearing about the issues Canadians raise and how we can contribute to continuing the success of the Internet. Keep your eyes and ears open – we’ll be making an announcement very soon about how we are going to engage you in this dialogue.