In the fourth instalment in our series focused on the RIPE NCC’s Draft Activity Plan and Budget 2024, Hisham Ibrahim - RIPE NCC’s Chief Community Officer - talks us through tending and sustaining the Internet commons in 2024.
Draft Activity Plan and Budget 2024
Our Draft Activity Plan and Budget 2024 sets out our plans for the year ahead along with the associated costs. It has now been published in draft form and a consultation opened to hear your views on our activities and where the money is spent. Following an open house to receive input from members, there will be further discussion at the RIPE NCC General Meeting in November before a final version is approved by the RIPE NCC Executive Board and published in December.
The Internet commons
The Internet is considered by many to be a ‘global commons’ - a space with no one owner used by billions of people worldwide. Within this shared space, communities have developed over time to manage and ensure stewardship of important shared resources, eventually developing structure and policies to ensure this is done properly. The Internet's growth and resilience therefore relies on the active participation, behaviours, and relationships of people within these communities.
Having said that, as individuals, we do not always interact with our surroundings in a cooperative manner and people can lose sight of their commonalities and become divided. The concept of the ‘tragedy of the commons’ is the idea that individuals, acting in their self interest, will inevitably accelerate the exhaustion of a shared resource, to the detriment of all.
“What is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it. Everyone thinks chiefly of his own, hardly at all of the common interest” - Aristotle
Stewarding the commons - Trust as currency
As the Secretariat for the RIPE community, our currency is TRUST. We serve as the trusted steward of the open, inclusive, collaborative Internet model. Trust is exchanged within the community through:
- Community building activities and engaging with our membership
- Learning and development activities that build relevant skills and foster awareness of best current operational practices
- Coordination and collaboration efforts that engage with technical, governmental and standards bodies to deliver insights into the Internet's operations and potential threats that could affect it
We design locally tailored solutions by integrating elements from all of our activities to secure active support from decision-makers, operational technical operators, and policymakers for initiatives such as IPv6 adoption and routing security deployments. This approach is essential for bridging knowledge gaps, fostering consensus, and cultivating a supportive environment.
There are over 70 countries in our service region and we have to make sure that ALL of our members and everyone in the RIPE community can receive support from their Network Coordination Centre. There are usually no clear playbooks for how to handle the situations we face on a regular basis, from domestic political disputes, international conflicts and even multiple wars in our service region. We need to be flexible and agile to navigate these challenges, and to do this we need to be able to draw from the trust that we have built with the community over the years to sustain the commons.
Sustaining the commons - External engagement and community in 2024
As a not-for-profit organisation, we are in a unique position - we have the means, expertise and the mandate to support the growth and development of the Internet. The primary way we seek to achieve this is by supporting the bottom-up, community-based management of the shared resources that enable our members and community to operate one secure, stable and resilient global Internet.
To achieve this, it is imperative that the community remains engaged and that the RIPE NCC remains resilient to political, legislative and regulatory changes that could impact our operations or our ability to support our members. This is why our External Engagement and Community objectives come first in our five-year strategy.
In other words, tending to the Internet’s commons across our service region, by lowering barriers to engagement, will be of the utmost importance next year as we continue to navigate sanctions, conflict within our service region, and global economic instability.
The overall budget for External Engagement and Community has been reduced from 10,000 kEUR to 9,400 kEUR. We had to make cuts across all the departmental budgets and activities within External Engagement and Community, except for Community Building, which saw a slight increase to accommodate the increase in the operational costs of running RIPE Meetings.
We remain dedicated to retaining the expertise within our External Engagement and Community team. To support this commitment, we have decided to grant all staff their market adjustments in 2024. Recognising the importance of retaining our skilled professionals, this strategic move ensures that our organisation continues to thrive with a dedicated and talented workforce.
To finance the 4% increase in personnel costs, we made the necessary decision to reduce our External Engagement and Community operational budget by 16%. The most substantial reductions have been applied to our outreach budget and travel expenses.
Community building and membership engagement
From its inception, the RIPE community has understood the importance of the bottom-up, community-driven processes in producing effective policies that receive wide support, making this a critical part of how the community maintains effective stewardship of Internet number resources. Over thirty years later, the Internet still draws and benefits from the community’s collective knowledge, shared values and sense of responsibility.
The RIPE Meetings we organise as Secretariat to the community are the main forum in which we help to bring the RIPE community together, while the regional events we organise allow us to meet members where they are, lowering the travel costs, visa restrictions and language barriers that prevent them from attending and participating at RIPE Meetings in Europe. These regional events, namely South East Europe (SEE), Middle East Network Operator Group and Peering Forum (MENOG) and the Central Asian Peering and Interconnection Forum (CAPIF), are key for engaging with the wider RIPE community.
