Centre for Internet & Society

The paper is an update to a shorter piece of MAG analysis that had been conducted in July 2015. At that time our analysis was limited by the MAG membership data that was made available by the Secretariat. Subsequently we wrote to the Secretariat and this paper is based on the data shared by them including for the years for which membership details were previously not available.

This paper that delves into the history of the formation of the Multi-Stakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) and the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) including the lessons from the past that should be applied in strengthening its present structure. The paper covers three broad areas:

  • History of the formation of the MAG, its role within the IGF structure, influences that have impinged on its scope of work, manner in which its evolution has deviated from conceptualization
  • Analysis of MAG membership (2006-2015): Trends in the selection and rotation of the MAG membership
  • Recommendations to reform MAG/IGF

Jyoti Panday[1]

The recent renewal of the Internet Governance Forum[2] (IGF) mandate at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)+10 High-Level Meeting[3] was something of a missed opportunity. The discussions unerringly focused on the periphery of the problem - the renewal of the mandate, leaving aside questions of vital importance such as strengthening and improving the structures and processes associated with the IGF. The creation of the IGF as a forum for governments and other stakeholders to discuss policy and governance issues related to Internet was a watershed moment in the history of the Internet.

In the first decade of its existence the IGF has proven to be a valuable platform for policy debates, a space that fosters cooperation by allowing stakeholders to self-organise to address common areas of concern. But the IGF rests at being a platform for multistakeholder dialogue and is yet to realise its potential as per its mandate to “find solutions to the issues arising from the use and misuse of the Internet” as well as “identify emerging issues […] and, where appropriate, make recommendations”.[4]

From the information available in the public domain, it is evident that the IGF is not crafting solutions and recommendations or setting the agenda on emerging issues. Even if unintended, this raises the disturbing possibility that alternative processes and forums are filling the vacuum created by the unrealised IGF mandate and helming policy development and agenda setting on Internet use and access worldwide. This sits uneasily with the fact that currently there is no global arrangement that serves or could be developed as an institutional home for global internet governance issues.

Moreover, the economic importance of the internet as well as its impact on national security, human rights and global politics has created a wide range of actors who seek to exert their influence over its governance. Given the lack of a global centralized body with authority to enforce norms and standards across political and functional boundaries, control of internet is an important challenge for both developed and emerging economies. As the infrastructure over which the internet runs is governed by nation states and their laws, national governments continue to seek to exert their influence on global issues.

Divergence of approaches to regulation and differences in capacity to engage in processes, has led to fragmentation of approaches to common challenges.[5] Importantly, not all governments are democratic and may exert restrictions on content and access that conflict with the open and global nature of the internet. Alongside national governments, transnational private corporations play a critical role in security and stability of the internet. Much like the state, they too raise the niggling question of how to guard against the guardians.

Corporations control of sensitive information, their institutional identity, secrecy of operations: all are essential to their functioning but could also erode the practice of democratic governance, and the rights and liberties of users online. Additionally, as issues of human rights, access and local content have become interlinked with public policy issues civil society and academia have become relevant to traditionally closed policy spaces. Considering the variety of stakeholders and their competing interests, concerns about ensuring stability and security of the Internet have led the international community to pursue a range of governance initiatives.

Implementing a Multistakeholder Approach

At the broadest level debates about the appropriate way forward has evolved as a contestation between the choice of two models. On the one hand is the state-centric ‘multilateral’ model of participation, and on the other a ‘multistakeholder’ approach that aims for bottom up participation by all affected stakeholders. The multistakeholder approach sees resonance across several quarters[6] including a high level endorsement from the Indian government last year.[7] An innovative concept, a multistakeholder approach fits well within the wider debate about rethinking governance in a globalized world.

Proponents of the multistakeholder approach see it as a democratic process that allows for a variety of views to be included in decision making.[8] Nevertheless, the intertwining of the Internet and society pitches actors and interests at opposing ends. While a multistakeholder approach broadens the scope for participation, it also raises serious issues of representation and accountability. Since multistakeholder processes fall outside the traditional paradigm of governance, establishing legitimacy of processes and structures becomes all the more important.

The multistakeholder concept is only beginning to be critically studied or evaluated. There have been growing concerns, particularly, from emerging economies[9] of a lack of representation in policy development bodies and that issues affecting marginalised communities being overlooked in policy development process. From this view, the multistakeholder model has created ‘transnational and semi privatized’ structures and ‘transnational elites’.[10] Such critics define emerging and existing platforms derived from the multistakeholder concept as ‘an embryonic form of transnational democracy’ that are occupied by elite actors.[11]

Elite actors may include the state, private and civil society organisations, technical and academic communities and intergovernmental institutions. In the context thus sketched out, the key question that the WSIS+10 Review should have addressed is whether the IGF provides the space for the development of institutions and solutions that are capable of responding to the challenges of applying the multistakeholder concept to internet governance.  The existing body of work on the role of the IGF has yet to identify, let alone come to terms with, this problem.

Applying critical perspectives examining essential structures and processes associated with the IGF becomes even more relevant given its recently renewed mandate. However, already the forum’s first planning meeting scheduled to take place in Geneva this week is already mired in controversy[12] after a new Chair was named by the UN Secretary General.

The decision for appointing a new Chair was made without any form of public process, or any indication on the selection criteria. Moreover, the "multistakeholder advisory group" (MAG), which decides the content and substance of the forum, membership was also renewed recently. Problematically most of the nominations put forth by different constituent groups to represent them were rejected and individuals were appointed through a parallel top-down and secretive UN process. Of the 55 MAG members, 21 are new but only eight were officially selected by their respective groups.[13]

This paper focuses on the role of the MAG structure and functioning and highlights issues and challenges in its working so as to pave the way for strategic thinking on its improvement. A tentative beginning towards identifying what the levers for change can be made by sifting through the eddies of history to uncover how the MAG has evolved and become politicised.

The paper makes two separate, but interrelated claims: first, it argues that as the de-facto bureau essential to the functioning of the IGF, there is an urgent need to introduce transparency and accountability in the selection procedure of the MAG members. Striking an optimum balance between expertise and legitimacy in the MAG composition is essential to ensure that workshops and sessions are not dominated by certain groups or interests and that the IGF remains an open, well-functioning circuit of information and robust debate.

