Review, ‘Internet Governance Forum (IGF), The First Two Years’, Edited by Avri Doria and Wolfgang Kleinwächter in cooperation with IGF Secretariat

On: September 18, 2010
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About Marte Lindstrom
I am born and raised in Oslo, Norway. I have been studying at the University of Bergen in Norway, and I finished my bachelor degree in Media Studies in 2006. I have also been so lucky to be an Erasmus- exchange student in Rome, where I took courses in political science and European history. I have been working for some years, mainly as a consumer consultant. I recently decided it was time to learn some new tricks, so I went back to school.

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http://masterinamsterdam.wordpress.com    

The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is a forum for multi-stakeholder policy dialogue. It is a direct outcome of the World Summit on the Internet Society (WSIS). Its purpose is to facilitate open and inclusive dialogue about the World Wide Web, between government officials, representatives of the private sector, members of civil society,  academics and agents of the technical realm. Since 2006, the IGF has arranged annual conferences with topics related to key terms such as  openness, security, diversity and access.

The book Internet Governance Forum (IGF), The First Two Years is a collection of texts written by people connected to the 1st meeting of IGF in Athens, Greece in 2006 and the 2nd meeting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2007.  The book is divided into four parts

  1. Background papers; essays written by organizers and participants
  2. The Preparatory Process; presentation of the idea behind the IGF and the annual meetings
  3. Proceeding; an overview of how the two meetings were arranged and conducted, including excerpts from transcripts of some of the panel discussions
  4. Workshops; a summary of some of the workshops that were arranged during the two first meetings

Topics for discussion

The topics of many of the texts are well-known and quite uncontroversial. Almost all of the authors tap into one or more of the following subjects:

  1. bringing internet access to the developing world and rural areas
  2. dealing with language barriers, both in content and technical language
  3. security:
  • protecting children from abuse
  • defence against spam, viruses and bad software

The texts give a good presentation of these topics, but for a more diverse view the reader has to look to the transcripts from the panel discussions as they include different thoughts and perspectives on these issues. This is also the only part of the book where the voices of representatives from civil society are given attention.

The discussions reviewed in the book, both from Athens and Rio de Janeiro, are listed with the headlines openness, security, diversity and access. As the debates are open for comments “from the floor” (as it is written in the transcript), other topics such as censorship and the dominance of commercial actors on the web are also being discussed. I find it odd that these issues are not mentioned at all in the introduction or the background papers.

Results

Many of the contributors mention the fact that the IGF does not have decision- making authority; it is only a forum for dialogue. This is often underlined as a positive point as participants can arrive with an open mind and speak freely without the fear of having to commit to something at the end of the day. Given the international nature of the internet, problems are unlikely to be solved on a national level or without involving different stakeholders.  A good dialogue is crucial to start a productive cooperation. The mission of the IGF is to convene people from different backgrounds who might share the same visions. But as  Nitin Desai writes in his introduction it goes beyond that;

“..Its (the IGF’s) success must be measured by the extent to which it engenders changes in the actions and policies of bodies which do have formal decision making authority”

The ideal is to share knowledge and learn from each other and even more so to apply these lessons to reality.  Although this is mentioned as an important goal by several of the authors, no one can point to any examples of projects being conducted as a direct or indirect result of attending the IGF meetings.

The agenda of the publisher

The IGF has a vision to be transparent and available for the general public. As a result of this vision all the proceedings of the IGF meetings are available online, including transcripts and video and audio casts of the main sessions. The book Internet Governance Forum (IGF), The First Two Years is a collection of proceedings already published online and personal reflexions written by “distinguished personalities” who were approached and asked to contribute by the IGF. The hope is also that the book can reach an even broader audience than the web page.

As the content of the book is written by people affiliated with the IGF, it does give a good overview of the ideals, ambitions and aspiration of the IGF. However, critical questions about how the meetings are arranged, who is attending, the topics for discussion are generally absent. I perceive this lack of objectivity as a great weakness in this book, as I cannot believe that there were no controversies surrounding an international meeting about the World Wide Web. I did find the transcripts of the panel discussions to be interesting, but I question if a book is the right medium for that kind of information. My personal opinion is that an oral debate does not translate well to written form. The visual appearance of this part of the book is also unappealing. In its current form the book reminds me of a meeting record written by and for those attending.  After reading this book I find that while the IGF has aimed to accomplish impressive goals both by conducting annual meetings and by publishing their findings, they have failed to facilitate any real change in behaviour and attitude towards the internet and, most important to this review, to present their findings in a clear and interesting fashion.

The book Internet Governance Forum (IGF), The First Two Years, is available as an e- book at the official Web page of the IGF.

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