The 2020 Internet Governance Forum Multistakeholder Advisory Group (IGF MAG) started its work soon after the conclusion of a very successful fourteenth IGF held in Berlin from 25 to 29 November 2019.
By the end of 2019, the Berlin IGF messages were shared, eight new MAG members were inducted and a call for feedback on the 2019 IGF and input on plans for 2020 was circulated.
By the time the first face-to-face open consultation and MAG meeting took place in Geneva, from 14 to 16 January 2020, input from the IGF community had affirmed widespread support for the simpler thematic structure that formed the basis for the Berlin IGF program. Based on this feedback, the MAG constructed a provisional thematic framework and presented it to the IGF community for comment and validation in late January.
The response to this call demonstrates the dynamic interaction between the MAG and the community. Feedback received both affirmed and expanded on the MAG’s initially proposed framework and was distilled by MAG members into four thematic tracks for the IGF 2020 program:
Also in response to community feedback, the MAG simplified the form and published the call for workshop proposals on 2 March 2020.
Other key achievements during the first quarter of 2020 include:
- Public consultation: The MAG Chair and the Switzerland government convened a follow-up consultation on the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation at the first MAG meeting in Geneva on 14 January 2020. It created the opportunity for a rich set of proposals on how the IGF can be strengthened while at the same time making progress towards implementing the IGF plus model proposed in the High-Level Panel’s report. Read the report to see who attended and what they said.
- Best Practice Forums: The MAG reviewed proposals and approved four Best Practice Forums (BPFs) for 2020:
- Review of best practices: One new BPF, referred to as the ‘BPF of BPFs’ was established, specifically to look back at BPFs since their inception, assess what worked well and what can be improved, and make recommendations on the way forward. We are very fortunate to have Markus Kummer, past IGF MAG Chair and Executive Coordinator of the IGF Secretariat, as the coordinator of this BPF.
- Establishing four MAG working groups for 2020: Two are continued from 2019 — the Working Group on Outreach and Engagement (WG-OE) and Working Group on Workshop Process (WG-WSP) — and two are new: the Working Group on Language (WG-Language) and the Working Group on IGF Strengthening and Strategy.
- Workshop proposal and evaluation process: The MAG, mostly through the efforts of the MAG working group on workshop process, updated the workshop proposal and evaluation process and the manual for workshop proposers in response to a survey they conducted in 2019.
The IGF and the COVID-19 pandemic
Little did we know at the time of the January 2020 MAG meeting that the world would change so dramatically in a matter of weeks.
The impact of the pandemic has been profound. People’s personal and work lives have changed dramatically and economies are in decline. Inequality between economies and the relative capacity of their public health infrastructure are front and centre. It goes without saying that those who are already impacted by social inequality are most affected, particularly people who have lost their jobs, or for whom social distance is simply not possible because of high-density living conditions, and, those who are not affordably and sustainably connected to the Internet.
The Internet and its power as a platform for connecting people in positive ways — for remote work, entertainment, learning, and distribution of essential information — have stood out more vividly in the last two months than ever before. What this means for Internet governance, globally and locally, needs to be explored in the coming months. For me three dimensions stand out:
- The shift from the preoccupation with the harmful use of the Internet reflected in the huge increase in the last few years in debates on the regulation of content and use, to widespread recognition, even a celebration, of its positive potential. Even legitimate concerns about pandemic-related misinformation do not overshadow the overwhelming sense that we would be so much worse off without the Internet. This does not mean that Internet governance should not address harmful use or cybersecurity; but it does create common ground for collaborative work on harnessing the Internet’s potential for good and ensuring its availability to all people, as a global public resource.
- Leading from this, does this crisis perhaps create a moment where agreement can be built on how Internet governance can protect and consolidate the Internet as both a ‘multistakeholder’ and a global public resource (or even a global public good)? Can the IGF fulfil its promise to be the platform that leads to the development of globally-applicable rights-based public interest norms and principles for Internet governance, policy and regulation? It started to do this, directly and indirectly, through workshops and main sessions on the topic; through its relationship with the NETmundial and the NETmundial principles on Internet governance; as well as through many other sets of principles developed and agreed on by institutions and networks that are part of the IGF community, such as the UNESCO R O A M principles.
These are not new questions for the IGF, but the current context could facilitate more effective engagement with them. In the same way that the 2013 IGF, held in Bali not long after the revelations of mass surveillance, paved the way for the IGF taking human rights-related concerns more fully on board, can the COVID-19 pandemic help achieve concrete agreement on globally applicable common principles for Internet governance? For further exploration of the implications of the pandemic, I recommend David Souter’s recent columns on the topic.
Will the 2020 IGF take place as a face-to-face event?
Many people are asking this question. The answer, for the moment, is a loud and clear yes!
The host country, MAG, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) and IGF Secretariat’s preparations are on track. But we are not ignoring the situation and are fully aware that extensions of lockdowns and the closure of visa offices can impact the convening of the IGF; the Secretariat and the host country are assessing the situation continuously. Updates will be sent regularly, and should there be any change in plans, it will be communicated well in advance.
Many National and Regional IGF Initiatives (NRIs) have responded proactively by deciding to postpone their meetings for later in the year or convene virtually. For now, the LACIGF and EuroDIG are the very first NRIs that will be hosting their annual meetings virtually. We extend our support to them and look forward to learning from their experiences.
Thank you to the outgoing MAG Chair and MAG members
A huge thank you to the outgoing MAG chair, Lynn St. Amour for her years of dedicated, hard work and for her ongoing support. Thank you also to the MAG members whose term ended in 2019. It is hard work to be an active MAG member. Thank you Lynn for your commitment, for making a massive contribution to building collaborative work methods, and for establishing strong routines, with the MAG starting its work early-on in a new IGF cycle.
Recognizing all those who keep us connected
In closing, I want to recognize and thank the many people and institutions who keep the Internet up and running. System administrators, engineers, those who provide user support, look after Internet Exchange Points, and check cables, wires, servers and power supply. There are millions of them and they are working harder than ever as more and more of our daily interactions and functions take place online. Without them, the world as it is today would be a much worse place.
Adapted from original post which appeared on the IGF MAG Chair’s Blog on 15 April 2020.
Anriette Esterhuysen is the Chair of the Internet Governance Forum’s Multistakeholder Advisory Group.
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