Chris Buckridge

The Internet Governance Forum in 2023

Chris Buckridge

The annual Internet Governance Forum cycle picks up again ahead of the 2023 event, and second-year MAG member Chris Buckridge reflects on the recent planning meetings in Vienna.

As we approach the 18th annual edition of the Internet Governance Forum (which will take place in Kyoto, Japan, from 8-12 October), the annual routine is pretty well entrenched - an open call for thematic ideas, a meeting of the Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) and an open community consultation early in the year, an open call for session proposals between March-May, and the event itself in the latter half of the year.

In all that, 2023 is much like any other year… but with a few spanners thrown into the works to keep things interesting:

  • The IGF Leadership Panel, a new body that was still in the planning stages this time last year, is now seated and looking at how best to fulfil its terms of reference.
  • Amandeep Singh Gill was appointed in June 2022 as the UN Secretary-General's Envoy on Technology, activating a new role (and office) inspired by the UN report ‘Our Common Agenda’.
  • The Global Digital Compact (GDC), another product of ‘Our Common Agenda’, has moved from a roughly sketched proposal to a complex patchwork of consultation processes, including those led by the newly appointed Co-Facilitators of the GDC preparatory process, Sweden and Rwanda.
  • The 20-year review of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS+20) will take place in 2025; with the review process already beginning in earnest, and with the WSIS responsible for providing the IGF’s mandate, the IGF community is taking a very keen interest in how to ensure that all stakeholders’ views will be considered in whatever decisions are reached in the WSIS+20 negotiation.

While this is certainly not an exhaustive list of the discussions currently swirling around Internet governance (which is increasingly being referred to in UN circles as “digital cooperation”), these issues meant that this year’s March meeting was not quite business as usual.

Setting the Scene with the IGF Leadership Panel

The IGF Leadership Panel, established in the second half of 2022 and co-chaired by Vint Cerf and Nobel Prize-winner Maria Ressa, has been a subject of great interest in IGF circles. While its terms of reference may be relatively clear, the way in which such a group would meet these objectives was not, nor how it would coordinate with other elements in the IGF ecosystem, including the MAG, the many national and regional initiatives, and the groups leading various IGF intersessional activities (Best Practice Forums, Policy Networks, Dynamic Coalitions, etc.).

While the MAG and the Leadership Panel met during the IGF in Addis Ababa last year, our meetings this month focused on much more practical planning. The Leadership Panel is leaning into its “ambassadorial” role (communicating the outputs and messages of the IGF to high-level actors in governments, business and other UN spaces) and with the Addis Ababa IGF Messages published earlier this year, the Leadership Panel is keen to work with the MAG and the IGF Secretariat to format a “crisp” summary of that document (“crisp” is definitely a contender for Word of the Meeting, by the way!).

It was also reassuring to see the group identifying key areas of work and establishing separate sub-committees in their February meeting. These sub-committees will address areas including: Awareness-Raising and Outreach, Inputs to the IGF and Liaison with the MAG, Fund Raising, and Opportunities for Substantive Contributions and Guidance. The MAG agreed to establish liaisons with each of the sub-committees to help ensure a collaborative approach.

Looking Ahead to the Global Digital Compact

In 2022, the MAG took the Secretary-General’s call for a Global Digital Compact as inspiration, structuring the 2022 IGF around five themes drawn from the original outline for the compact.

According to the original schedule for the Global Digital Compact (GDC), the agreement would have been finalised as part of the Summit of the Future, to be held in 2023. When the Summit was pushed back to 2024, the timeline for the GDC was also extended, meaning that there is an opportunity for the 2023 IGF to contribute further to the GDC planning and preparation.

With this in mind, representatives of Rwanda and Sweden, the two Member States appointed by the President of the UN General Assembly to facilitate GDC preparations, joined the MAG and Leadership Panel meeting remotely. The Co-Facilitators took the opportunity to explain their consultation process and lay out the timeline for the next year-and-a-half.

The Co-Facilitators took care to distinguish between the preparatory process (which lasts until the end of this year, and includes consultations with a wide range of stakeholders) and the subsequent negotiation phase (which is likely to be a more inter-governmental process in the UN). But it’s clear that this is still a work in progress - and there are potential opportunities to maximise meaningful multistakeholder involvement at all stages of the process. Both the MAG and the Leadership Panel discussed how they can promote this work within their respective remits (and through collaboration), and plan to further engage with the Office of the Tech Envoy and the Co-Facilitators.

Planning for IGF 2023

Much of the MAG meeting agenda was naturally dedicated to planning for the 2023 IGF. With the event taking place in mid-October, the year’s schedule is tighter than previous years (when the IGF has been in November or December). There was some urgency in establishing the framework for the 2023 event and moving quickly to the public call for workshop proposals.

One outcome was an agreement between the MAG and the host country (Japan) on an overarching theme for the 2023 event: The Internet We Want - Empowering All People.

While open-ended enough to capture the many different threads in current Internet governance discussions, the theme focuses on both the potential of the Internet to empower people in different ways, and the IGF’s role in empowering people to steer the development and evolution of the Internet itself.

In addition, the MAG agreed on a preliminary set of sub-themes for the event:

  1. AI & Emerging Technologies
  2. Avoid Internet Fragmentation
  3. Cybersecurity, Cybercrime and Online Safety
  4. Data Governance and Trust
  5. Digital Divides and Inclusion
  6. Global Digital Governance and Cooperation
  7. Human Rights and Freedom
  8. Sustainability and Environment

Discussion in the MAG meeting focused around the number of sub-themes and the importance of focus and outputs in the IGF (a recurring concern from many IGF stakeholders). In expanding the range of themes, the MAG is hoping that the IGF will be able to produce more targeted, concise messages around each sub-theme. The overall goal is to ensure that these outputs are useful and applicable for policymakers in all relevant fields.

The current expectation is that the IGF 2023 Call For Workshop Proposals will open around the beginning of April, with a six-week window for people to submit proposals and a second Open Consultation and MAG meeting in June or July.

As ever, I’m happy to speak further to anyone from the RIPE community with an interest in getting more involved with the IGF, or wanting to learn more about these processes! And the RIPE NCC’s recently launched e-learning course on Internet governance can provide some useful background to many of the topics under discussion in the IGF.


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About the author

Chris Buckridge Based in Amsterdam

Chris Buckridge is an Advisor to the RIPE NCC Managing Director on issues of Global Strategic Engagement. He has worked for the RIPE NCC since 2006.

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