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Multi-stakeholder public policy governance and its application to the Internet Governance Forum

Malcolm, Jeremy Mark (2008) Multi-stakeholder public policy governance and its application to the Internet Governance Forum. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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There are many networks of transport and communication that cross national borders, but the Internet's infrastructure has been designed to do so with unusual subtlety. As a result, public policy issues raised in governance of the Internet tend to be inherently transnational in nature. This makes the legitimacy of a purely domestic legal approach to Internet governance questionable. The fact that conflicting domestic regimes may interfere with each other, and may clash with the transnational cultural and technical architecture of the Internet, further complicates an approach to governance based around legal rules. But on the other hand more traditional and decentralised mechanisms of Internet governance such as norms, markets and architecture suffer their own deficits of both legitimacy and effectiveness.

Governance by multi-stakeholder network conceptually provides a solution in that it brings together each of the other mechanisms of governance and the stakeholders by whom they are commonly employed. Such a multi-stakeholder approach has begun to permeate (and in some issue areas even to supersede) the existing international system, as partially evidenced in the Internet governance regime by reforms that took root at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and have begun to find expression in its product, the Internet Governance Forum (IGF).

Governance by network does not however emerge spontaneously, but requires supportive institutional structures and processes. To maximise the legitimacy and effectiveness of these, and to ensure their interoperability both with the international system and with the architecture of the Internet, requires a balance to be struck between the anarchistic and consensual organisational models typified by 'native' Internet governance institutions such as the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), and hierarchical and democratic models drawn from governmental and private sector examples and from the study of deliberative democracy.

As an early experiment in multi-stakeholder governance by network, the Internet Governance Forum does not quite strike the correct balance: its hierarchical structure under the leadership of the United Nations is incompatible with its multi-stakeholder democratic ambitions, and more importantly it lacks the institutional capacity to fulfil its mandate to contribute to public policy development.

This can largely be redressed by reforming the IGF's plenary body, and its online analogue, as venues for democratic deliberation, subject to the oversight of an executive body or bureau to which each stakeholder group appoints its own representatives, and which is responsible for ratifying any decisions of the larger group by consensus. In particular, requiring this bureau to broker consensus between stakeholder groups (as in a consociation), rather than just amongst its members at large, can assist to diminish the power games that have limited the IGF to date.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Law
Supervisor(s): Nase, Vernon
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