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Update from the IGF MAG Chair

April 2020

The 2020 IGF MAG started its work soon after the conclusion of a very successful fourteenth IGF ‎held in Berlin from 25 to 29 November. By the end of 2019, the Berlin IGF messages were shared; ‎eight new MAG members were inducted; and a call for feedback on the 2019 IGF and input on ‎plans for 2020 was circulated.  By the time the first face-to-face open consultation and MAG ‎meeting took place in Geneva, from 14 to 16 January 2020, input from the IGF community1 ‎had ‎affirmed widespread support for the simpler2 thematic structure which formed the basis for the ‎Berlin IGF programme. Based on this feedback, the MAG constructed a provisional thematic ‎framework and presented it to the IGF community for comment and validation in late January. ‎

The response to this call demonstrates the dynamic interaction between the MAG and the ‎community. Feedback received both affirmed and expanded on the MAG’s initially proposed ‎framework and was distilled by MAG members into four thematic tracks for the IGF ‎‎2020 programme: (1) Data; (2) Environment; (3) Inclusion; (4) Trust. Also in response to ‎community feedback the MAG simplified the form and published the call for workshop proposals ‎on 2 March 2020.  ‎

Other key achievements during the first quarter of 2020‎

  • Public consultation: The MAG Chair and the Government of Switzerland convened a ‎consultation on the follow-up on the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Digital ‎Cooperation on the occasion of the first MAG meeting in Geneva on 14 January 2020. It ‎created the opportunity for a rich set of proposals on how the IGF can be strengthened ‎while at the same time making progress towards implementing the IGF plus model ‎proposed in the High-Level Panel’s report. Read the report to see who attended and what ‎they said.‎
  • Best Practice Forums: The MAG reviewed proposals and approved four Best Practice ‎Forums for 2020: Gender and Access; Cybersecurity; Local Content and Data and New ‎Technologies in an Internet context. ‎
  • One new BPF, referred to as the “BPF of BPFs” was established, specifically to look back ‎at BPFs since their inception, assess what worked well and what can be improved, and ‎make recommendations on the way forward. We are very fortunate to have Markus ‎Kummer, past IGF MAG Chair and Executive Coordinator of the IGF Secretariat, as the ‎coordinator of this BPF.‎
  • Establishing four MAG working groups for 2020: Two are continued from 2019, the ‎Working Group on Outreach and Engagement (WG-OE) and Working Group on ‎Workshop Process (WG-WSP), and two are new: the Working Group on Language (WG-‎Language) and the Working Group on IGF Strengthening and Strategy. ‎
  • Workshop proposal and evaluation process: The MAG, mostly through the efforts of the ‎MAG working group on workshop process, updated the workshop proposal and evaluation ‎process and the manual for workshop proposers in response to a survey they conducted in ‎‎2019. ‎

The IGF and the COVID-19 pandemic‎

Little did we know at the time of the January 2020 MAG meeting that the world would change so ‎dramatically in a matter of weeks. The impact of the pandemic has been profound. People’s ‎personal and work lives have changed dramatically and economies are in decline. Inequality ‎between countries and the relative capacity of their public health infrastructure are front and ‎centre. It goes without saying that those who are already impacted by social inequality are most ‎affected, particularly people who have lost their jobs, or for whom social distance is simply not ‎possible because of high density living conditions, and, those who are not affordably and ‎sustainably connected to the internet. ‎

The internet and its power as a platform for connecting people in positive ways, for remote work, ‎entertainment, learning, and distribution of essential information has stood out more vividly in the ‎last two months than ever before. What this means for internet governance globally and locally ‎needs to be explored in the coming months. For me three dimensions stand out: ‎

  • The shift from the preoccupation with the harmful use of the internet reflected in the huge ‎increase in the last few years in debates on regulation of content and use, to a widespread ‎recognition, even a celebration, of its positive potential.  Even legitimate concerns about ‎pandemic-related misinformation do not overshadow the overwhelming sense that we ‎would be so much worse off without the internet. This does not mean that internet ‎governance should not address harmful use or cybersecurity; but it does create common ‎ground for collaborative work on harnessing the internet’s potential for good and ensuring its ‎availability to all people, as a global public resource. ‎
  • Leading from this, does this crisis perhaps create a moment where agreement can be built ‎on how internet governance can protect and consolidate the internet as both ‎‎“multistakeholder” and a global public resource (or even a global public good)?  Can the ‎IGF fulfil its promise to be the platform that leads to the development of globally-‎applicable rights-based public interest norms and principles for internet governance, policy ‎and regulation? It started to do this, directly and indirectly, through workshops and main ‎sessions on the topic; through its relationship with the NETmundial and the NETmundial ‎principles on internet governance; as well as through many other sets of principles ‎developed and agreed on by institutions and networks that are part of the IGF community, ‎such as the UNESCO R O A M principles.‎3 

