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Re: <nettime> Multistakeholderism vs. Democracy: My Adventures in Stakeh
michael gurstein on Mon, 25 Mar 2013 18:55:15 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Multistakeholderism vs. Democracy: My Adventures in Stakeholderland

(lost in ether hell for a few days, sorry. nettime mod_f)

-----Original Message-----
From: michael gurstein [mailto:gurstein {AT} gmail.com]
Sent: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 11:13 AM
To: Nettime-L (nettime-l {AT} kein.org)
Subject: Multistakeholderism vs. Democracy: My Adventures in 

(with links)


Multistakeholderism vs. Democracy: My Adventures in ?Stakeholderland?

by Michael Gurstein

In advanced circles discussing future forms of governance and
particularly governance structures in areas impinging on or being
impinged upon by the Internet, one of the most widely discussed and
promoted is that of Multistakeholderism (MSism). This is presented
as the successful model on which the Internet has been built and
thus the model through which the Internet should continue to be
managed, and given its success in this area it is a model which
is increasingly seen as being attractive and applicable in wider
and wider areas including for example, environmental management,
sustainable development, climate change adaptation, privacy regulation
and the range of seemingly intractable issues with which the modern
polity is confronted.

MSism is based on the overall notion that those most impacted by
a change or an issue or a circumstance should be involved in the
management and governance and ultimately the resolution of that issue
or circumstance Thus for example, in the area of Internet governance
the stakeholders identified as being appropriate for inclusion in
associated decision making are governments, the private sector, the
technical and academic community (T/A) and civil society (CS). So far,
so good, and this seems to have worked reasonably well when the issues
were concerned with a start-up Internet and largely narrow technical
processes and issues. However, as these things go, and of course, as
the Internet has matured technically and increased dramatically in its
scope and impact; and as the associated policy issues in such areas as
privacy, security, access and others have grown apace in complexity
and significance there has been the inevitable trend to extend MSism
as a governance model and strategy into these latter additional areas
among others.

And this isn't cream cheese. The USA Ambassador to the recent World
Conference on International Communications in Dubai where the Internet
world was seemingly edging into some sort of global policy Cold War,
in his brief statement to the USA's concluding press conference
mentioned MSism 17 times while mentioning things like freedom of
expression, open markets, and so on less than 5 times each. At a
recent OECD meeting, in which I had the occasion to participate,
the senior US spokesman indicated in his remarks that MSism was a
necessary framework for the on-going conduct of the OECD's business
at hand. And as of June 2012 the US "NTIA announces the first privacy
multistakeholder meeting pursuant to Obama administration privacy
blueprint" and so on.

This is a very important emerging trend and one that is taking on
increasing importance as a way of facilitating decision making
in complex, rapidly evolving, knowledge and technology intensive
processes. So, given this importance and visibility one might expect
that MSism was a clearly defined set of concepts with regularized
procedures, structures of accountability, norms for internal
governance and decision making, rules for transparency -- the regular
elements of democratic processes.

Well not so much...

Arguably, among the origins of MSism are in the overall technical
management of the Internet and its recent powerful emergence into
the overall lexicon of democratic governance is through Internet
related matters and specifically as an outcome of the World Summit
on the Information Society (WSIS) where the concluding document (The
Tunis Agenda for the Information Society) mentioned multistakeholder
processes/approaches/frameworks etc. some 18 times in among its 122

As well, one of the recommendations of the WSIS Summit was that
there be a multistakeholder examination of what was called "Enhanced
Cooperation" which in UN-speak is terminology for how governments
(and others) could structure themselves to proceed in global Internet
and related policy areas. The responsibility for this activity has
been assigned within the UN system to the Commission on Science and
Technology for Development (CSTD) and the Chair of this Commission
recently invited the WSIS defined "stakeholders"--governments, the
private sector, civil society and the technical and academic community
to nominate representatives from within their respective stakeholder
communities to be selected by the UN to sit on a Working Group on
Enhanced Cooperation.

