4.5. Multi-stakeholder public policy development

Previous chapters introduced governance by network as the only mechanism capable of bringing together multiple stakeholder groups to address public policy issues in concert. Since governments are amongst these stakeholders, the network may determine that they should address a policy issue through domestic legislation or intergovernmental agreement. If a market-based solution is more appropriate, private sector stakeholders will be in a position to fill it. If an issue is better addressed through norms, civil society can explicate these norms publicly. Or all three groups may act together, by collaboratively developing an independent body of transnational law for the guidance of their respective constituents.

What had not been discussed until this chapter was exactly how they ought to make those sorts of collective decisions. In a sense, consensus is the archetypal decision-making structure for governance networks, since the organisation’s internal structure in that case mirrors the relationship of the organisation to its stakeholders. However this chapter has revealed elements from each of the four broad types of organisation structure for decision-making which are instructive for the design of a transnational governance network developing Internet related public policy.

From anarchism, it was found that the most empowering structure for participants in any organisation may in fact be the lack of structure—or rather, the lack of constraint as to the structures they may voluntarily organise themselves, through the non-coercive mechanisms of markets, norms and architecture. Whilst the resulting network is often more efficient, and more consonant with Internet culture than hierarchical alternatives, this very lack of control also makes it difficult to ensure the network’s adherence to liberal democratic values such as accountability and transparency. The hybridisation of anarchistic with hierarchical ordering was suggested as a possible method of addressing this deficiency.

From hierarchical ordering, it was found that meritocracy could provide an effective structure for a governance network, being designed to ensure that those most qualified to rule did so, rather than the most powerful or privileged. Perhaps unexpectedly, it was also found to exist prominently on the Internet, within the IETF (in a hybrid consensual form) and many open source software projects. However, in order for it to accord with the democratic principle, it was necessary either that the criteria for selection of the meritocracy be agreed by consensual or democratic means (as in the IETF’s case), or that freedom of exit and a number of other conditions found in the case of open source software be fulfilled.

From democracy, liberal theory was identified as the source of the democratic principle, that any interference with an individual’s liberty requires their consent. However, it was found that pure direct democracy, or representative democracy that simply mirrored the majority’s preferences, could lead to illiberal outcomes including the tyrannical trampling of minority interests. Rather than compelling the majority to respect those interests by hierarchical means, a mechanism was found in deliberative democracy to enable the demos to develop its own capacity to produce fairer and more reasoned outcomes. Similarly digital democracy was found to offer the potential to extend the accessibility and improve the efficiency of these deliberative democratic fora.

Thus we return to consensus, which also has a long track record of use in within institutions of Internet governance, usually in hybrid form. Otherwise largely intersecting with deliberative democracy, the unique insight gained from consideration of consensual decision-making was its application at larger scales, through consociationalism. This can allow groups insistent upon retaining their independent power yet wishing to collaborate in governance, to do so in the knowledge that they and the other participating groups share the power of mutual veto over any decision of collective concern.

Drawing together these insights, it can be concluded that an appropriate structure for a transnational network for Internet governance could consist of an open and transparent forum within which members of all stakeholder groups deliberate with the aim of reaching consensus, led by a meritocratic executive council to which each group appoints its representatives using consensual or democratic means, and which would be required to ratify all decisions of the forum by consensus. Such a body would bear much resemblance to the IETF or APNIC, overlaid with a consociational structure closer to that of the EU or the FSC.

This is all very well, except that of course the question of an appropriate design for such a multi-stakeholder governance network is not an abstract one; it has been already asked and answered in the process that led to the establishment of the IGF. As will be seen, the IGF in fact happens to bear very little resemblance to the network outlined above. To outline the structure of the IGF as it now exists and the process from which it emerged is the principal purpose of the next chapter.