Next year we will continue with two RIPE Meetings and we have increased the budget for them from 1,300 kEUR to 1,400 kEUR to keep up with growing participation and the rising cost of running the meetings. We have also budgeted 125 kEUR to sponsor and support each regional activity.
However, we will be reducing our budget for national engagements and we have cut our travel budget - which means there’s no planned RIPE NCC Days for next year. This reduction also impacts our ability to organise hackathons, deployathons and Internet Measurement Days.
We have sacrificed these national engagements to concentrate on regional events and to keep RIPE Meetings thriving. Supporting Network Operator Groups (NOGs) will also remain a priority in 2024 as we continue to provide financial assistance and speakers for these events, but the contributions will be reduced in 2024 compared to previous years. These were not easy decisions, as it meant we had to cut back on all elements of our External Engagement and Community budget apart from RIPE Meetings. There is also an expectation that in 2024 we will generate 300 kEUR in RIPE Meeting ticket income and 500K in sponsorship and partnerships across three categories: event support, data services and community building efforts.
We will continue to support cooperation through increased online participation, breaking down barriers for those who can’t attend in-person events with more Open Houses, access to up-to-date information through our new redesigned website and by introducing ‘local hubs’ for RIPE Meetings.
Our online platforms and content keep the wider community up-to-date and enable interactions which may never happen otherwise. Platforms like the RIPE NCC Forum have opened up the possibility of communicating in a more collaborative way. Our online content creation, including the RIPE Labs podcast, provides insights for a broader audience who perhaps have caring responsibilities or other time commitments to engage with the community through media at a time that suits them. Another part of our efforts to increase the diversity and inclusiveness of the RIPE community is by increasing participation of newcomers, students, academics and people from underrepresented regions through our RACI and RIPE Fellowships.
Community learning and development
The Community Learning and Development budget was significantly reduced from 2,600 kEUR in 2022 to 1,800 kEUR in 2024. We have been working hard to strike the balance between service quality and cost-efficient planning.
Making sure our members have the relevant skills and awareness of best current practices helps them to make informed decisions and improvements to their local Internet. We will continue to act in the interest of ALL members with our Learning and Development activities. While not all members will need e-learning courses, workshops and webinars, they are invaluable to those who don’t have access to adequate travel or education budgets, especially in developing parts of our service region. We develop various in person and virtual learning opportunities on topics such as IPv6 deployment and routing security. We do so to enable our members and community to operate one secure, stable and resilient global Internet for all.
In 2024 we will develop several new learning experiences for e-learning, webinars and in-person courses, with a focus on three topics: RIPE NCC membership; IPv6 (particularly advanced content and labs); and measurements and tools. We will also continue with Certified Professionals as our research has shown that these certifications are highly perceived by our membership and act as a strong incentive for many learners to finish the e-learning modules in the RIPE NCC Academy.
Community coordination and collaboration
In the current geopolitical climate, it is not uncommon to see that governments are often driven by nationalistic agendas as they craft rules and regulations. However, this trend raises concerns of the potential impact on shared global resources like the Internet.
We deliver insights into the Internet's operations and enhance policymakers' understanding of the technical layer, while keeping our community informed about potential policies that could affect it. We have a long tradition of providing the operator community with data analysis on the state of the Internet and developing innovative tools to help them understand various aspects of routing, DNS, reachability and other topics. We also collaborate with members of the research community. Regular reporting and analysis of RIPE NCC-related statistics and accurate methodological analyses of Internet events provide valuable information that can act as an early warning for the community.
Working with key decision and policy makers at our C-level engagements, Governmental Roundtable meetings and bilateral engagements throughout our service region keeps these people informed and highlights the implications of their decisions, regulations and policies. We draw from our expertise and status as a centre of authoritative data to ensure that the voice of the technical community is heard. The emphasis here is on preserving the Internet as a shared resource for all.
To keep within budget, we have reduced consultant hours as well as travel and the number of contributions we make to other organisations, mainly towards Internet governance fora, instead prioritising our most effective engagement efforts.
Reduced spending comes at a cost
It might be tempting to look at the budget for External Engagement and Community as an easy way to make immediate savings, but this dismisses the significance of our engagement work. Further budget cuts risk a gradual erosion of these capabilities, which have taken time to develop and are not easy to regain once lost, with repercussions that might not be immediately apparent since there is a compounding effect over time. The bottom line is that sustaining the commons through External Engagement and Community efforts are an investment in the future of the community itself.
In times of geopolitical conflict and budgetary constraints, the tragedy of the commons becomes even more pronounced as competing interests intensify within the community. As its secretariat and coordination centre, we are making tough decisions in light of these competing interests and we are standing by those decisions guided by RIPE principles to help us.