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Moving the Multistakeholder Model Forward: Thoughts from The WSIS+10 Review Event

Ayesha Hassan

Ten years ago, global representatives assembled in Geneva in 2003, and again in Tunis, 2005, as part of the two founding phases of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). At the heart of proceedings, attended by representatives from across the spectrum of business, government, civil society, and the Internet technical community, was an acknowledgement that an inclusive approach was needed in all discussions pertaining to Internet governance and policy-making, to overcome the primary challenges in building this 'Information Society.'

In the decade that's followed, we've witnessed marked progress in moving towards this vision of a people-centred and inclusive Internet, and the multistakeholder approach has been the backbone in strengthening WSIS principles and prompting action. But challenges still remain.

Last week, representatives from all the stakeholder groups from around the world converged in Paris for the first WSIS+10 Review event to evaluate progress made since those initial meetings, and to determine fresh approaches to better inform the full WSIS review in 2015. In my mind, the meeting is proof positive that the multistakeholder model for collaborative dialogue and consensus-building is working, and must continue to be adopted going forward.

Inspired by the open debate forum, and strong support from diverse participants, the review event culminated in a statement of collaborative consensus on how to further progress and enhance the WSIS process. Indeed, the first item reinforces that multistakeholder processes have become an essential approach in addressing issues affecting the knowledge and information societies, and the statement itself was a testament to the inclusive approach. With anyone from all stakeholder groups able to contribute to its drafting, this process was further evidence of the value that the model can deliver.

As with any form of governance, the multistakeholder approach must address principles such as representation, transparency, and efficiency. Indeed multistakeholder organizations such as ICANN and multistakeholder platforms such as the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) are constantly seeking to improve their outreach to ensure active and meaningful participation by representatives from all groups. Such representation is essential for this model to be successful, and several of our ICC BASIS business representatives, took part in sessions tackling core issues such as multistakeholder principles and enhanced cooperation.

These standing-room-only sessions made clear the interest in advancing the multistakeholder approach, and the review event in its entirety was an excellent example of the multistakeholder approach, and enhanced cooperation among stakeholders, in action. Key topics affecting the future of the information society — from freedom of expression, to the free-flow of information, multilingualism and gender inclusion — were addressed in conversations which will be on-going as we approach this year's Internet Governance Forum. Hosted in Indonesia, this IGF will address issues that have emerged in international discussions, and will seek to create outputs that participants can use at the national and regional levels.

The role and relevance of the business community in this ongoing debate is one which Jean-Guy Carrier, the International Chamber of Commerce's Secretary-General, was keen to underscore in his opening address. He called upon all stakeholders to do more to protect the transparency and openness of the Internet and, highlighted that governments must engage fully with the stakeholder process to develop policies and practices that enable trade and promote economic and social growth.

On this note, and to a round of applause, a representative from Google pointed out that this collaborative model must also extend beyond dialogue, to the advancement of resources and funding for the IGF by all stakeholders. Administered by the United Nations, the IGF is funded through donations from various stakeholders. But just as the discussion of Internet governance issues must be characterised by the multistakeholder approach and equal input, so it is in all stakeholders' interests to provide a bigger commitment to funding the IGF and ensure that Internet governance continues to be debated in a fair, open and inclusive forum in the years to come.

By Ayesha Hassan, Senior Policy Manager, Digital Economy, International Chamber of Commerce

Related topics: Internet Governance

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