A wee bit of background... For the last several years I've become
involved with civil society in Internet Governance related areas,
mostly articulating a "community informatics" position i.e. the need
to extend access and use of the Internet to marginalized populations
and communities. However, in this instance and in consultation with
various parties I decided that rather than being concerned with what
SHOULD take place with respect to bringing the next 4 billion or
so of the world's citizens onto the Internet, I would be concerned
with what structures COULD be put in place to most effectively
achieve this. (This distinction is important as it is one between an
intervention or participation which is "values based" and thus which
falls directly into the area of civil society whose primary framework
is the promotion of actions and activities on and with the Internet
as seen primarily through a Human Rights lens; and an intervention
or participation which is knowledge or expertise based such as would
be contributed by those participating from within a technical and
academic community.) I would look to base my contribution in the
latter on my some 20 years professional experience working with
marginalized populations around the world and most particularly in
consultation with my academic, research and technical community
informatics colleagues actively engaged in these activities worldwide
on a daily basis.

So, rather than applying to be nominated by the CS stakeholder
group for the Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation I decided to
put on my "day job" hat and apply to the "academic" component of
the T/A stakeholder group--my thinking being that if, of five T/A
representatives, four were concerned with the technical "pipes"
(connectivity and protocols), perhaps one should be concerned with
who the "pipes" were being laid for and what was being carried along
those "pipes". In this instance the Chair of the CSTD committee had
designated a representative of the Internet Society to be the "focal
point"(in fact gatekeeper) for the T/A stakeholder group to gather
the nominations and to select five names to forward to the Chair for
review and ultimate selection.

Asking for but not receiving the appropriate form and requirements for
application I sent along a bio, resume, indication of interest and how
I thought I fit into the selection criteria identified--which included
things like time availability, experience, how one would represent
the T/A community that sort of thing. In addition, I requested
"endorsements" from the Community Informatics community and received a
very positive and useful cross section of such endorsements including
from a range of Less Developed Countries, academic (including
technical) disciplines and so on and so on.

However, my application was clearly met with some consternation within
the T/A focal group as I received contacts and encouragements from
several sources to withdraw my application and re-submit it through
Civil Society. I respectfully declined those solicitations citing my
extensive and continuing work experience in the area of enabling the
extension of Internet access and use and particularly how I would look
to act as a channel for making available the knowledge and experience
of my professional colleagues in this area.

A first formal response from the T/A focal point then indicated
that I didn't fit within the T/A "criteria" which was identified
as "the scientists who developed the Internet and the technical
organizations/people who run it, and not to social scientists and the
like". Fair enough, but thinking that this was a rather restrictive
(to my mind) definition and moreover one that might usefully be
evolving as the Internet has grown and matured I asked to be pointed
to the specific document and authoritative reference where this
definition was presented (as for example by the UN itself).

I received no reply to this request but after a very lengthy delay I
was informed that the "nominations" had gone forward and that mine was
not recommended. I then asked for two things--an indication of the
procedures that had been followed in adjudicating the applicants and
the criteria which had been used in making the overall assessments.

I received back this quite astonishing response to my first question
"Consultations were led (presumably "held") and I have also talked
to many individuals from Civil Society and the Business community
(including their focal points)". In other words they, the focal point
"chatted with a few of her mates and they decided amongst themselves
who they would nominate". No procedures, no formal assessment, no
transparency, no accountability...

And as well I received this intriguing response to the second question
concerning definitions "My interpretation of the "technical and
academic community" includes the academics who have contributed to
building the Internet".

Since I (and my colleagues) have devoted much of our working careers
to "building the Internet" if one understands by building the Internet
something beyond simply wires and protocols i.e. integrating users and
developing uses, then it seemed that I and my colleagues would easily
fit within that criteria.

