IGF Format, Processes Becoming Clearer
The IGF was opened yesterday morning with a session that included speeches from the Greek Prime Minister and the outgoing head of the International Telecommunications Union. Starting with the afternoon session, the IGF vision of multi-stakeholder governance has been unfolding and emerging.
While the largely conventional opening session was organized by the local Greek organizing committee, yesterday afternoon’s ‘Setting the Scene’ session in the main hall was the first to incorporate the work that the IGF Multi-stakeholder advisory group (MAG) has done in developing a format to meet the unique goals of the IGF.
The ‘Setting the Scene’ panel featured 14 invited high profile speakers from governments, civil society, the Internet technical community and the private sector. Rather than giving the panelists an allotment of time in which to give a prepared presentation, panelists were asked for a series of short answers to questions posed by moderator Journalist Kenneth Cukier from the Economist. In turn, the floor was opened up to the audience- first to those in the room- who could submit a written question to the secretariat, and then, eventually, to those following the proceedings online through 2 contact people designated to monitor activity in the blogosphere.
The idea was to encourage dialogue and ensure that all stakeholders had equal speaking rights.
Reactions from people I spoke with were mixed. Most recognized that this was provocative and perhaps even a preferable format to a 3 hr session of prepared papers. However, some expressed frustration with the ease with which panelists were able to dodge questions, the extent to which the moderator monopolized the time and the level of editorial control he was able to exercise and, generally, with the lack of a synthetic effort to ensure that all of this was actually focused on, and contributing to deliberating on actions to serve as outcomes for the IGF. Some felt the format sacrificed style over substance, still others thought it was, nonetheless, short on style too.
The second pass at the ‘Internet Governance Talk Show’ format- this morning’s session on ‘Openness’- immediately was able to improve on the model. Instead of beginning with a set agenda, moderator Nik Gowing from the BBC World Service began the session by opening the floor to take requests from the room for suggestions for the agenda. As I write, this format is being repeated here in this afternoon’s ‘Security’ session.
Overall, Gowing pushed his panelists much further- repeatedly going back, for example, to Cisco and Microsoft reps with questions about corporate responsibility and their role in collaborating with regimes that use the Internet to violate human rights.
As of this morning, the IGF workshops have also been taking place in parallel to the Main Hall sessions in the smaller meeting rooms adjacent to and on the floor below the Main Hall in the hotel lobby.
The idea is that starting tomorrow, each main hall session will devote open mike time for organizers of the various workshops to report on what was presented and discussed and what follow-up arraignments might be under way as a result of each. How effective this reporting mechanism is in adequately feeding workshop developments into the Main Hall sessions remains to be seen.
As was explained yesterday by MAG members, the hope is that Main Hall discussions and workshops will incubate ‘dynamic coalitions’- multi-stakeholder groups of likeminded individuals who will form informal working groups to collaborate on follow-up for problems underlined or proposals discussed here between now and the next IGF.
The ‘overpass’ system turned out not to be needed after yesterday’s morning session…The wireless Internet in the Main Hall was very quickly overloaded by IGF participants trying to get online during the session and, despite the fact that upgrades in bandwidth have apparently been made in response, it still works only intermittently. This led to a great quote from the BBC correspondent here Darren Walters: “if the United Nations' own forum on the future of the internet is not able to successfully manage a decent connection for journalists and delegates in a western European country, how on earth are developing nations supposed to roll out ambitious net plans for the unconnected?”….Gowing addressed a question about the Greek blooger who was arrested directly to the Greek Minister of State who bemoaned the problem of unaccountable slander in blogs, but professed not to be familiar with the specific case in question…A claim from a Chinese delegate that China does not intentionally restrict the Internet in any way drew howls from the Main Hall audience…After saying he was personally unaware of any ‘particular’ deals that Cisco might or might not have made to sell technology that enables repression to Chinese security services, a French Human rights activist presented Art Reilly from Cisco Systems- who was sitting in his seat on the panel at the time- with a laptop whose screen showed a broacher referring to this sale …There was impassioned disagreement on the ‘Openness’ panel between European and American presenters on the desirability of absolute free-speech on the Internet or anywhere….Repeated accusations that Google had aided the Chinese authorities in detaining a crictical journalist were met with a voracious defense from Vint Cerf of Google which included the fact that the company implicated in the case in question was in fact Yahoo!...The BBC is filing reports from the IGF as well http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/6099370.stm