Second, it argues for immediate evaluation of MAG’s operations given the calls for  the production of tangible outcomes. There has been on-going discussion within the broader community about the role of the IGF with divisions between those who prefer a narrow interpretation of its mandate, while others who want to broaden its scope to provide policy recommendations and solutions.[14]

The interpretation of the IGF mandate and whether the IGF should make recommendations has been a sticking point and is closely linked to the question of IGF’s legitimacy and relevance. Be that as it may, the intersessional work, best practices forum and dynamic coalitions over the last ten years have led to the creation of a vast repository of information that should feed into the pursuit of policy options and identification of best practices.

The true test of the multistakeholder model is not only to bring together wide range of views but to also ensure that accumulated knowledge is applied to address common problems. Implementing a multistakeholder approach and developing solutions necessitates enhanced coordination amongst stakeholder groups and in the context of the IGF, is contingent on the strength and stability of the MAG to be able to facilitate such cooperation.

The paper is organised in three parts: in the first section I delve into the history of the formation of the MAG. To understand the MAG’s role within the IGF structure it is essential to revisit the influences that shaped its conceptualisation and subsequent evolution over the decade. A critical historical perspective provides the context of the multiple considerations that have impinged on MAG’s scope of work, of the manner in which MAG’s evolution has deviated from intentions, and the lessons from the past that should be applied in strengthening its present structure.

The second section analyses trends in the selection and rotation of the MAG membership and traces out the elite elements in the composition of the MAG. The analysis reveals two distinct stages in the evolution of the MAG membership which has remained significantly homogeneous across stakeholder representation. The final section of the paper focuses on a set of recommendations to ensure that the MAG is strengthened, becomes sustainable and provides the impetus for IGF reform in the future.

Origins of the IGF

The WSIS process was divided in two phases, the Geneva phase focused on principles of internet governance. The outcome documents of the first phase included a Declaration of Principles and a Plan of Action being adopted by 175 countries. Throughout the process, developing countries such as China, Brazil and Pakistan opposed the prevailing regime that allowed US dominance and control of ‘critical infrastructure’. As the first phase of the WSIS could not resolve these differences the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) was set up by the UN Secretary General to deliberate and report on the issues.

The establishment of the WGIG is an important development in the WSIS process not only because of the recommendations it developed to feed into the second phase of the negotiations, but also because of the procedural legitimacy the WGIG established through its working. The WGIG embodied the multistakeholder principle in its membership and open consultation processes. WGIG members were selected and appointed in their personal capacity through an open and consultative process. As a result the membership demonstrated diversity in the geography, stakeholder groups represented and gender demographics.

The consultations were open, transparent and allowed for a diverse range of views in the form of oral and written submissions from the public to feed into the policy process. At its final meeting the WGIG membership divided into smaller working groups to focus on specific issues, and reassembled at the plenary to review, discuss and consolidate sections which were then approved in a public forum. As the WGIG background paper notes “The WGIG agreed that transparency was another key ingredient to ensure ownership of the process among all stakeholders.”[15]

The WGIG final report[16] identified a vacuum within the context of existing structures and called for the establishment of a forum linked to the UN. The forum was to be modelled on the best practices and open format of the WGIG consultative processes allowing for the participation of diverse stakeholders to engage on an equal footing. It was in this context that the IGF was first conceptualised as a space for global multistakeholder ‘dialogue’ which would interface with intergovernmental bodies and other institutions on matters relevant to Internet governance.

The forum was conceived as a body that would connect different stakeholders involved in the management of the internet, as well as contribute to capacity-building for governance for developing countries drawing on local sources of knowledge and expertise. Importantly, the forum was to promote and assess on an ongoing basis the embodiment of WSIS principles in Internet governance processes and make recommendations’ and ‘proposals for action’ addressing emerging and existing issues not being dealt with elsewhere. However, as things turned out the exercises of power between states and institutional arrangements ultimately led to the development of a subtly altered version of the original IGF mandate.

Aftermath of the WGIG Report

The WGIG report garnered much attention and was welcomed by most stakeholders with the exception of the US government which along with private sector representatives such as Coordinating Committee of Business Interlocutors (CCBI) disagreed with the recommendations.[17] Pre-empting the publication of the report, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) issued a statement in June 2005 affirming its resolve to “maintain its historic role in authorizing changes or modifications to the authoritative root zone file.”[18]

The statement reiterated US government’s intention to fight for the preservation of the status quo, effectively ruling out the four alternative models for internet governance put forward in the WGIG report. The statement even referenced the WGIG report stating, “Dialogue related to Internet governance should continue in relevant multiple fora. Given the breadth of topics potentially encompassed under the rubric of Internet governance there is no one venue to appropriately address the subject in its entirety.”[19]

The final report was presented to PrepCom 3 of the second phase in July 2005 and the subsequent negotiations were by far, the most significant in the context of the role and structure that the IGF would take in the future. US stance on its role with regard to the root zone garnered pushback from both civil society and other governments including Russia, Brazil, Iran and China. However the most significant reaction to US stance came from the European Union issuing a statement after the commencement of PrepCom 3 in September.

EU’s position recognised that adjustments were needed in institutional arrangements for internet governance and called for a new model for international cooperation which would include “the development and application of globally applicable public policy principles.”[20] the US had not preempted this “shocking and profound change” and now isolated in its position on international governance of the internet, and it sent forth a strongly worded letter[21] invoking its long-standing relationship and urging the EU to reconsider its stance.

The pressure worked since the US was in a strong position to stymie the achievement of a resolution from WSIS process. Moreover, introducing reforms to the internet naming and numbering arrangements was not possible without US cooperation. The letter resulted in EU going back on its aggressive stance and with it, the push for the establishment of global policy oversight over the domain names and numbers lost its momentum.

The letter significantly impacted the WSIS negotiations and shaped the role of the IGF. By creating a deadlock and by applying pressure US was able to negotiate a favourable outcomes for itself. The last minute negotiations led to the status quo continuing and in exchange the US provided an undertaking that it would not interfere with other countries’ ccTLDs. The weakened mandate meant that even though creation of the IGF under the WSIS process moved forward the direction changed from its conceptualisation and origins from the WGIG report.

