IGF 2020 WS #334 Multistakeholder Approaches to Democratic Digital Governance


Organizer 1: Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Organizer 2: Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Organizer 3: Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Speaker 1: Krzysztof Izdebski, Civil Society, Eastern European Group
Speaker 2: Olga Kyryliuk, Civil Society, Eastern European Group
Speaker 3: Asad Baig, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 4: Ashnah Kalemera, Civil Society, African Group


Round Table - U-shape - 60 Min

Policy Question(s)

How can we strengthen country-level mechanisms to include multistakeholder internet governance? What do we need to do to make sure these are the default operating systems, even in times of crises? How can governments that have traditionally had less digital policy expertise increase their capacity? How can this be done in a way that abides by human rights standards? Legislation related to freedom of information is often prioritized in the name of public health and safety. How have independent media, journalists, and bloggers been able to push back and unite around new or more restrictive regulations? What does effective trust and collaboration between citizens and policymakers look like in the digital rights space, especially during times of crisis? Are there examples of tools or approaches that have created or reinforced this trust?

Coordinated, multistakeholder approaches are needed to renew trust in the digital space, and to improve the understanding among policymakers so that digital rights and democratic values remain at the core of digital policy development and implementation. The wake of the global pandemic represents an opportunity to think about how countries can improve democratic digital governance going forward. Are there ways we can future-proof global and national internet governance such that it can function in times of crises? The anticipated challenge is how to ensure that governments fully commit to multistakeholder internet governance. Oftentimes, and especially in times of social and political crises, governments act unilaterally by implementing new laws and regulations without proper input from different sectors. In the long run this can do more harm than good, and can undermine efforts to strengthen multistakeholder internet governance at the global level.


GOAL 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


As over half of the global population is now online, ensuring that the internet is a trusted digital space that is governed in a way that protects human rights and fosters civic participation is essential for democracy to survive in the digital era. Yet, over the past decade, there has been a global decline in internet freedom, and actions by governments and non-state actors to close the space for an open internet have become even more advanced and easier to deploy. For instance, as people around the globe relied more heavily on the internet during the COVID-19 pandemic, many governments, particularly across the Global South, violated several digital rights in the name of public health, including infringing on individual privacy rights through new surveillance technologies, increasing censorship of content, and intentionally disrupting digital connectivity. Moreover, in recent years, governments around the globe have also inadvertently implemented policies with unintended consequences that curb digital rights. Overall, this negative trend represents a step backward in terms of fostering a democratically-governed, global public sphere -- an Internet United. Moments of crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, make evident the crucial role that multistakeholder governance can play in countering restrictive policy decisions made that threaten internet freedom. All too often, these processes feel largely inaccessible to many government leaders (particularly in the Global South) and those responsible for development and implementation of internet policy and regulations. Absence from these spaces can reinforce existing technology and legal knowledge gaps where digital rights are concerned, and potentially sharpen the appeal of "copy/paste” approaches championed by proponents of digital authoritarianism. This round table will explore how independent media, civic tech leaders, digital rights specialists, and the private sector have engaged with government leaders to promote policies that improve citizen-government collaboration and ensure human rights standards are equally applied online. The session will highlight specific initiatives undertaken by each panelist, as well as facilitate a conversation among session participants to discuss practical strategies for 1) improving local lawmaker knowledge of rights-respecting approaches to digital rights and 2) building inclusive, multi-stakeholder coalitions for digital policy advocacy.

Expected Outcomes

The expected outcome of this session is a better understanding of how to implement effective multistakeholder governance processes, particularly in countries which have had traditionally less digital policy expertise and engagement. The insights gleaned from the roundtable discussion will be captured and incorporated into knowledge outputs being developed by the session organizers, the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA), the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) to help build capacity among policymakers and other stakeholder groups in developing countries. CIMA, CIPE, and NDI collectively facilitate the Open Internet for Democracy Initiative (https://openinternet.global/) which seeks to build the capacity of digital rights advocates to effectively advocate for digital rights that are essential for democracy to flourish online. A secondary goal of this workshop is to strategize how digital rights advocates can push back against efforts that denounce the multistakeholder model of internet governance. Finally, this session will also be an opportunity for diverse stakeholder groups from various geographic locations within the IGF community to connect, network, and share best practices. Cross-regional peer-learning is essential to developing robust knowledge about best practices in democratic digital governance, this session will forward those goals by connecting people and serving as a space to brainstorm future activities and collaborations.

During this session, the onsite moderator will ensure that IGF persons are allotted time to ask questions and share their own perspectives on the session’s topics. Moreover, this session will also have a dedicated online moderator who will make sure that all comments and questions submitted online are shared with the audience onsite. This online participation tool is particularly important for this session as one of our goals is to have a set of perspectives that are geographically diverse. Many of the individuals and groups concerned with news media sustainability in the digital age will not necessarily be able to travel to Poland for the IGF, so we will prioritize their participation via the online platform.

Relevance to Internet Governance: Ensuring that human rights and trust is central in the evolution and use of the internet requires the preservation of the multistakeholder models of internet governance. To that end, diverse stakeholders including governments, civil society, the private sector, and multilateral institutions, as well as representatives that are typically excluded in decision-making processes, must be able to actively participate in policy fora that shapes norms and standards on internet governance. Furthermore, developing shared priorities at global fora such as the IGF can also provide useful foundations for governments developing and implementing national policies that impact digital rights. International norms and standards that respect human rights in the digital age also provide useful frameworks for digital rights advocates who are facing the repercussions of governments that are continuing to find ways to close the space for an open and inclusive internet, particularly in times of crisis.

Relevance to Theme: Democratic, multistakeholder governance is the best mechanism we have to instill trust among internet users that this technology is being developed in a way that serves their interests and protects their fundamental rights. As the organizers of this thematic track acknowledged, “Trust in the online world is a prerequisite for the Internet to develop its potential as a tool for empowerment, a channel of free speech and an engine of economic development.” The trust necessary for effective internet governance is not just about citizens and end-users, but also includes the different stakeholder groups themselves. A certain type of trust needs to be fostered among governments, civil society, and the private sector such that they understand that they share a common goal of human progress and development. Developing this trust is cultivated over time. However, understanding internet governance processes and how to strengthen them, especially in developing countries, is a key ingredient for maintaining an open, inclusive, and trusted internet.

Online Participation


Usage of IGF Official Tool. Additional Tools proposed: We will encourage participation via our organizations' Twitter handles which reach more than 10,000 users. We will also live Tweet the roundtable discussion and incorporate input/feedback from participants on Twitter.