Governance Challenges in the Digital Age: Finding New Tools for Policy-Making

Thursday 28 November, 14:15 – 16:15

Associated Programme Theme(s): Cross-cutting session not related to one of the three IGF 2019 themes


Digital technologies are transforming society at a pace never seen before, in all kind of fields from public safety, access to information for the exercise of political rights, to welfare benefit allocation or healthcare services provision. This should be accompanied by a transformation of the approaches to designing the practices, policies, laws and regulations needed for effective governance of these technologies. At IGF 2018, the UN Secretary-General articulated a growing interest in finding ways to go beyond working in silos and become truly multidisciplinary in the ways we think about the governance of emerging technologies. It is hoped that bringing more diverse voices to the table will enable more holistic policy-making which can strike the right policy balances. Should such an evolution be seen as a threat to the sovereign role of governments to protect their citizens, or as an important tool for improving decision-making? Also, what are the limitations and appropriate boundaries in expanding policy-making to encompass a broader range of disciplines and stakeholders? We aim to come away with a better appreciation of how and when more inclusive policy-making approaches can enable Internet Governance to keep pace with the development of new technologies.


Technology deployment is in some cases the result of private companies development of business models, but also the result of public policies that foster its adoption, and many times a result of complex public-private partnerships. This complex ecosystem calls for a diversity of innovative approaches to provide governance structures that understand the impact of different clashing incentives and that are fit for this constantly evolving environment. This suggests a need to revisit the current understanding of policy-making from a technical perspective, but also as an exercise of sovereignty and participatory engagement of society at large. Multidisciplinary approaches can be understood to involve a full range of perspectives and stakeholders, in this context incorporating actors, disciplines and expertise that have not so far been engaged in Internet Governance discussions. This means looking to a wider spectrum of social sciences and behavioral studies, for instance, but also to include of traditionally marginalized groups, and even those have previously refrained from participating due to a negative view of ways in which Internet has evolved with minimal direct regulation.

This session will seek to hear critical self-reflections about how Internet governance has been conducted so far from a diversity of perspectives. The aim is to gain a deeper understanding of what multidisciplinary policy-making means for the crafting of 21st century technology governance. We will hear about several conceptual frameworks as well as concrete experiences of practical implementations in the fields of AI, cybersecurity and online content moderation.

We will invite speakers and participants of the session to tackle questions in a collective critical exercise that does not take for granted what has so far been done in technology governance. For example, to what extent, and in what ways, can multidisciplinary policy-making help governments and society address policy problems in relation to frontier and emerging technologies? What strategies can governments and private actors develop to prompt broader stakeholder discussion in issues around frontier technologies? To what extent should multidisciplinary approaches be open, inclusive and multistakeholder, or are they places where a more limited set of expert input is appropriate? What should be the role of governments in technology governance? What are the advantages and limitations of private self-regulatory initiatives?


Moderator - David Kelly, Policy Adviser, Office of the Secretary-General, United Nations 

- Part 1 – the What and the Why 

The first part of the session will provide for a general discussion about who needs to be involved in the governance of frontier technologies, and how it can be done in innovative ways that acknowledge the social impact of emerging technologies. This includes reflecting on what should be the appropriate roles for binding laws, regulations and multilateral solutions, on the one hand, and soft governance mechanisms, e.g. norms and standards, on the other. The speakers will share their experiences of designing policy-making approaches and mechanisms to address the challenges of governance in the digital age and how those approaches have evolved to better capture the impacts of emerging technologies.

Policy Questions:

  • What are the key elements of a truly multidisciplinary policy-making process? And what are the underlying conditions for creating and continuously supporting this environment?
  • Which perspectives, stakeholders and disciplines need to be involved? And to what extent should approaches be truly open to all vs being focused on specific interests considered relevant to a particular policy question?
  • What are the challenges to putting in place theoretical frameworks when it can prove difficult to foster collaboration among different stakeholders?


  • Molly Lesher, Senior Policy Analyst, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) [Intergovernmental Organization]
  • Sophie Peresson, Director, Innovation for All, International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) [Private Sector]
  • Sheetal Kumar, Senior Programme Lead, Global Partners Digital (GPD) [Civil society]

- Part 2 – the How

The second part of the session will hear from people with first-hand experience of how multidisciplinary policy-making happens in practice. Looking at examples ranging from cybersecurity to AI and content moderation, we will discuss what barriers exist to putting in place more multidisciplinary and integrated policy frameworks, and how stakeholders can work together to address them? What are the current blind spots in setting truly multidisciplinary policies? By looking at different models, we hope to learn not just what has worked well, but what have been the challenges and roadblocks of incorporating different types and levels of expertise in the development of public policy.

Policy questions:

  • What are examples of attempts to build multidisciplinary policy-making processes for public policy already being developed on Internet Governance across the globe?
  • What we can learn from them? What worked well? What needs improvement? Are there lessons to be learned from private sector policy-making?


  • Kenneth Adu-Amanfoh, Executive Director, Africa Cybersecurity and Digital Rights Organisation, (ACDRO) [Civil society]
  • Olaf Kolkman, Chief Internet Technology Officer, Internet Society (ISOC) [Technical community] 
  • Lisa Dyer, Director of Policy, Partnership on AI to Benefit People and Society [Multiple stakeholder group involvement]
  • Zoe Darme, Manager, Governance, Facebook [Private sector]

Background material

- Recent initiatives and statements relevant to the topic of this Main Session are provided below

- Connections with other IGF sessions


    1. Key Policy Questions and Expectations

    Policy questions

    • What should be the perspectives, and which stakeholders and disciplines need to be considered, to enable policy-making approaches that are truly multidisciplinary for Internet Governance?
    • What are the underlying structural conditions that facilitate truly multidisciplinary policy-making process?
    • What are examples of attempts to build multidisciplinary policy-making processes for public policy already being developed on Internet Governance across the globe? What worked well? What needs improvement? What lessons can we learn from private sector policy-making?

    Overall expectations from the session

    We aim to highlight conceptual frameworks and good practices coming from concrete cases presented in the session to illustrate ways to go beyond working in silos and to create policy-making approaches that are truly multidisciplinary and involve a full range of perspectives and actors, in a wide range of substantive topics, covering the life-long period of policy-making from its design, implementation and evaluation.

    2. Summary of Issues Discussed

    The discussions highlighted a number of key elements for successful policy-making in the digital age. It was felt that processes that are inclusive, transparent and make use of 21st century tools can lead to increased trust in the process, provide more legitimacy and result in better informed and more balanced outcomes.

    Full Report available HERE.

    3. Policy Recommendations or Suggestions for the Way Forward

    The following specific elements of a successful process were put forward:

    • Being thoughtful about the design of a process at the outset
    • The importance of an open, inclusive and accessible process
    • Transparency
    • Accountability
    • Finding the right stakeholders for the specific issue at hand, who can bring the expertise necessary to produce informed and evidence-based decisions
    • Flexibility
    • Practical ways to engender trust and create genuine dialogue
    • Measuring impact and disseminating results
    6. Estimated Participation

    Onsite – around 250 participants, 35% female

    Online – around 10 participants, 30% female

    7. Reflection to Gender Issues

    A majority of the panelists were women.

    Women were considered as one group - alongside others such as young people, disabled people, refugees, former prisoners – which policy-makers should consider when designing inclusive consultative processes.