Institutionalizing the IGF

In 2006, the UN Secretary General appointed Markus Kummer to assist with the establishment of the IGF. The newly formed IGF Secretariat initiated an open consultation to be held in Geneva in and issued an open call to stakeholders seeking written submissions as inputs into the consultation.[22] Notably neither the US government nor the EU sent in a response to the consultation and submissions made by other stakeholders were largely a repetition of the views expressed at WSIS.

The division on the mandate of IGF was evident in this very first consultation. Private sector representatives such as the CCBI and ICC-Basis, government representatives from OECD countries like Canada and the technical community represented by likes of Nominet and ISOC[23] opposed the development of the IGF as platform for policy development. On the other hand, civil society representatives such as APC called for the IGF to produce specific recommendations on issues where there is sufficient consensus.[24]

With reference to the MAG structure, again there was division on whether the “effective and cost-efficient bureau” referred to in the Tunis Agenda should have a narrow mandate limited to setting the agenda for plenary meetings or if it should have a more substantial role. Civil society stakeholders envisioned assigning the bureau a more substantial role and notably the Internet Governance Project (IGP) discussion paper released in advance of the February 2006 Geneva consultations.[25]

The paper offered design criteria for the Forum including specific organizational structures and processes proposing “a small, quasi-representational decision making structure” for the IGF Bureau.[26] The paper recommended formation of twelve member bureau with five representatives from governments (from each UN geographic region) and two each from private sector civil society academic and technical communities. The bureau would set the agenda for the plenary meeting not arbitrarily through private discussions, but driven by working group proposals and it would also have the power to approve or reject applications for forming working groups.

The proposed structure in the IGP paper had it been implemented would have developed the bureau along the lines of the IETF where the working groups would develop recommendations which would feed into the deliberation process. However, there was a clear divide on the proposed structure with many stakeholders opposing the establishment of sub-groups or committees under the IGF.[27]

Following the written submissions the first open consultations on the establishment of the IGF were held in Geneva on 16 and 17 February 2006, and were chaired by Nitin Desai.[28] The consultation was well attended with more than 300 participants including 40 representatives from governments and the proceedings were webcast. Further, the two-day consultation was structured as a moderated roundtable event at which most interventions were read from prepared statements, many of which were also tabled as documents and later made available from the IGF Web site. This ofcourse meant that there was a repetition of the views expressed in response to the questionnaire or the WGIG report and as a consequence, there was little opportunity for consensus-building.

Once again there was conflict on whether the IGF should be conceptualised as annual ‘event’ that would provide space for policy dialogue or a ‘process’ of engaging with policy issues which would culminate in an annual event. The CCBI reiterated that “[t]he Tunis Agenda is clear that the IGF does not have decision-making or policy-making authority,” and the NRO emphasised that the “IGF must be a multi-stakeholder forum without decision-making attributions.”[29]

William Drake argued for the IGF “as a process, not as a series of one-off meetings, but as a process that would promote collective dialogue, learning, and mutual understanding on an ongoing basis.”[30] Government representatives were split for example see El Salvador statement “that the Internet Governance Forum will come up with recommendations built on consensus on specific issues,” and Brazil even characterised the first meeting as “an excellent opportunity to initiate negotiations on a framework treaty to deal with international Internet public policy issues.”[31]

Although a broad consensus was declared on need for a lightweight multi-stakeholder bureau there was no consensus on its size, composition and the mandate of this bureau. Nitin Desai held the issue for further written input and the subsequent consultation received twelve submissions with most respondents recommended a body of ten and twenty five members. The notable exceptions were submissions from the Group of 77 and China that sought a combined total of forty members half of which would be governmental representatives.

The discussions during the February consultations and the input received from the written submissions paved the way for what eventually became the MAG. The IGF Secretariat announced the formation of a bureau with forty members and while not expressly stated, half of these would be governmental representatives. It has been speculated that the large membership decision was a result of political wrangling among governments, especially the G77 governments insisting on large group that would accommodate all the political and regional differences among its members.[32]

IGF Secretariat - Set to Fail?

The unwieldy size of the MAG meant that it would have to rely on the newly constituted Secretariat for organization, agenda-setting, and results. This structure empowered the Secretariat while limiting the scope of the MAG, a group that was already divided in its interests and agenda. However, the Secretariat was restrained in its services to stakeholders as it had limited resources since it was not funded by the United Nations and relied upon voluntary donations to a trust fund.[33]

Early donors included the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SWADC), ICANN and Nominet.[34] Due to disjointed sources of funding, the Secretariat was vulnerable to the influence of its donors. For example, the decision to to base the Secretariat in Geneva was to meet the condition set by SWADC contribution. Distressingly, of the 20 non-governmental positions in the MAG, most were directly associated with the ICANN regime.

The over-representation of ICANN representatives in MAG selection was problematic since the IGF was conceptualised to address the lack of acceptance of ICANN’s legitimacy in the WSIS process. The lack of independent funding led to a deficit of accountability demonstrated in instances where it was possible for one of the MAG members to quietly insinuate that private sector support for the IGF and its Secretariat would be withdrawn if reforms unacceptable to that stakeholder group went ahead.[35]

As might perhaps be expected from a Secretariat with such limited resources, its services to stakeholders were confined to maintaining a rudimentary website and responding to queries and requests. The transparency of the Secretariat’s activities was also very limited, most clearly exemplified by the process by which the Advisory Group was appointed.

Constituting the MAG

Following the announcement of the establishment of the MAG, a call for membership to the advisory group was made in March 2006. From the beginning the nomination process was riddled with lack of transparency and the nominations received from stakeholders were not acknowledged by the IGF Secretariat, nor was the selection criteria of  made available. The legitimacy of the exercise was also marred by a top-down approach where first that nominees heard of the outcomes was the Secretariat's announcement of selected nominees. Lack of transparency and accountability resulted in the selection and appointment procedure being driven  by patronage and lobbying.

