6.4. Processes

Although the establishment of a new multi-stakeholder nominating committee and bureau for the IGF, in place of the UN Secretary-General and his Advisory Group, would be a significant reform, it would not be nearly as revolutionary as the establishment of ICANN was for the management of critical Internet resources. In this context, it is laudable how much the Tunis Agenda and the IGF’s Secretariat have gotten right: the open and multi-stakeholder composition of the plenary forum, the avoidance of inflexible representative structures, and the adherence to cultural values of the Internet such as decentralisation, openness, egalitarianism and cosmopolitanism, reflected for example in the bottom–up character of its dynamic coalitions.

Having said this, much of where the IGF falls short lies not in its structure but in its processes. Unless the theoretical openness of the plenary forum is matched with processes that actually render it reasonably accessible to all affected stakeholders, this not only defeats the openness of the structure, but can also obscure the need for reform. Such a gap between theory and practice has been observed in the case of ICANN,[1] and as a broader phenomenon, for example by Mathur and Skelcher who note that although an organisation’s structure may appear democratic on the surface, this may easily be undermined in practice:

For example, members of the public may have a right to attend meetings of the decision-making body, but notices drawing attention to the time and place of the meeting may be written and published in inaccessible ways, and the location of the meeting may constrain attendance by citizens. Sometimes the implementation gap between formal rules and actual practice will be a matter of lack of foresight or commitment by the organisation; other times it may be a deliberate strategy to limit democratic engagement.[2]

An obvious example of this implementation gap in the case of the IGF is the holding of consultation meetings in Geneva, which privileges intergovernmental stakeholders and governments with permanent delegations in that city, and to a lesser extent the well-resourced private sector, over stakeholders from civil society and developing countries. Similarly, for the IGF’s plenary meetings, the class of venue to which governments are accustomed may not be adequately accessible to civil society.

Further analysis of the procedural reforms required of the IGF in order for it to fulfil its potential as a democratic multi-stakeholder governance network requires a more thorough conceptual framework. This can be taken directly from Chapter 4, in which the basic principles of liberal democratic governance were discussed under the four headings of representation, consent, transparency and accountability, and inclusion. These will be considered again here in turn in their application to the IGF’s processes.

Notes

[1]

Johnson, David R & Crawford, Susan P, The Idea of ICANN (2001)

[2]

Mathur, Navdeep & Skelcher, Chris, The Democratic Performance of Network Governance: Conceptual and Methodological Issues (2004), 9