These are not new questions for the IGF, but the current context could facilitate a more effective ‎engagement with them. In the same way that the 2013 IGF, held in Bali not long after the ‎revelations of mass surveillance, paved the way for the IGF taking human rights-related concerns ‎more fully on board, can the COVID-19 pandemic help achieve concrete agreement on globally ‎applicable common principles for internet governance? For further exploration of the implications ‎of the pandemic I recommend David Souter’s recent columns on the topic.‎

Will the 2020 IGF take place as a face-to-face event?‎

Many people are asking this question. The answer, for the moment, is a loud and clear “yes”. Host ‎country, MAG, UNDESA and IGF Secretariat preparations are on track. Please submit your session ‎proposals by the 22 April and keep the IGF on your travel schedule. But we are not ignoring the ‎situation and are fully aware that extensions of lockdowns and in the closure of visa offices can ‎impact the convening of the IGF and the Secretariat and the host country are assessing the situation ‎continuously. Updates will be sent regularly, and should there be any change in plans it will be ‎communicated well in advance.‎
Many National and Regional IGF Initiatives (NRIs) have responded proactively by deciding to ‎postpone their meetings for later in the year or convene virtually. For now, the LACIGF and ‎EuroDIG are the very first NRIs that will be hosting their annual meetings virtually. We extend our ‎support to them and look forward to learning from their experiences. ‎

Thank you to the outgoing MAG Chair and MAG members ‎

A huge thank you to the outgoing MAG chair, Lynn St. Amour for her years of dedicated, hard ‎work and for her ongoing support. Thank you also to the MAG members whose term ended in ‎‎2019. It is hard work to be an active MAG member.  Thank you Lynn for your commitment, for ‎making a massive contribution to building collaborative work methods, and for establishing strong ‎routines, with the MAG starting its work early-on in a new IGF cycle. ‎

Recognising all those who keep us connected ‎

In closing, I want to recognise and thank the many people and institutions who keep the internet up ‎and running. System administrators, engineers, those who provide user support, look after internet ‎exchange points, who check cables and wires, servers and power supply. There are millions of ‎them and they are working harder than ever as more and more of our daily interactions and ‎functions take place online. Without them the world as it is today would be a much worse place.‎

Anriette Esterhuysen
Chairperson, Internet Governance Forum Multistakeholder Advisory Group 2020‎
In lockdown in Johannesburg, 14 April 2020‎

The term “community” is often used in a manner that is not very specific, and that implies cohesion even when ‎there is no evidence that such cohesion exists. The notion of there being an “internet governance community” is ‎often criticised for obscuring the diversity of interests, perspective, power and capacity among the institutions ‎and individuals involved. The notion of an “IGF community”, however, seems to me to be legitimate and helpful ‎to refer to the large number of people and institutions, from multiple regions, disciplines, sectors and stakeholder ‎groups who contribute to and participate in the IGF and in NRIs. What they have in common is their engagement ‎with the IGF process.‎
2 Core concepts and themes had been used to build the IGF programme since its inception. Initially five thematic ‎areas, sometimes with variations, were used as a basis for the programme. They were: “access”, “critical internet ‎resources”, “security, openness and privacy”, “diversity” and “emerging issues”. Later new themes and subthemes ‎were decided on by the MAG each year to be responsive to current priorities. By 2018 the IGF programme was ‎built around eight themes. They were all relevant, but it did make following the event more difficult. The ‎selection of just three broad themes for 2019 was well-received effort by the MAG to build a  more cohesive and ‎focused programmatic structure.‎
3 R O A M = Rights – Openness – Access – Multistakeholder. Read more at‎universality-indicators/background.

Contact Information

United Nations
Secretariat of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF)

Villa Le Bocage
Palais des Nations,
CH-1211 Geneva 10

igf [at] un [dot] org
+41 (0) 229 173 411