The political wrangling was evident in the composition of the first MAG which was expanded to accommodate six regional coordinators personally appointed by Chair Nitin Desai to the Special Advisory Group (SAG). Of the twenty non-governmental positions, most were associated with the naming and numbering regime including sitting and former Board members and ICANN staff.[36] Participation from civil society was limited as the composition did not recognise[37] technical community as a distinct group, including it along with academic community and as part of civil society.

The political struggles at play was visible in the appointment of Michael D. Gallagher, the former head of the US Commerce Department's NTIA. This appointment was all the more relevant since it was Gallagher who had had only a few months back stated that the US government owns the DNS root and has no intention of giving it up. His presence signalled that the US government took the forum seriously enough to ensure its interests were voiced and received attention on the MAG.

Beyond issues of representation the working of the MAG suffered from a serious lack of transparency as meetings of the Advisory Group were closed, and no reports or minutes were released. The Advisory Group met in May and September in Geneva before the inaugural IGF meeting in Athens. Coordination between members for the preparations for Athens was done utilising a closed mailing list that was not publicly archived. Consequently, the detail of the operations of the Advisory Group ahead of the first IGF meeting were known only to its members.

Whatever little has been reported suggests that the Advisory Group possessed little formal authority, operating like a forum where members expressed views and debated issues without the object of taking formal decisions. Decisions were settled upon by rough consensus as declared by the Chair, and on all matters where there was no agreement the issues were summarised by the Chair in a report to the UN Secretary-General. The Secretary-General would take the report summary in consideration however retained the ultimate authority to make a formal decision.[38]

The UN’s clear deciding role was not so obvious in the early years of the MAG’s existence because of the relatively novel nature of the IGF. Moreover Nitin Desai Chair, MAG and Markus Kummer, IGF Secretariat were appointed by the UN Secretary General and were on good terms with the then-Secretary General Kofi Annan and working together they acted as de facto selectors of the members of the MAG.  Most of the MAG’s core membership in the first five years of its existence was made up of leaders from across the different stakeholder groups and self-selection within those groups was encouraged to lend broader stability.

Over the last decade,  changes in institutional arrangements led the IGF to be moved as a ‘project’ under the UNDESA umbrella, where it is not a core mission, but simply one of many conferences that it handles across the world every year. The core personnel that shepherded the MAG and the IGF from its early days retired allowing for the creation a new core membership. The new group of leaders in the MAG membership have emerged partly as the result of selection and rotation process instituted by the UNDESA in appointing a ‘program committee’.

The history presented above is to help understand how the MAG was established under the UN umbrella and to highlight the key developments that shaped its scope and working. Importantly the weakened IGF mandate created divergences on the scope of the MAG to function as a ‘program committee’ limited to selecting proposals and planning the IGF or as an ‘advisory committee’ with a  more substantial role in developing the forum as an innovative governance mechanism. In its conception the IGF was a novel idea and by empowering MAG and introducing transparency in the selection procedures of members and their workings could have perhaps led to a more democratic and accountable IGF. However, the possibility of this was stemmed early on.

The opacity in the appointment processes meant that patronage and lobbying became key to being selected as a member of the MAG. It established the worrying trend of ensuring diversity and representation taking precedent over the necessity of ensuring that representatives were appointed through a bottom-up multistakeholder process. Further, distributing the composition to ensure geographic representation severely limited participation of technical, academic and civil society. In the next section, I focus on the rotation of members of the MAG over the last ten years to identify and highlight trends that have emerged in its composition.

Analysis of MAG Composition (2006 - 2015)

This primary data for the analysis of the MAG membership has been collected from the membership list from 2010-2015 available on the I website. The membership list for 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 have been provided by the UN IGF Secretariat during the course of this research. To the best of my knowledge, this data is yet to be made publicly available and may be accessed here.[39] The Secretariat notes that the MAG membership did not change in 2008 and 2009 and the confirmation is the only account of the list of members for both years, as the records were poorly maintained and are therefore unavailable in the public domain.

It is also worth noting that to the best of my knowledge, no data has been made available by the IGF Secretariat regarding the nomination process and the criteria on which a particular member has been re-elected to the MAG. The stakeholder groups identified for this analysis include government, civil society, industry, technical community and academia. Any overlap between two or more of these groups or movements of individuals between stakeholder groups and affiliations has been taken into account.

Over the decade of its existence, the MAG has had 196 unique members from various stakeholder groups. As per the Terms of Reference[40] (ToR) of the MAG, it is the prerogative of the UN Secretary General to select MAG members. There also exists a policy of rotating one-third members of MAG every year for diversity and taking new viewpoints in consideration. Diversity within the UN is an ingrained process where every group is expected to be evenly balanced in geographic and gender representation. However, ensuring a diverse membership often comes at the cost of legitimate expertise. Further it may often lead to top-down decision making where individuals are appointed based on their characteristics rather than qualifications.

The complexity of the selection process is further compounded by the fact that the IGF Secretariat provides an initial set of recommendations identifying which members should be appointed to the MAG, but the selection and appointment is undertaken by UNDESA civil servants based in New York. Notably, while the IGF Secretariat staff is familiar with and interacts with stakeholder representatives at internet governance meetings and forums that are regularly held in Geneva, the New York UN based officials do not share such relationships with constituent groups.

Consequently, they end up selecting members who meet all their diversity requirements and have put themselves forward through the standard UN open nomination process. The practice of ensuring that UN diversity criteria is met, creates tension within the MAG membership as representatives nominated by different stakeholder and who have more legitimacy within their respective constituencies are not appointed to the MAG.

The stress on maintaining diversity is evident in the MAG membership’s gradual expansion from an initial group of 46 members in 2006 to include a total of 56 members as of 2015. However the increase in membership has not impacted representation of the technical, academic and civil society constituencies with only 56 members having been appointed from the three groups over the last decade.

This is problematic considering that at the time of its constitution of the MAG the composition did not recognise[41] technical community as a distinct group, including it along with academic community as part of civil society. Consequently the three stakeholder groups have been represented collectively in the MAG and yet account for only 24.77% of the total membership compared to the government’s share of 39.3% and industry’s share of 35.7% respectively. At the regional level too membership across the three groups has ranged between 20-25% of the total membership.

