How can we make Internet Governance processes more legible?

[Summary: Links and reflections on the need for an improved information and engagement architecture for Internet Governance]

At a Berkman lunchtime talk today, Veni Markovski, ICANN vice-president for Russia, discussed high-level conferences on ICT and the Internet’ and what they mean for the Internet as we know it. The two diagrams below which Veni had on screen during his talk capture the increasing complexity of the Internet Governance process, with a mix of open and closed meetings of overlapping participants and stakeholders.


You can find Nate Mathias’s live-blog of the talk here, including reporting from the Q&A where Ethan Zuckerman put the question, with the importance of upcoming decisions: What should people who care about the Internet do? And, what should foundations be doing in this space too? Vini’s response was a call for interested parties to get involved in Internet Governance, following mailing lists and taking the advantage of remote participation in upcoming meetings.

Yet – with the complexity visible above, doing that is no small task. Keeping up with Internet Governance mailing lists could easily be a full-time job: and meeting information, participation opportunities and meeting records are scattered across the web. The ‘information architecture’ of Internet Governance is far from intelligible to outsiders trying to work out which issues matter to them, where they should get involved, and what the history of an issue is. It seems not a little ironic given the potential of the web to link up and make information more navigable, and to support global engagement and interaction, that Internet Governance processes and their online presences (and particularly those launched recently) feel very old fashioned. Whilst the early multi-stakeholderism of many Internet Governance fora was innovative, it feels very much like that innovation is on the wane as governments increasingly shape the agenda, and civil society capacity is spread ever more thinly.

So: what process and technical innovations should the Internet Governance field be engaging with to make it possible for more people to be involved in?

The recently launched Friends of the IGF project is trying to address some of the problems that exist when it comes to the Internet Governance Forum, bringing together and curating transcripts from past fora, and trying to tag content and speakers, proving new entry points into the governance debates. Tomorrow we’ll be having a skill-share workshop at the Berkman Center with Susan Chalmers who heads up the project, exploring how an open and user-centred design process might help focus that project on meeting key needs of IGF followers. But it feels like we also need a much broader conversation, and work on design, to join the dots between different Internet Governance silos for those approaching from outside, and to really work on institutionalisation of improved and open working practices.

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