5.1.1. Processes

The most direct relevance of WSIS to the IGF is of course that the Tunis Agenda is essentially the IGF’s constitutional document, and for that reason this and the other three output documents will be outlined in the next subsection. However the structure and processes of WSIS are also highly relevant to the IGF’s endeavour, in that they provide the closest previous example of an attempt to apply multi-stakeholder governance principles to the Internet governance regime.

This is evident from the output documents of the first phase, which establish the so-called “process criteria” for international Internet governance arrangements, specifying that they should be “multilateral, transparent, democratic, and with the full involvement of governments, the private sector, civil society, and international organizations.”[1]

It is also reflected in the resolution of the UN General Assembly by which WSIS was endorsed, which “encourages effective contributions from and the active participation of all relevant United Nations bodies, ... international and regional institutions, non-governmental organizations, civil society and the private sector [and invites them] to contribute to, and participate in, the intergovernmental preparatory process of the Summit and at the Summit itself.” To this end the resolution recommended the establishment of the PrepCom to “decide on the modalities of the participation of other stakeholders in the Summit.”[2]

In this context, civil society’s confoundment at being refused the full access, speaking and voting rights that many of its members (together with some private sector representatives) expected to be afforded, is understandable.[3] Instead, civil society and the private sector found themselves at the periphery of the WSIS process, consigned to offering suggestions to the governmental negotiators who maintained authority over the process of drafting the output documents.

The WSIS Rules of Procedure that governments developed at the first PrepCom meeting stated:

  1. Non-governmental organizations, civil society and business sector entities accredited to participate in the Committee may designate representatives to sit as observers at public meetings of the Preparatory Committee and its subcommittees.

  2. Upon the invitation of the presiding officer of the body concerned and subject to the approval of that body, such observers may make oral statements on questions in which they have special competence. If the number of requests to speak is too large, the non-governmental organizations, civil society and business sector entities shall be requested to form themselves into constituencies, such constituencies to speak through spokespersons.[4]

The effect of this was that civil society’s participation in intergovernmental negotiations, for example on the text of the output documents, was allowed only on an ad hoc basis at the discretion of government delegates. It took little time for civil society representatives to discover how that discretion would be applied, when they were excluded from discussions during the PrepCom 1 meeting on arrangements for their own accreditation to participate further in WSIS.[5] As one civil society observer described it:

While the WSIS was mandated to be a multistakeholder process, its actual conduct called into question the precise nature of this commitment. The modalities of participation gave Governments and session Chairpersons a good deal of discretion in their treatment of observers, and the private sector and civil society frequently found themselves to be on a yo-yo string—in one moment allowed into the room with sharply limited speaking opportunities, in the next told to sit silently, and in the next thrown out entirely.[6]

This phenomenon continued throughout the preparatory processes, becoming even more pronounced as the summit dates approached.[7] For example, during PrepCom 3 in September, some governments ejected civil society members who were blogging live from the group sessions. At PrepCom 3b in December, even ICANN President Paul Twomey was excluded from the negotiation room.[8]

Even when civil society was not formally excluded from negotiations, its input was often afforded little weight. One estimate put it that only 25% of civil society contributions were included in the text of the Plan of Action in some form, with 15% otherwise taken into account and the balance disregarded.[9] In the words of Markus Kummer, now of the IGF Secretariat, “[i]t was not surprising therefore that the summit failed to produce what might be termed ‘a solution.’”[10] Stakeholder institutions

Making the most of the limited and variable input they had into the summit, the non-governmental stakeholders took the initiative of organising themselves into more effective groupings, including what were effectively the “constituencies” referred to in the WSIS Rules of Procedure. The private sector’s constituency was the Coordinating Committee of Business Interlocutors (CCBI), chaired by the ICC.