Stakeholder share in MAG

The technical community is the least represented constituency accounting for only 5% of the total membership with only 10 members having been appointed over ten years. Of the 10, 6 were appointed from the WEOG region and there were no representatives appointed from the GRULAC region. Representatives from academia accounted for only 6% of the total membership with 13 representatives from the group having been appointed on the MAG. The technical community representation too was low from the US with only two members being appointed to the MAG and with each serving for a period of three years.

Civil society accounted for only 17% of the total membership with a total of 33 members and representation from the constituency was abysmally low across all regions. Civil society representation from the US included a total of five members, of which one served for one year, three served for two years each and only one representative continued for more than three years. Notably, there have been no academics from the US which is surprising given that most of the scholarship on internet governance is dominated by US scholars.

Stakeholder representation across regions

Industry was second largest represented group with a total of 64 members appointed to the MAG of which a whopping 30 members were appointed from the WEOG region. Representation was the highest across WEOG countries with 39.47% of the total  membership and the group accounted for 32.4% and 32.5% of the total members from Africa and Asia Pacific respectively. Across Eastern European and GRULAC countries industry representation was very low accounting for merely 11.53% and 18.18% of the total membership respectively. Industry representative from the US Included two members serving one year each, five members who served two years each, two members who continued for three years each, one member was appointed for five years, one member who completed the maximum MAG  term of eight years.

It is also interesting to note that the industry membership base expanded steadily, spiking in 2012 with a total of 40 representatives from the industry on the MAG. When assessed against the trend of the core leadership trickling out in 2012, the sudden increase in industry representation may point to attempts at capture from the stakeholder group in 2012. Industry representation from US in the MAG was by far the most consistent over the years and had the most evenly distributed appointment terms for members within a group.

Industry Representation across Regions

Government has been the most dominant group within the MAG averaging a consistent 40% of the total membership over the last 10 years. At a regional level representation on the MAG was highest from Eastern Europe with more than 61% of its total membership comprising of individuals from the government constituency. GRULAC countries appointments to the MAG also demonstrate a preference for government representation with almost 58% of the total members appointed from within this group. The share of government representation in the total membership from Asia Pacific was 47.5% and 32.43% across Africa.

Government representation across regions

Participation from industry and governement

Another general policy followed in the selection procedure is that members are appointed for a period of one year, which is automatically extendable for two more years consecutively depending on their engagement in MAG activities. Members serving for one year term is inevitable due to the rotation policy, as new members replace existing members and often it may be the case of filling slots to ensure stakeholder group, geographic and gender diversity. Due to the limited resources made available for coordination between MAG members, one year appointments may not allow sufficient time for integrating new members into the procedures and workings of UN institutions.

Over the last decade 24.36% of the total appointed MAG members have been limited to serving a term of one year. Of the total 55 one year appointments 26 individuals served their first term in 2015 alone. This includes all nine representatives of civil society and it could be argued that for a stakeholder group with only 11% of the total membership share, such a rehaul weakens the ability of members to develop linkages severely limiting their ability to exert influence on decision making within the MAG.

Interestingly, the analysis reveals that one year term was a trend in the early years of the MAG where a core group took on the leadership role and continued guiding activities for newcomers including negotiating often conflicting agendas. The pattern of one year appointments was hardly visible from 2008-2012 but picked up again in 2013 and has continued ever since. The trend is perhaps indicative of the movement in the core MAG leadership as many of the original members retired or moved on to other engagements from 2010.

Importantly, the MAG ToR note that in case there is a lack of candidates fitting the desired area or under exceptional circumstances a member may continue beyond three years. However in the formative years the MAG this exception was the norm with most members continuing for more than three years. An analysis of the membership reveals that between 2006-2012 an elite core emerges which guided  and was responsible for shaping the MAG and the IGF in its present day format. No doubt some of these members were exceptional talents and difficult to replace, however the lack of transparency in the nomination system makes it difficult to determine the basis on which these people continued beyond the stipulated one year term.

The analysis also suggests a shift in the leadership core over the last three years and points that a  new leadership group is emerging which is distinguishable in that most members have served on the MAG for three or four years. Members serving for one, two or three years makes up more than 75% of the total membership and 111 individual members have served more than 2 years on the MAG. This could be the result of the depletion in membership of those familiar with internal workings and power structures within the UN, and the selection and rotation criteria and procedures that have weakened the original composition over the last decade.

Rotating membership might be necessary to prevent capture from any particular constituency or group, on the other hand more than half of the total members have spent less than three years on the MAG which makes the composition a shifting structure that limits long term engagement. Regular rotation of members can also lead to power struggles as continuing members exercise their influence to ensure that more members from within their constituency groups are appointed. Only seven individuals have completed the maximum term of eight years on the MAG while 23 individuals have completed five years or more on the MAG.

Finally, in terms of gender diversity, the ratio of male to female members is approximately 13:7 in the total membership with the approximate value in percentage being 65% and 35% respectively. Female representatives from WEOG countries dominate with a total of 29 women having been appointed from the region. Participation of women was the lowest across Asia Pacific and Eastern Europe with only nine and five representatives having been appointed respectively. There was a better balance of gender ratios across countries from Africa and GRULAC with 12 and 14 females having been appointed from the region.

Further analysis and visualisations derived from the MAG composition and identifying trends in appointment of individual members are available on the CIS website. The visualizations include MAG membership distribution across region[42] and stakeholder groups[43], evolution of stakeholder groups over the years[44], stakeholder group distribution across countries[45] and the timeline of total number of years served by individual members[46]. The valuation also include a comparison of stakeholder group representatives appointed across India and the USA.[47]

Recommendations: Reforming MAG & the IGF

Between April 4-6, 2016 the MAG convened in Geneva towards the IGF’s first planning meeting for the year[48]. The meeting marks the beginning of MAG’s work in planning and delivering the forum, the first in its recently renewed and now extended mandate. This report is a much needed documentation of its working and processes and has been undertaken as an attempt to scrutinize if the MAG is truly a multi-stakeholder institution or if it is has evolved as a closed group of elite members cloaked in a multi-stakeholder name.

