Exploring Multistakeholder Internet Governance: Towards the Identification of a Model Advisory Body on Internet Policy

By Luca Belli, Diego Canabarro, Judith Herzog, Richard Hill, Carlos A. Afonso, and Stefano Trumpy


Over the past thirty years, the Internet has penetrated all aspects of our lives and, as connected individuals, we are now reliant on connectivity for an increasing number of aspects of our daily routine. The preservation of Internet’s essential features, such as openness, interoperability, security and accessibility is greatly strengthened by the cooperation of the various players or “stakeholders” that have a concrete impact on the Internet functioning and regulation. The possibility for such stakeholders to dialogue and, ideally, cooperate in the context of national, regional and global governance processes is therefore instrumental in order to nurture policy-making processes with heterogeneous inputs highlighting the different facets – i.e. the technical, juridical, cultural, social and economic aspects – of any given policy issue at stake.

In this perspective, opening policy-development processes to stakeholders’ inputs may be particularly beneficial to enhance the quality of policies pertaining to complex and multidisciplinary issues, thus identifying the various facets of a common problem and the different interests at stake, while diversifying the range of potential solutions available. (Belli 2015)

Multistakeholder processes primarily focus on the participation of multiple stakeholders associated to predefined categories, assuming that the participation of such stakeholder groups to a given process may not only provide inputs from different standpoints but also guarantee the representation of heterogeneous interests. Such an assumption may be overconfident and, indeed, it seems important to adopt a critical approach towards multistakeholderism in order to distinguish those processes that are truly open to the participation of heterogeneous stakeholders with diversified interests from those who congregate different stakeholders with similar or even overlapping interests. Some of the shortcomings identified have pointed to the underrepresentation of diversity in multistakeholder debates, unbalanced incorporation of stakeholder’s interests, for instance privileging influential or wealthy actors, such as national governments and dominant private companies. (Belli 2015; Bollow & Hill 2014 and 2015; Malcolm 2015b) Hence, multistakeholder processes should be fashioned to avoid undue influence by any single stakeholder (group), while fostering transparency, pluralism and implementing adequate checks and balances.

This paper will focus on a selection of multistakeholder processes, which have been chosen for their diverse origin and composition, scrutinis views of stakeholders as well as how such views may be utilised for the elaboration of concrete outcomes. Multistakeholder processes are based on the assumption that policy elaboration and deliberation benefit from stakeholder inputs and expertise that should be heard and, ultimately, integrated through participation. To the extent that all stakeholders benefit from the best-quality outcome, it is possible to envisage developing consensual win-win policy solutions. However, it must be recognised that this may not be the case if the interest of stakeholders diverge significantly and, notably, when the interest of specific stakeholder is to sabotage a given process in order to avoid a non-favourable outcome.

How, and to what extent, to rely on multistakeholder mechanisms has been at the core of Internet governance discussions for the past 20 years. Since the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS), the need for “unremitting multistakeholder efforts” has been increasingly debated and the merits of multistakeholder governance processes have been promoted and officially endorsed by several intergovernmental organisations, such as the Council of Europe (2005 & 2011), the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (2008 & 2011) and the International Telecommunication Union (2010 & 2014). Moreover, since its inception, the United Nations Internet Governance Forum (IGF) – one of the core outcomes of the WSIS process – has been promoting the benefits of a multistakeholder approach based on an inclusive and participatory Internet governance. In this sense, multistakeholder participation has been increasingly portrayed as an essential procedural element, permeating the entire spectrum of Internet governance processes.

However, together with the increasing institutional support for multistakeholderism, it is possible to note the growing consciousness that there is no such thing as “the” multistakeholder model but rather a variety of processes featuring different procedures, purposes and institutional configurations, giving rise to diverse structures for the participation of stakeholders into policyshaping and policy-development efforts.

Multistakeholderism has also become an overused word in Internet governance discourse, encompassing any vaguely participatory process aimed at debating, elaborating or implementing digital policies. The purpose of this paper is therefore to understand how multistakeholder processes concretely unfold, in order to identify good practices to be compiled into a proposal for a Model Advisory Body on Internet Policy whose openness, inclusivity and diversity of inputs would allow the elaboration of high quality policy proposals. In order to do so, this paper will briefly analyse a selection of examples of multistakeholder bodies and processes taking place at the national level (Section I) as well as the main international process aimed at promoting multistakeholder Internetpolicy debate and suggestions i.e. the IGF. (Section II)

The authors of this paper identified good practices during a workshop dedicated to “How can Openness and Collaboration Enhance Internet Policy-Making?” held at the 3rd International Conference on Internet Science (INSCI 2016). The elements forming the good practices emerged during the elaboration of the first draft of this paper and are highlighted along the different case studies examined in section I and II. These elements have been utilised to distil some basic procedural and substantial recommendations for the development of Advisory Bodies on Internet Policy. The recommendations, included in the conclusions, have greatly benefitted from the comments received on the first draft of this paper, presented at aforementioned INSCI workshop.