The final official figures are not yet in but the level of stakeholder participation in the Nairobi IGF from the world over is expected to break all records: over 2000 in person and a further 1000 connecting via remote hubs in all geographical regions. Overwhelming testimony to the value of multi-stakeholder dialogue: the IGF is now indisputably proving its worth.
Moreover, as a representative of government with more years’ experience of multilateral conferences, seminars and workshops relating to the ICT sector than I care to recount, one thing at the IGF in Nairobi really struck me, something that I had never witnessed before on such a large scale, be it in Paris at the OECD, in Geneva at the ITU or in New York at the UN. This was the extent to which government policymakers were willing to raise their heads and expose their positions and views to immediate expert scrutiny, be it on a panel or at the floor microphone. At every IGF session and workshop event that I was able to get to in Nairobi, there they were: government policymakers – presenting, listening, responding, arguing, asking questions, learning, reflecting and taking notes to write up, for their ministers, technical or legal advisors, and for team colleagues back in capitals to digest and take into account in their policy development.
Sure there were many familiar faces, diehard advocates of the IGF model we know well from Vilnius, Sharm el Sheikh or the earliest post-WSIS days of IGF trial and experiment. But there were also many new contacts to make in Nairobi – from developing countries, not only from Africa as you would expect, but from all regions, all relishing the opportunity to engage in dialogue on the issues at the heart of their policy agendas. This I thought was the vision of the IGF truly realised at last.
In the absence of a critical negotiating agenda, it has always proved a challenge for many of us in government administrations to secure a minister’s presence in this continually expanding forum. Not easy and the record of ministerial presence has indeed been decidedly patchy. However, thanks primarily to Kenyan ingenuity in devising a pre-IGF high level event, I believe that the IGF’s political profile has markedly increased – and positively so. This was not an event exclusively for ministers but it did afford an unprecedented opportunity for them to scope out their Internet remits and fly some issues for the wider stakeholder community to consider and react to. In this way it did not overshadow the IGF itself as some may have feared. Furthermore, the participating ministers would have the opportunity to meet many business, civil society, academic and technical experts in the process.
As a result I think the Kenyan hosts achieved another major turning point for the IGF that had more ministers booking flights to the IGF than at any previous event. For the UK, this was third time lucky: Ed Vaizey’s predecessors as UK ministers with responsibility for Internet governance policy, Stephen Carter and Stephen Timms had both committed to attend previous IGFs. Alas our ambitions for them to turn up and tune into this unique convergence of expertise were ultimately thwarted by now long-forgotten domestic political pressures on the day. Not so with Ed Vaizey: in between rushing from one planned (or spontaneous) meeting to the next, as well as speaking in the opening session of the IGF, there he was, in a rooftop workshop getting stuck into a profoundly informative discussion about the impact of social networks, with views and reactions crossing the table from all quarters. That was a very satisfying moment for this particular government representative!
Posted by the UK IGF on behalf of Mark Carvell, Department for Culture Media and Sport