There is very little literature on the evolution of, or critiquing the MAG structure partly due to it being a relatively new structure and partly due its workings being shrouded in secrecy. The above analysis has been conducted with the aim of trying to understand MAG’s functioning of the selection of its membership. The paper explores the history of the formation of IGF and the MAG to identify the geo-political influences that have contributed to the MAG’s evolution and role in shaping the IGF over the last decade.

In this section I apply the theory of institutional isomorphism developed by DiMaggio and Powell in their seminal paper[49] on organizational theory and social change. The paper posits that as organisations emerge as a field, a paradox arises where rational actors make their organizations increasingly similar as they try to change them. A focus on institutional isomorphism can add a much needed perspective on the political struggle for organizational power and survival that is missing from much of discourse and literature around the IGF and the MAG.

A consideration of isomorphic processes also leads to a bifocal view of power and its application in modern politics. I believe that there is much to be gained by attending to similarity as well as to variation between organisations within the same field and, in particular, to change in the degree of homogeneity or variation over time. In this paper I have attempted to study the incremental change in the IGF mandate as well as in the selection of the MAG members.

Applying the theoretical framework proposed by DiMaggio and Powell I identify possible areas of concern and offer recommendations for improvement of the IGF and reform of the MAG. I detail these recommendations through the impact of resource centralization and dependency, goal ambiguity, professionalization and structuration on isomorphic change. There is variability in the extent to and rate at which organizations in a field change to become more like their peers. Some organizations respond to external pressures quickly; others change only after a long period of resistance.

DiMaggio and Powell hypothesize that the greater the extent to which an organizational field is dependent upon a single (or several similar) source of support for vital resources, the higher the level of isomorphism. Their organisational theory also posits that the greater the extent to which the organizations in a field transact with agencies of the state, the greater the extent of isomorphism in the field as a whole. As my analysis reveals both hypotheses hold true for the IGF which is currently defined as  a ‘project’ of the UNDESA. Since the IGF and the MAG are dependent on the UN for their existence, it is not surprising that both structures emulate the UN principles for diversity and governmental representation.

It is also worth noting that UN projects are normally not permanent and require regular renewal of mandate, reallocation of resources and budgets. When budget cuts take place as was the case during the global economic crisis, project funding is jeopardized as was the case when the IGF was left without an executive coordinator or a secretariat due to UN budget cuts.

This led to constituent groups coming together to directly fund the IGF secretariat through a special IGF Trust Fund created under an an agreement with the United Nations and to be administered by the UNDESA.[50] The fund was drawn up to expire on 31 December 2015 and efforts to renew contribution to the fund for 2016 is being opposed and questions on the legality of the arrangement are being raised.[51]

It is widely rumoured that the third party opposing the contribution is UNDESA itself. Securing guaranteed, stable and predictable funding for the IGF, including through a broadened donor base, is essential for the forum’s long term stability and ability to realize its underutilized potential. There have been several suggestions from the community in this regard including IT for Change’s suggestion that part of domain names tax collected by ICANN should to be dedicated to IGF funding through statutory/ constitutional arrangements. Centralisation of resources may lead to power structures being created and therefore any attempts at IGF and MAG reform in the future must  consider the choice between incorporating the IGF as a permanent body with institutional funding under the UN and the implications of that on the forum’s structure.

There are four other hypotheses in DiMaggio and Powell’s framework that may be helpful in identifying levers for improvement of the IGF and the MAG. The first states that, the greater the extent to which goals are ambiguous within afield, the greater the rate of isomorphic change. As my analysis suggests, there is an urgent need to address the decade long debate on the MAG’s scope as a programme committee limited to planning an annual forum.

The question is linked to the broader need to clarify if the IGF will continue to evolve as an annual policy-dialogue forum or if it can take on a more substantive role that includes offering recommendations and assisting with development of policy on critical issues related to internet governance. Even the MAG is divided in its interpretation of its roles and responsibilities. A resurgence of the IGF necessitates that the global community reassess the need of the forum not only on the mandate assigned to it at the time of its conceptualisation but also in light of the newer and more complex challenges that have emerged over the decade.

The second hypothesis holds that the greater the extent of professionalization in a field greater the amount of institutional isomorphic change. DiMaggio and Powell measure professionalization by the universality of credential requirements, the robustness of training programs, or the vitality of professional associations. As the MAG composition analysis reveals the structure has evolved in a manner that gives preference to participation from the government and industry over participation from civil society, technical and academic communities.

Since the effect of institutional isomorphism is homogenization, the best indicator of isomorphic change is a decrease in variation and diversity, which could be measured by lower standard deviations of the values of selected indicators in a set of organizations. Such professionalization is evident in the functioning of the MAG that has taken on bureaucratic structure akin to other UN bodies where governmental approval weighs down an otherwise light-weight structure. Further the high level of  industry representation creates distrust amongst other stakeholders and may be a reason the forum lacks legitimacy as a mechanism for governance as it could be perceived as being susceptible to capture.

The third hypothesis states that fewer the number of visible alternative organizational models in a field, the faster the rate of isomorphism in that field. The IGF occupies a special place in the UN pantheon of semi-autonomous groups and is often  held up as a shining example of the ‘multistakeholder model’,  where all groups have an equal say in decisions. Currently, there is no global definition of the multistakeholder model which at best remains a consensus framework for legitimizing Internet institutions.

It is worth noting that the system of sovereignty where authority is imposed is at odds with the earned authority within Internet institutions. Given the various interpretations of the approach, if multistakeholderism is to survive as a concept then it needs to be understood as a legitimizing principle that is strictly at odds with state sovereignty-based conceptions of legitimacy.[52] Under a true multistakeholder system, states can have roles in Internet governance but they cannot unilaterally declare authority, or collectively assert it without the consent of the rest of the Internet.

Unfortunately as the MAG membership reveals the composition is dominated by governmental representatives who seek to enforce territorial authority over issues of global significance. Further, while alternative approaches to its application exist within the ecosystem they are context specific and have evolved within unique environments.[53] As critics note emerging and existing platforms derived from the multistakeholder concept create ‘an embryonic form of transnational democracy’. Therefore it is important to recognise that the IGF is a physical manifestation of a much larger ideal, one where individuals and organizations have the ability to help shape the  Internet and the information society to which it is intrinsically connected. This points to the need to study and develop alternative models to multistakeholder governance while continuing to strengthen existing practices and platforms.