The structures into which civil society organised itself were rather more complex, largely because of its relative heterogeneity and also its much greater numbers than the private sector. Its peak body at WSIS was the Civil Society Plenary group, constituted by all members of civil society present whenever WSIS was convened for a PrepCom or summit meeting. There was also a “virtual plenary” based on an electronic mailing list, which existed to facilitate the conduct of intersessional work, rather than for decision-making.[11]

The Civil Society Plenary was sub-divided into self-organised regional, multi-stakeholder and thematic caucuses and working groups. There was a regional caucus for each of the seven WSIS regions, two multi-stakeholder caucuses for gender and youth issues, and twenty-three thematic caucuses and working groups organised along thematic lines, such as education and academia, health, human rights, media and IPRs. The civil society caucuses and working groups made much use of online tools in their activities, including open electronic mailing lists which were all accessible from a community-run Web site,[12] and the use of another community Web platform, set up at the initiative of the Swiss hosts, to highlight their activities.[13]

The caucus of most relevance to the IGF is the Civil Society Internet Governance Caucus (CS-IGC),[14] which was formed during PrepCom 2 of the first phase of WSIS in February 2003, as the civil society caucus for Internet governance issues within WSIS.[15] Its significance lies not only in its role as a forum for the development of civil society contributions to the discussion of Internet governance during WSIS (for example by successfully nominating WGIG’s civil society representatives), but in that it remains active in representing civil society on these issues at the IGF today. In fact as at 2008, its electronic mailing list contains more members than it did during WSIS.

From PrepCom 2 of the first phase, the Civil Society Plenary and the caucuses and working groups were supplemented by two other bodies formed by a resolution of the Civil Society Plenary and reporting to it: the Civil Society Content and Themes group[16] and the Civil Society Bureau (CSB).[17] Both of these were based in some measure on the equivalent intergovernmental subcommittees of the PrepCom.

The Content and Themes Group was a coordinating body for the caucuses and working groups, which endeavoured to generate and present a unified position on behalf of civil society on substantive issues, for the purpose of drafting papers and statements for presentation to the summit.[18] Its membership was open and its coordinators were consensually appointed. In between PrepCom meetings at which it convened in person, its activities took place on a public and open mailing list.[19]

The CSB was its procedural counterpart, charged with managing organisational aspects of civil society’s participation in the WSIS and preparatory processes, including the distribution of funding from the donor-supported Civil Society Facility Fund. The executive positions on the Bureau were filled by one organisational member from each of various “families” of civil society groups. There were 22 such families at the time of the Bureau’s creation, divided along broadly similar thematic, demographic and regional lines as the caucuses and working groups, with the addition of some catch-all categories such as “social movements” and “multi-stakeholders partnerships.”



WSIS, Geneva Declaration of Principles (2003), para 48


General Assembly of the United Nations, World Summit on the Information Society (2001)


Kleinwächter, Wolfgang & Stauffacher, Daniel, Introduction (2005), 3


WSIS Secretariat, Final Report of PrepCom1 (2003), 20. The rules applying to the distribution of written statements from civil society were to similar effect: WSIS Secretariat, Final Report of PrepCom1 (2003) , 21.


Bloem, Renate, Multi-Stakeholderism and Civil Society (2005), 99


Drake, William J, Why the WGIG Process Mattered (2005), 249


Bloem, Renate, Multi-Stakeholderism and Civil Society (2005), 99; Stauffacher, Daniel, A Tribute to Those Who Made it Happen (2005) , 85


Kleinwächter, Wolfgang, A New Diplomacy for the 21st Century?: MultiStakeholder Approach and Bottom-Up Policy Development in the Information Society (2005), 112


Civil Society Working Group on Content & Themes, Does Input lead to Impact?: How Governments treated Civil Society Proposals in Drafting the 19 September 2003 Draft Plan of Action (2003)


Kummer, Markus, Introduction (2005), 2


See http://mailman.greennet.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/plenary.


See http://www.wsis-cs.org/caucuses.html.


The site at http://www.wsis-online.net/ is no longer functional, but a previous version of the site can be found at http://web.archive.org/web/20050323233954/http://wsis-online.net/.


See http://www.igcaucus.org/


CS-IGC, Initial Reactions to the WGIG Report (2005)


Also known as the Subcommittee on Content and Themes, or WSIS-SCT.


See http://www.csbureau.info/.


WSIS-SCT, Final Report on Prepcom-2 Activities of the Civil Society on Content and Themes (2003)


See http://www.wsis-cs.org/content.htm.