I then followed up with a subsequent question asking for an indication
of the actual formal procedures which went in to applying the criteria
and making the assessments. At this point my previous involvements
with Civil Society were evoked as determining conditions i.e. since
in the past I had represented CS thus it was implied I could not at
a subsequent occasion represent my technical/academic colleagues.
Also, at this time the defining criteria for the T/A stakeholder
groups was further refined as being "individuals who have technically
built the Internet". When further pressed on this matter, in a
widely circulated email the following and presumably considered and
definitive definition was provided: The T/A stakeholder group consists
of "the community of organizations and individuals who are involved
in the day-to-day operational management of the Internet and who work
within this community".

Okay, so clearly I am not welcome as a member of the T/A
community/stakeholder group and presumably none of my academic or
research or technical colleagues who aren't specifically involved in
"the day to day technical management and operations of the Internet"
aren't either. Fair enough, I've no interest in going to a party where
I'm not invited. But ...What this means I think is that the prevailing
and self determined definition of the T/A stakeholder group includes
probably no more than 3-400 people in the entire world, all of whom
have some professional association with the technical management of
the Internet (the alphabet soup of technical Internet governance
organizations--ICANN, the Internet Registries and a few others in
standards organizations), perhaps at least 80% of whom are from
developed countries and at least 80% of those being US based, at least
80% being male (it is probably much higher given the absence of women
in these kinds of technical roles) and from sad experience having
essentially no knowledge or interest in matters that stretch beyond
their narrow highly technical realm.

It further means that the group representing the T/A stakeholder
"community" is able to design its own "restrictive covenant" (define
who is a member and who is not), exclude whomever it wishes on
whatever basis suits it and moreover is not accountable or required to
have any degree of transparency in its internal operations, decision
making procedures, internal governance structures and so on. Notably,
this group functions in an area of considerable and increasing public
responsibility and as peers with an equivalent group representing all
of the governments of the world, a second group (CS) representing all
of the citizens of the world and a third group representing all of the
businesses of the world..

Thus MSism in this instance is meant to be a substitute
for/replacement of more formal processes of democracy which presumably
are seen as being inadequate to deal with these 21st century issues
and challenges. It is well to remember, that what is under discussion
here would appear to include fundamental elements in Internet and
Information Society governance structures which ultimately will impact
and direct the development of the Internet and through this (and
likely other ways) impact on the future of us all. To say that the
manner of operation of the T/A stakeholder group is an abrogation of
fundamental principles of responsible, transparent and accountable
democracy is astonishing and deeply disturbing is hardly sufficient.
Moreover, if we recognize that at least two of the other "stakeholder
groups" involved in this process are by all accounts equally flawed
as is the T/A one then what we are talking about is a fundamental
challenge to what we understand as democratic governance and governing

I have no idea of the degree of development of the governance
structures of other multistakeholder processes and how closely
they match the deeply flawed operations I have described above.
However, based on my above noted experience; that fact that the
multistakeholder experience in Internet Governance is widely quoted
as a model to be emulated; and the fact that in the course of the
rather extensive online discussion concerning the above within the
Internet Governance Caucus itself no theoretical or practical response
or alternative experience was usefully provided; I can only conclude
that the multistakeholder model and MSism itself may be equally
deeply flawed and in no sense is ready or able to take on the massive
governance responsibilities in numerous public policy areas which its
proponents are attempting to enact.

Certainly there are problems and even major problems with democratic
governance in the modern era and these are perhaps being made more and
more acute because of the success of the Internet. And certainly the
development and operations of the Internet attests to a successful
set of inter-organizational, inter-individual processes which are
perhaps exemplary in their management and coordination of a highly
complex, global system with multiple organizational and institutional
involvements and "stakeholders". Whether or how such a model could
be transferred beyond this relatively contained domain is I think
something to be discussed, researched, even piloted -- certainly it
would need to be adapted and re-created to fit specific circumstances
-- whether that model could become a basic governance framework for
the modern world with applications in multiple domains and as a
substitute for representative democracy is I think something that
should be considered extremely carefully and some specific lessons
should be learned from the extremely flawed implementation in what
should have been its most directly applicable sphere.

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