As such, the IGF and its related local, national and regional initiatives represent a critical channel for expression especially for countries where such conversation is not pursued adequately and keeps discussions of the internet in the public space as opposed to building from regional/national initiatives. However, interaction between the global IGF and national IGFs is yet to be established. The MAG can play a critical role in developing and establishing mechanism to improve the national IGFs coordination with regional and national initiatives. A strengthened IGF could better serve national initiatives by providing formal backing and support to develop as platforms for engaging with long standing and emerging issues and identifying possible ways to address them.

DiMaggio and Powell’s final hypothesis holds that the greater the extent of structuration of a field, the greater the degree of isomorphism. As calls for creating structures to govern cyberspace pick up pace and given the extension of the IGF mandate its structure and working are in need of a rehaul. More research and analysis is needed to understand if there is a preferred approach for multistakeholder participation and engagement is emerging within both the IGF and MAG.

For example, if a portion or category of stakeholder group, countries and regions are not engaging in common dialogue, does the MAG have the mandate to promote and encourage participation? Has a process been established for ensuring a right balance when engaging different stakeholders and if yes, how is such a process initiated and promoted? The data shared by the IGF Secretariat confirmed that there were no records of the nomination procedure, that the membership list was missing for a year and that there was confusion in some cases who the nominees were are actually representing.

This opens up glaring questions on the legitimacy of the MAG such as on what criteria were MAG members selected and rotated? Was this evaluation undertaken by objective criteria or were representative handpicked by the UN? Moreover, it is important to asses of selection took place following an open call for nominations; or if members were handpicked by UN. Such analysis will help determine if there is scope within the current selection procedure to reach out to the wider multistakeholder community or if all  MAG activities and discussions are restricted to its constituent membership. Clarifying the role of the IGF in the internet governance and policy space is inextricably linked to reforms in the MAG structure and processes and the questions raised above need urgent attention.

While these issues have been well known and documented for a number of years, yet there has been no progress on resolving them. Currently there is no website or document that lists the activities conducted by MAG in furtherance of ToR, nor does it produce annual report or maintain a publicly archived mailing list. Important recommendations for strengthening the IGF were made by the UN CSTD working group on IGF improvements.

The group took two years to produce its report identifying problems and offering recommendations  that were to be implemented by end of 2015 and yet many of the problems identified within it have yet to be addressed. Worryingly, an internal MAG proposal to set up a working group to dig into the delays is being bogged down with discussions over scope and membership and a similar effort six months ago was also shot down.[54]

The ineffectiveness of the MAG to institute reform have led to calls for a new oversight body with established bylaws as the MAG in its present form does not seem up to the task. Further the opaque decision making process and lack of clarity on the scope of the MAG means that each time it undertakes efforts for improvements these are thwarted as being outside of its mandate. There remains a lot of work to be done in strengthening the MAG structure as the group that undertakes the day-to-day work of the IGF and the many issues that plague the role and function of the IGF. A tentative beginning can be made by introducing transparency and accountability in MAG member selection.

[1] This paper has been authored as part of a series on internet governance and has been made possible through a grant from the MacArthur Foundation.

[2] The Internet Governance Forum See: http://www.intgovforum.org/cms/

[3] World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)+10 High-Level Meeting See: https://publicadministration.un.org/wsis10/

[4]The mandate and terms of reference of the IGF are set out in paragraphs 72 to 80 of the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society (the Tunis Agenda). See: http://www.itu.int/net/wsis/docs2/tunis/off/6rev1.html

[5] Samantha Bradshaw, Laura DeNardis, Fen Osler Hampson, Eric Jardine and Mark Raymond ‘The Emergence of Contention in Global Internet Governance’, the Centre for International Governance Innovation and Chatham House, 2015 See: https://www.cigionline.org/sites/default/files/no17.pdf

[6] Mikael Wigell, ‘Multi-Stakeholder Cooperation in Global Governance’, The Finnish Institute of International Affairs. June 2008, See: https://www.ciaonet.org/attachments/6827/uploads

[7] Arun Mohan Sukumar, India’s New ‘Multistakeholder’ Line Could Be a Game Changer in Global Cyberpolitics,The Wire, 22 June 2015 See:http://thewire.in/2015/06/22/indias-new-multistakeholder-line-could-be-a-gamechanger-in-global-cyberpolitics-4585/

[8] Background Note on Sub-Theme Principles of Multistakeholder/Enhanced Cooperation, IGF Bali 2013 See: https://www.intgovforum.org/cmsold/2013/2013%20Press%20Releases%20and%20Articles/Principles%20of%20Multistakeholder-Enhanced%20Cooperation%20-%20Background%20Note%20on%20Sub%20Theme%20-%20IGF%202013-1.pdf

[9] Statement by Mr. Santosh Jha, Director General, Ministry of External Affairs, at the First Session of the Review by the UN General Assembly on the implementation of the outcomes of the World Summit on Information Society in New York on July 1, 2015 See: https://www.pminewyork.org/adminpart/uploadpdf/74416WSIS%20stmnt%20on%20July%201,%202015.pdf

[10] Jean-Marie Chenou, Is Internet governance a democratic process ? Multistakeholderism and transnational elites, IEPI – CRII Université de Lausanne, ECPR General Conference 2011,Section 35 Panel 4 See: http://ecpr.eu/filestore/paperproposal/1526f449-d7a7-4bed-b09a-31957971ef6b.pdf

[11] Ibid. 9

[12] Kieren McCarthy, ‘Critics hit out at 'black box' UN internet body’, The Register 31 March 2016 See: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2016/03/31/black_box_un_internet_body/?page=3

[13] Ibid.

