IGF 2021 WS #262 From Civil Society Participation-Washing to Decision-Making

Thursday, 9th December, 2021 (12:50 UTC) - Thursday, 9th December, 2021 (13:50 UTC)
Conference Room 4

Organizer 1: Marlena Wisniak, European Center for Not-for-Profit Law

Speaker 1: Peter Micek, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 2: Paula Martins, Civil Society, Intergovernmental Organization
Speaker 3: Urvashi Aneja, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 4: Bruna Santos , Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)


Marlena Wisniak, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Online Moderator

Francesca Fanucci, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Marlena Wisniak, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Break-out Group Discussions - Flexible Seating - 60 Min

Policy Question(s)

Assessing Internet governance approaches and mechanisms and fostering inclusiveness: What are the main strengths and weaknesses of existing Internet governance approaches and mechanisms? What can be done, and by whom, to foster more inclusive Internet governance at the national, regional and international levels?
Governance and cooperation for an evolving Internet: How does Internet governance need to change in order to meet the changing nature and role of the Internet? What tools, mechanisms, and capacity building instruments are needed for stakeholders to effectively cooperate, and engage in Internet governance?

Over the years, various multistakeholder fora have been established to discuss internet governance and global standard-setting with constituents including policy makers, industry, academics and civil society. The Internet Governance Forum itself is a key example. The flourishing debate on standard setting for emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI) and automated decision-making systems (ADMS), has contributed to this trend: examples include the OECD Artificial Intelligence Policy Observatory, the Partnership on AI, and the Council of Europe Ad Hoc Committee on Artificial Intelligence (CAHAI), among other multi-stakeholder groups.

However, research has called out the ineffectiveness (at best) and corporate capture (at worst) of most of such initiatives related to addressing societal and human rights concerns. This session aims to work with civil society organizations (CSOs), academics, and companies to challenge the way that stakeholder engagement is carried out today in the AI and internet governance space. Moving away from “participation washing”,[ this session will explore alternative forms of civil society participation: one that is based on shared decision-making power and free from corporate capture. This requires civil society-led initiatives, independent funding, governance structures that grant CSOs equal voting power (and potentially a right to veto), accountability and grievance mechanisms, and authority of affected communities and rights holders from diverse backgrounds.

The CAHAI, for instance, is a global standard-setting process, with many non-European actors already directly involved. ECNL, on behalf of the CoE Conference of International NGOs (CINGO) is one of the members of this Committee and helps provide and coordinate civic input. ECNL is also regularly invited to the Freedom Online Coalition, a government partnership working to advance global internet freedom and promote discussions with civil society groups. During our tenure, we’ve witnessed first-hand the extent to which civic voices are missing in these debates, especially those from historically marginalized and vulnerable communities.

Multistakeholder fora certainly show great promise to protect and advance human rights, rule of law and democracy for all. Yet they can also be a fig leaf for dangerous internet and technology-related laws and policies, especially if they do not meaningfully engage stakeholders and respond to their needs. To explore this, participants will reflect on questions such as, ‘Who should be included in multistakeholder governance mechanisms and how can we ensure that they have the skills, capacity, and resources necessary to participate?’; ‘Which regulatory framework is best suited to ensure consultation is meaningful and effective?’; and ‘What are the limitations of multistakeholder platforms?’


5. Gender Equality
10. Reduced Inequalities
11. Sustainable Cities and Communities
12. Responsible Production and Consumption
16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
17. Partnerships for the Goals

Targets: A level playing field between the public sector, the private (industry) sector and civil society is needed to allow for a plurality of views and interests, especially related to those of the most vulnerable and marginalized communities. Reducing the disparities in power and influence between companies and CSOs is critical to promote sustainable communities (SDG 11), advance gender equality as women and non-binary persons are often disproportionately impacted yet excluded (SDG 5), and ensure responsibly production, consumption and business activities (SDG 12). Overall, multistakeholder engagement that ensure meaningful civil society engagement can lead to reduced inequalities (SDG 10) and protects peace, justice, and strong institutions (SDG 16).


This session is intended first and foremost to strengthen meaningful civil society participation in internet governance and corporate accountability, while avoiding the pitfalls of multistakeholder engagement. The COVID-19 pandemic has imposed additional barriers to participation, including at the United Nations, while at the same time opening new opportunities for remote digital participation. Using AI governance as a case study, it aims to help CSOs better understand and leverage existing platforms, such as the OECD Artificial Intelligence Policy Observatory, the Partnership on AI, and the Council of Europe Ad Hoc Committee on Artificial Intelligence, among others. This workshop especially aims to propose an environment where affected communities can have shared decision-making power, especially women and non-binary persons, black, indigenous, and people of color, ethnic and religious minorities, disabled persons, LGBTQI+, children, youth, and elderly, and persons from a lower socioeconomic class.

Expected Outcomes

The session will provide a safe space for activists, researchers, organizers and community representatives to discuss the challenges of multistakeholder collaboration and pathways for addressing them. We aim to include a diverse range of voices, including participants from the Global South and those working on multistakeholder engagement, such as representatives from the industry and multistakeholder initiatives. It is equally important to recognize who is missing in the room and how we can include their voices in future conversations.

This workshop is designed to enable future discussion. The session will end with an invitation to discuss next steps in a follow up conversation, which ECNL would organize. If there’s interest, ECNL would consider expanding this conversation and launch a broader initiative focusing on civic participation in multistakeholder platforms.

To maximize outreach, organizers will later draft a summary of the session and make it publicly available. Stakeholders working in this space (including technology developers) can thus learn from shared perspectives and include civil society considerations into their research and/or products.

The session will be structured in three parts. First, the invited speakers will present selected aspects of their work and experience working in multistakeholder settings. Second, participants will be divided into small groups to foster more intimate discussion. Breakout groups will be available both for attendees participating remotely, and those who are attending in-person. ECNL will provide facilitation for both in-person and online breakout groups. Third, participants will reconvene and brainstorm, in a plenary setting (combining both in-person and remote participants), what potential next steps can be carried out to advance enhance civil society participation in multistakeholder platforms for internet governance.

Online Participation

Usage of IGF Official Tool.

Key Takeaways (* deadline 2 hours after session)

There is insufficient common language between stakeholders, inadequate participation and lack of critical assessment whether engagement is meaningful

No level playing field and power inequity; Lack of resources in civil society and issue of compensations for consultation and engagement of CSOs

Call to Action (* deadline 2 hours after session)

Need to expand this conversation and launch a broader initiative focusing on civic participation in multistakeholder platforms. Develop clear “terms” of what meaningful engagement for civil society really means and conditions under which is safe and inclusive process.