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[I-coordination] New: How do we dissect Internet governance? [Was: Europe at a tipping point?]

Peter H. Hellmonds peter.hellmonds at
Wed Dec 18 00:16:53 CET 2013

+1 Bill, and thank you for your eloquent and concise elaboration if the meaning and intent in the WGIG definition if IG. I think we should now move on and prepare the substantive agenda and topics for the Brazil meeting and beyond based in that well-accepted definition and make the best of it. 


Peter H. Hellmonds
<peter.hellmonds at>
+49 (160) 360-2852

On 17.12.2013, at 01:27, William Drake <william.drake at> wrote:


>> On Dec 17, 2013, at 6:51 AM, Jeremy Malcolm <jeremy at> wrote:
>> On 17/12/13 08:45, George Sadowsky wrote:
>> The WGIG definition of Internet governance, the result of meetings in 2004-5, was the result of political compromise.  I think that it is not helping us here.  AS Brian says below, the notion of Internet governance mixes up too many things, and does not seem to be useful for addressing real issues.
>> Can we come up with a different vocabulary and a somewhat different structure that is much more consistent with our problem space, so that these different issues don't get confused (and yes, I understand that there may well be overlap between them)?
>> Brian, can you suggest some appropriate vocabulary and/or taxonomy?
> The wording of the WGIG definition of Internet governance is almost identical to a widely cited definition of an international regime that has a considerable body of theory behind it.

Not by accident, since the chief proponent was a political scientist who writes about international regimes.  But we did some changes due to political games and logical necessities given the issue-space.  The standard regime definition is "sets of implicit or explicit principles, norms, rules, and decision-making procedures around which actor's expectations converge in a given area of international relations.”  The WGIG def is "Internet governance is the development and application by Governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet.”  So the differences are:

*I was unable to sell people on "sets of implicit or explicit” or "around which actor's expectations converge”, both of which some thought to be too “academic,” i.e. meaningless.

*WGIG added “development and application” to connote both an intentional agents-centric conception of governance (as opposed assertions of unintended spontaneously emergent norms etc. in some scholarly treatments) and the necessity of them actually being applied to count——i.e. high falutin declarations that aren’t implemented and don’t actually affect behavior are not governance.  

*WGIG added "by Governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles” as a sop to certain members (Chatham prevents me from saying who, but you can guess it wasn’t the nongovernmentals who were supposedly relegated to secondary status by the phrase) in order to get their agreement to the rest of the definition.  Since the definition completely decentered the question of “who” governs (recall at the time we were stuck between ICANN fetishism and ITU fetishism, both definitionally nonsense), established that government takes many forms other than formalized governmental agreements, and explicitly covered both the Internet and its use (again, as opposed the instructions SG Utsumi gave us at the first meeting, to concentrate only on names and numbers and who should run them, meaning ITU), the respective roles garbage was an acceptable tactical trade.  While it’s been repeatedly cited and abused in some UN contexts like the WSIS reviews and CSTD, its not like claims of special government privileges and monopolies on policy wouldn’t have been made in its absence.

*The addition of “programmes” was a change from the regime def because it admits as forms of governance some centralized organizational activities that are separate from generally applicable rule systems, e.g. organizational initiatives to implement rules or intervene in conditions through e.g. technical assistance programs that can reconfigure facts on the grounds and abilities to engage in governance systems.  To put it another way, what ICANN the org or UN agencies do programmatically is often not part of a regime, but they can be consequential in providing social steering.

*And again, "evolution and use of” was key to ending the debate over whether IG just involved names and numbers.  That this was consensually imported into the Tunis Agenda nailed that coffin, at least for WSIS purposes.  Like the creation of the IGF, it helped break the deadlock and allowed the Tunis Agenda to declare victory instead of a break down in cooperation.

That said, it’s not my preferred formulation, and I’ve written stuff subsequently that tweaks and adds terms and explain them at numbing length, but this is probably not of interest here.  I can provide pointers to any masochists.

I may be biased but I can’t understand how a definition that broadly conforms to a core standard concept used in other realms of international policy, established that IG is a broad phenomena that takes place in a highly distributed institutional architecture, and decentered the silly ICANN/ITU fight of 2003-2004 is now being deemed inadequate and in pressing need of revision.  I especially don’t understand George’s complaint that it "mixes up too many things;” the point was precisely to say that governance is a process of social steering that take multiple forms, has multiple source, and plays out at multiple levels of social organization and across institutions and issue spaces.  To say that a definition is generalizable and captures a class of like cases rather than one instance of that class is not normally regarded as a logical weakness; quite the opposite.

BTW I think we also explained the definition in some detail in the WGIG Background Report, which it seems has not been widely read.

> So I would hesitate to throw it out because it is unfamiliar or threatening to those who are more familiar with technical aspects of Internet governance.
> I also don't think that redefining the terms of the debate now, when governments and other stakeholders have already become comfortable with those terms and have been operating under them for years, is going to bring the stakeholders any closer together, if that is something that 1net is aiming to do.
> If the terminology does not fit well with the technical community's self-defined problem-space, or seems to extend to issues that you think are not "real issues", then maybe it is that that problem space is too narrow, rather than that the terminology is inappropriate or that those broader issues are not real.

Do we really have nothing more important to be doing here at this point than redefining the wheel as just a round thingy?  I thought this list was supposed to be for coordination of multistakeholder dialogue on Sao Paulo and beyond, but it seems to alternate between being a troll paradise and the site of a lot of meandering debates on points that are generally being addressed more systematically elsewhere.  Or am I alone in this perception?



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