NetThing: Reinvigorating a community in Australia

By on 21 Nov 2019

Categories: Community Events

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Last month, I had the opportunity to chair an event held in Sydney, called NetThing, which revitalized what used to be the Australian Internet Governance Forum (auIGF).

A year in the making, organized by a group of volunteers in a Steering Committee and with the support of a few key sponsors, this event gathered about 200 people who share a deep passion for the Internet in Australia to remain open, stable and secure.

What was clear to me after NetThing, is that Australia needs a coalition, a community of people and organizations, to advocate for good practices in Internet governance. From a multistakeholder point of view, NetThing was successful in attracting members of the civil society sector, the private sector, government and academia.

NetThing brought all these voices together and connected them to a wider movement, the global Internet Governance Forum or IGF. The IGF has been going for more than 15 years and while it came out of the UN, it’s unique in that it’s not a top-down, decision-making forum. It’s a multistakeholder platform where everyone, on equal footing, can speak and be heard, and where people can discuss issues before making decisions.

Read: Opinion: Has Internet governance become irrelevant?

This intention was evident throughout the program, with sessions anchored by diverse panels, encouraging strong audience engagement in the discussion. The deliberate intention to build stronger links between communities was evident from the opening, with Michael West from the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council highlighting the importance of core values, including community, diversity, relationships, perspectives, and dignity.  Followed by scene-setting from civil society and government, the first panel then immediately dug into the need to activate multistakeholder engagement, exploring how to improve multistakeholder engagement in and impact on the policymaking process.

Moving the Internet governance community forward requires such an open and multidisciplinary approach and this promise carried throughout the day. Sessions introduced the technical concepts behind the Internet, helping unpack an often overlooked perspective in these discussions, and probed into the ongoing consultations around the update of the Australian cybersecurity strategy. While workshops facilitated vibrant dialogue between the Australian Internet community and those involved in international Internet policy and cyber norms processes.

What’s next

The concept of NetThing moving forward is about genuinely connecting, collaborating and sharing. In Sydney, we managed to achieve a tone that was conversational, not rhetorical — the vibe was casual and welcoming. The idea is to suspend judgement and actively listen; to make NetThing a regular gathering, not a conference; a community event about the Internet, where everyone’s opinions and ideas are equally valued.

As one of more than 80 Internet governance initiatives, NetThing is an important Australian contribution into what has become a movement that works domestically, regionally and globally. In particular, I can recommend our counterpart in New Zealand, NetHui. In working to reboot the Australian Internet community, we have learned from and received much-needed support from our New Zealand friends. If we can become an inkling of what they’ve established across the Tasman, we will do well.

Read: NZSeries: Establishing NetHui, the people’s event

Please do watch the videos of the event in Sydney, and take part in future iterations of NetThing here. I would be very happy to welcome you to the Steering Committee to help make the second iteration of NetThing happen in 2020.

Sandra Davey is Chair of the NetThing Steering Committee.

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