[14] Malcolm Jeremy, ‘Multistakeholder governance and the Internet Governance Forum, Terminus Press 2008

[15] Background Report of the Working Group on Internet Governance June 2005 See: https://www.itu.int/net/wsis/wgig/docs/wgig-background-report.pdf

[16] Report of the Working Group on Internet Governance, Château de Bossey June 2005  http://www.wgig.org/docs/WGIGREPORT.pdf

[17] Compilation of Comments received on the Report of the WGIG, PrepCom-3 (Geneva, 19-30 September 2005) See: http://www.itu.int/net/wsis/documents/doc_multi.asp?lang=en&id=1818%7C2008

[18] U.S. Principles on the Internet's Domain Name and Addressing System June 30, 2005 See: https://www.ntia.doc.gov/other-publication/2005/us-principles-internets-domain-name-and-addressing-system

[19] Ibid. 16.

[20] Tom Wright, ‘EU Tries to Unblock Internet Impasse’, International Herald Tribune

Published: September 30, 2005 See: http://www.nytimes.com/iht/2005/09/30/business/IHT-30net.html

[21] Kieren McCarthy, Read the letter that won the internet governance battle’, The Register,  2 Dec 2005 See: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/12/02/rice_eu_letter/

[22] United Nations Press Release, 2 March, 2006 Preparations begin for Internet Governance Forum,


[23] The Internet Society’s contribution on the formation of the Internet Governance Forum, February 2006 See: http://www.internetsociety.org/sites/default/files/pdf/ISOC_IGF_CONTRIBUTION.pdf

[24] APC, Questionnaire on the Convening the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) See:http://igf.wgig.org/contributions/apc-questionnaire.pdf

[25] Milton Mueller, John Mathiason, Building an Internet Governance Forum, 2 Febryary 2006, See: http://www.internetgovernance.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/igp-forum.pdf

[26] Ibid.

[27] Supra note 11.

[28] Supra note 20.

[29] Consultations on the convening of the Internet Governance Forum, Transcript of Morning Session 16 February 2006. See: http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/igf/unpan038960.pdf

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32]Milton Mueller, ICANN Watch, ‘The Forum MAG: Who Are These People?’ May 2006 See: http://www.icannwatch.org/article.pl?sid=06/05/18/226205&mode=thread

[33] IGF Funding, See: https://intgovforum.org/cmsold/funding

[34] Supra note 12.

[35] Ibid.

[36] ICANN’s infiltration of the MAG was evident in the composition of the first advisory group which included Alejandro Pisanty and Veni Markovski who were sitting ICANN Board members, one staff member (Theresa Swineheart), two former ICANN Board members (Nii Quaynor and Masanobu Katoh); two representatives of ccTLD operators (Chris Disspain and Emily Taylor); two representatives of the Regional Internet Address Registries (RIRs) (Raul Echeberria and Adiel Akplogan).  Even the "civil society" representatives appointed were all associated with either ICANN's At Large Advisory Committee or its Noncommercial Users Constituency (or both) Adam Peake of Glocom, Robin Gross of IP Justice, Jeanette Hofmann of WZ Berlin, and Erick Iriarte of Alfa-Redi.

[37] United Nations Press Release, Secretary General establishes Advisory Group to assist him in convening Internet Governance Forum,  17 May 2006 See: http://www.un.org/press/en/2006/sga1006.doc.htm

[38] Jeremy Malcolm, Multi-Stakeholder Public Policy Governance and its Application to the Internet Governance Forum See: https://www.malcolm.id.au/thesis/x31762.html

[39] MAG Spreadsheet CIS Website https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1uZzfBz9ihj1M0QSvlnORE0nRD62TCRxhA5d1E_RKfhc/edit#gid=1912343648

[40] Terms of Reference for the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) Individual Member Responsibilities and Group Procedures See: http://www.intgovforum.org/cms/175-igf-2015/2041-mag-terms-of-reference

[41] United Nations Press Release, Secretary General establishes Advisory Group to assist him in convening Internet Governance Forum,  17 May 2006 See: http://www.un.org/press/en/2006/sga1006.doc.htm

[42] IGF MAG Membership Analysis, 2006-2015 http://cis-india.github.io/charts/2016.04_MAG-analysis/CIS_MAG-Analysis-2016_Treemap.html

[43] IGF MAG Membership - Stakeholder Types and Regions - 2006-2015 See: http://cis-india.github.io/charts/2016.04_MAG-analysis/CIS_MAG-Analysis-2016_StakeholderTypes-Regions.html

[44] IGF MAG Membership - Stakeholder Types across Years - 2006-2015 See: http://cis-india.github.io/charts/2016.04_MAG-analysis/CIS_MAG-Analysis-2016_StakeholderTypes-Years.html

[45] IGF MAG Membership - Stakeholder Types and Countries - 2006-2015 See: http://cis-india.github.io/charts/2016.04_MAG-analysis/CIS_MAG-Analysis-2016_StakeholderTypes-Country.html

[46] IGF MAG Membership Timeline, 2006-2015 See: http://cis-india.github.io/charts/2016.04_MAG-analysis/CIS_MAG-Analysis-2016_Member-Timeline.html

[47] MAG Membership - India and USA - 2006-2015

See: http://cis-india.github.io/charts/2016.04_MAG-analysis/CIS_MAG-Analysis-2016_StakeholderTypes-India-USA.html

[48] MAG Meetings in 2016


[49] Paul J. DiMaggio and Walter W. Powell, ‘The Iron Cage Revisited: Institutional Isomorphism and Collective Rationality in Organizational Fields’, Yale University, American Sociological Review 1983, Vol. 48 (April: 147-160)

[50] United Nations Funds-In-Trust Project Document Project number: GLO/11/X01 Project title: Internet Governance Forum Country/area: Global Start date: 1 April 2011 End date: 31 December 2015 Executing agency: UNDESA Funding: Multi-donor – extrabudgetary Budget: Long-term project framework – budget “A” See: http://www.intgovforum.org/cms/2013/TrustFund/Project%20document%20IGF.pdf

[51] Kieren McCarthy, Critics hit out at 'black box' UN internet body, The Register 31 March 2016 See: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2016/03/31/black_box_un_internet_body/?page=2

[52] Eli Dourado, Too Many Stakeholders Spoil the Soup, Foreign Policy, 15 May 2013 See:http://foreignpolicy.com/2013/05/15/too-many-stakeholders-spoil-the-soup/

[53] IANA Transition, NetMundial are some of the other examples of multi-stakeholder engagement.

[54] Ibid.

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