provided by Mark Carvell, September 2020
Recommendation 5 A/B set out proposals and options for strengthening the institutional and process architecture for global digital cooperation. The Panel identified a number of significant gaps, deficiencies and challenges in the current arrangements and proposed a set of options for strengthening the architecture of governance and cooperation to address these.
The HLP report concluded that:
- there are significant gaps that need to be resolved;
- digital technologies are often low on political agendas;
- cooperation is frequently fragmented, lacking in tangible outcomes without effective follow-up;
- the Internet Governance Forum must be strengthened to make it more inclusive, responsive and relevant to current digital issues.
Further information about this Recommendation and the UN’s timeline for follow-up action to the Report’s conclusions and recommendations is available at: https://www.global-cooperation.digital/GCD/Navigation/EN/Follow-up/follow-up.html.
The office of the Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General, the Governments of Germany and the United Arab Emirates were appointed as Co-Champions to coordinate multi-stakeholder consultations on how to implement Recommendation 5A/B. The results of these consultations are set out in a paper “Options for the Future of Global Digital Cooperation” which was presented to the UN Secretary-General on 3 September 2020. The announcement about this key step in the follow-up process is accessible at: https://www.global-cooperation.digital/GCD/Navigation/EN/Home/home.html.
Summary of main conclusions
Consistent with the responses received and views expressed during recent stakeholder consultations when creating a wholly new institutional framework was generally rejected by stakeholders, the Options paper sets the general direction for the evolution of existing multi-stakeholder mechanisms and processes for advancing digital cooperation. The proposals contained in the paper are therefore based on the following criteria:
- building on existing structures rather than creating new ones;
- avoiding duplication with existing institutional resources etc; and
- keeping the architecture of digital cooperation simple.
The Options paper also acknowledged the strong support expressed by stakeholders for strengthening the role of multi-stakeholder national, regional and youth IGFs in the global eco-system of Internet governance and digital cooperation.
The core proposal described in the Options paper is to strengthen the Internet Governance Forum by enhancing its strengths and correcting its widely-acknowledged problems and deficiencies, notably:
- the lack of strong leadership and political advocacy;
- the relatively low number of senior government policymakers and decision-takers taking part in IGF events and intersessional activities;
- the absence of concrete outcomes that lead to substantive policy change and constructive cooperation; and
- the shortfalls in diversity of participation, in particular from the Global South.
Proposed changes for evolving the IGF into the so-called “IGF+” with new structures and functions include:
- establishing a high-level advisory group to set the strategic direction and goals for the IGF. This would be smaller in size than the MAG whose primary function would continue to be constructing the programme for the IGF and undertaking the necessary stakeholder consultations;
- adoption of the “cooperation accelerator” role proposed for the IGF proposed by the High-level Panel in its report through creating a dedicated structure supported by a team of liaison officers with the prime purpose of advancing cooperation between the varied institutional policymakers and decision-takers in different organisations and stakeholder constituencies;
- re-configuring the IGF’s relationship with the UN membership and its agencies notably by establishing direct links to the Office of the Secretary-General and to the Envoy on Technology who is expected to be appointed by the Secretary-General in 2021;
- the Envoy on Technology having a key role in securing an increase in the commitment of governments to the IGF’s activities; and retaining the high-level leaders segment and the parliamentarians’ track as permanent features of the IGF’s annual programme;
- ensuring the IGF delivers concrete and actionable outcomes (potentially in the form of non-binding recommendations and reported conclusions) which would be communicated to decision-taking institutions and fora; facilitated by building on the current framework of IGF Dynamic Coalitions and Best Practice Fora (BPFs) so that in effect they serve as channels of policy incubation; and including dedicated sessions for decision-taking bodies in the IGF programme;
- facilitating greater diversity of participation through funding support for stakeholders from the Global South and adopting remote participation technologies; and subjecting membership of the IGF+ bodies (including the current Multi-stakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) and the Secretariat) to clearer diversity criteria and selection rules.
- incorporating some of the additional functions recommended by the Panel as providing important access to information resources and policy guidance, notably the observatory and help desk(s). However, stakeholders’ concerns about the need to avoid duplicating existing well-established repositories of data and networks of help desks are recognised in the paper and the IGF is seen as potentially fulfilling a valuable complementary role in signposting enquiries from local administrations, entities and Internet communities to other sources of advice and guidance. The IGF could also usefully establish a database of accredited databases.
- ensuring a more robust financial base to fund the IGF’s range of activities and expanded functions. Direct UN funding of the IGF has been ruled out as not having the support of stakeholders. Ensuring that the IGF+ has sufficient funds to carry out its activities will be an even greater challenge if more donations are not secured for the Trust Fund which will continue. A professional fund-raising structure within the IGF will be created for this purpose with the aim of securing more pledges of financial contributions.
These proposed changes constitute a significant step-change for the IGF but the essential characteristics of the IGF as a non-decisional, multi-stakeholder forum at the centre of the Internet governance eco-system, with a bottom-up approach to programme-setting and an independent Secretariat funded by voluntary donations to a trust fund, remain unchanged.
Much of the detail of how these changes will be adopted will need to be worked out in consultation with stakeholders and the IGF’s Secretariat and Multi-stakeholder Advisory Group in the period following thus year’s virtual annual IGF. Furthermore, the Options paper leaves open for further stakeholder consideration and road-testing other suggestions that have emerged in the Co-Champions’ consultations as having stakeholder support. Examples include:
- streamlining the agenda of the IGF’s annual event to cover a limited number of specific issues, with fewer sessions and more brain-storming discussions;
- prioritising IGF themes and topics over the course of a multi-year programme;
- creating an IGF sandbox for testing innovative proposals;
- incorporating elements of the widely-respected Distributed Co-Governance (CoGov) model of horizontal networks and platforms for shared cooperation solutions.
The challenge for stakeholders will be to ensure that by the time of the mandate of the IGF being reviewed by the UN General Assembly in 2025, the IGF+ model will be securely embedded with sufficient political and financial support, as a fully inclusive forum that produces substantive outcomes that are respected and implemented by decision-takers in the Internet eco-system.