After attending EuroDIG 2015 meeting this question started surrounding my mind: where are Internet Governance forums heading to?
It seems a trend is consolidating among Internet Governance forums: a firm determination to produce tangible outcomes. 2014 Net Mundial meeting was probably the catalyst with the approval of NETmundial Multistakeholder Statement. And now, EuroDIG has taken over trying to have the wide EuroDIG community to approve a Net Neutrality statement. Though finally no consensus could be found and just a draft working paper subject to further comments was released, the experience on the process aiming to produce an outcome was quite positive. It provided us with some learnings that could be highly valuable for other future alike initiatives.
Despite the drafting process of the statement was perfectly defined, the process for endorsing it by the EuroDIG community was not. It seemed no one had a clear view on how the document was to be presented, neither in which session, nor how the voting process would take place or what would the acceptance threshold be. This created much uncertainty, leading to highly stressful situations and an overly heated debate about the “voting” process and even on if anything was finally endorsed and what. It seems clear now that for an endorsement to take place a clear and detailed process defining all aspects is needed.
Another area of conflict was the inclusiveness and legitimacy of the process, as it was put into question. Despite the statement was open for public consultation for over three weeks, many stakeholders stated the existence of such process was not known to the wide public, and as such, that the statement did fail to represent the wide community. The read across is efforts to engage all stakeholders are never enough, so on top of devoting more resources to make the process known to the community, it is better to have longer lasting processes rather than shorter ones.
The timing of the process is also a relevant fact to consider. As the EuroDIG statement was dealing with issues currently under a legislative process in Europe (Net Neutrality regulation is undergoing a three sided negotiation process), governmental stakeholders were not able to participate in the drafting process. The actual implication was that they would not agree to have a multi stakeholder statement on such issue: despite it lacked of governmental participation, it could interfere with the current legislative process. To avoid the exclusion of governmental stakeholders, and the interpretation of an agenda tried to be imposed upon national or regional authorities, it would seem a sensible approach avoid seeking tangible results for issues under a legislative process. A wiser approach would be then to focus on issues with a longer term vision.
A misinterpreted feeling seemed to be floating around at EuroDIG: we were being driven through a single way road with a unique destination, releasing an outcome. Many participants felt pressured to endorse a document and release an outcome even if it seemed there was not rough consensus. To avoid doubts on the bottom-up nature of the process and on its legitimacy, not being able to reach consensus on a specific issue should also be accepted and considered as a potential tangible outcome. Isn’t there a value to state that no common grounds could be found on an issue?
Finally, having now a holistic view on the process, it seems that trying to reach a common view on Net Neutrality was probably overly ambitious for a first outcome oriented Internet Governance forum. Aiming at reaching consensus over a not so controversial topic might prove more reasonable when many issues, other than the topic under debate, remain unsolved.
To conclude, I will dare to say we may not even be in a position to have such a revolutionary change at . Do we have rough consensus on IGF becoming a results oriented process? I don’t think so. The process to endorse a statement already had a significant impact on the debate being hold, significantly changing its dynamics even no drafting or text negotiation took place during any EuroDIG session. We don’t want IGF to become a hostile environment where to play negotiating tactics leading to the disappearance of a friendly open forum to debate and share thought, do we?