6.3. Structure

Having set out the specific roles of policy-setting and coordination that are inherent in the IGF’s function as a governance network, as well as being mandated by the Tunis Agenda, it is now necessary to assess whether an appropriate institutional structure exists to support the fulfilment of those roles.

In making this assessment, both too little structure and too much structure are to be avoided. As will be seen, the case of too little structure bears much resemblance to the IGF in its present form, which is essentially that of an annual conference on Internet governance, and a banner under which stakeholders may engage in decentralised collective action through dynamic coalitions. The problem with such a lack of structure is that multi-stakeholder policy development does not “just happen” without a degree of institutionalisation:

Without roles and rules for decision-making and resource mobilization, collective action becomes more difficult and thus less likely. Facilitating communication among persons, as well as resolving any conflicts that may arise among them, is likewise needed for getting and keeping people together to accomplish things that are beyond the capability of individuals who are seeking just their own well-being.[1]

On the other hand, worse still than a lack of structure is a surfeit, especially when the structure is ill-matched to the effective and legitimate fulfilment of the network’s roles. This too can be seen in the IGF, for example in the juxtaposition of the hierarchical leadership of the Secretary-General of the United Nations and his Secretariat (at least in relation to questions of the IGF’s role and structure) with what is notionally an open, consensual and multi-stakeholder network of equals.

Thankfully the deficiencies of the IGF’s present structure are neither inevitable nor irremediable, since the IGF was expressly established to “have a lightweight and decentralised structure that would be subject to periodic review.”[2] It is only to be expected that such review might entail a radical overhaul of the IGF’s preliminary structure, which after all was established in a short space of time in accordance with the mandate of the Tunis Agenda, thereby limiting the practicality of extensive advance consultation and the development of adequately transparent processes for the convening of the inaugural meeting.

The longer such review is delayed or minimised, however, the more likely it is that structural inertia will set in and the IGF’s preliminary structure will become calcified.[3] Kenneth Cukier writes:

What is needed is more concentration on designing an organization that is capable of changing for new circumstances. It should have the seeds of its own diminishment or dissolution within it. It must have a separation of powers, and checks and balances—the one thing that every attempt at Internet governance, oddly, has lacked.[4]

These are the hallmarks of democratic forms of ordering, as discussed in detail in Chapter 4. In that chapter it was concluded that a democratic organisational form, in conjunction with a consensual deliberative process, provided a suitable balance between the poles of anarchistic ordering (which is decentralised and adaptable, but copes poorly with strategic behaviour and imbalances of power), and hierarchical design (which can be more effective, accountable and transparent, but is by definition non-consensual).

More specifically, it was suggested that a suitable such democratic structure for transnational Internet public policy governance would consist of a plenary body open to participation by all stakeholders, which would be responsible for building consensus on public policy issues, under the guidance of a multi-stakeholder executive council to which nominees would be appointed on the basis of merit through a consensual or democratic process, and which would have the responsibility of assessing and ratifying the consensus of the plenary body.

How does this ideal compare with the IGF as it exists, and what is required to reform its structure to accord with the ideal more closely? These are the questions to which this section is addressed. They will be addressed first in the context of the existing structures that have been developed for the IGF, before a broader view is taken that allows for more radical reforms to be considered.



Uphoff, N, Understanding Social Capital: Learning from the Analysis and Experience of Participation (1999), 228


WSIS, Tunis Agenda for the Information Society (2005), para 73


Colombo, Massimo G & Delmastro, Marco, The Determinants of Organizational Change and Structural Inertia: Technological and Organizational Factors (2002)


Cukier, Kenneth N, Slouching Towards Geneva: Ten Unappreciated Axioms of Internet Governance (2005), 5