In this report you will find a brief account of my participation at the 12th edition of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), it’s intersection with the NCUC and, more generally, the role of NCUC in-between ICANN and the IGF. Hopefully, it will provide you with a snapshot of the great experience it was to be able to engage in the middle ground between two significant organisations in the Internet governance ecosystem.
In October I had the pleasure of being selected as one of the NCUC fellows funded to attend the IGF. The event took place in Geneva from 18 to 21 December at the Palais des Nations focusing on the theme “Shape your Digital Future”. I would like to thank the previous NCUC Chair Farzaneh Badiei and the NCUC EC for supporting me and making this possible, as well as the current Chair, Renata Aquino for her continuous guidance and encouragement.
This was my first time as an NCUC fellow and as an NCUC EC representative at the IGF, which made it a new experience for me in many ways. In the preceding months, the fellows worked with the Chair in outlining strategies for social media — especially Twitter and Facebook — engagement and outreach. Also, we held an NCUC booth at the IGF Village and some of our members were organising/participating in several panels, such as “Content Regulation and Private Ordering at Internet Governance Institutions” and “How Digital activists are shaping the evolution of the Internet: the voice of civil society in ICANN”. The objective of the outreach strategy was to make it easier for the wider Internet governance community present at the IGF to understand (i) who we are (ii) what are our values, (iii) what we do and, most importantly, (iv) how they could engage and/or become a member. These activities are part of a continuous effort of “translating” both ICANN, in general, and NCUC, in particular, to stakeholders that are not that familiarised with DNS politics.
Still, there is much confusion with regards to the areas we (NCUC) work with. While our values are somewhat broad, as guiding principles normally are, our scope of action is narrowed down to DNS governance. In many of the conversations I had at the booth and throughout the days of the event — mostly with representatives from civil society organisations — I could clearly identify a gap of understanding in the process of communicating this “narrowness.” Much of this blurriness — between ICANN and the IGF, NCUC and broader IG civil society — does not strictly originate from the generality of our principles but from the transversal and overarching topics that we encounter in the Policy Development Processes (PDPs) — i.e., human rights, privacy, and data protection. On our side, we are always trying to narrow down what particular aspect of these thematic umbrellas we are actually dealing with in a specific PDP, for example.
On the other hand, the wider IG community may see it the other way around — especially since they are able to relate to these broader areas and afterward discover that the actual interplay between values and practice is a fragment of what they imagined. In this regard, many individuals or representatives from civil society organisations are particularly interested in NCUC but still don’t know what we do and/or don’t know how to engage — how they could contribute to NCUC. The NCUC at IGF fellowship was certainly an opportunity for me to work in-between the former and the latter views through the above-mentioned strategies.
As both a researcher working in broader fields such as cybersecurity and as an NCUC member, I found (and find!) this extremely fascinating. In the Onboarding Program, we are always trying to stick to the ICANN in bite-sized pieces approach, and improving the ways in which we can communicate often-unintelligible topics to and within the constituency. Our audience is normally newcomers. But the overall NCUC IGF outreach strategy through the pre-IGF event, the tweets, the panels, and day to day interaction reinforces yet again the need for us to (i) be aware of the challenges that emerge in this “middle ground”, (ii) be able to locate the expertise/know-how of IG community at the IGF and (iii) bridge how this knowledge and experience might contribute to DNS policy development.
Thus, my attempt here was not to merely outline what we did but to bring a narrative account and dig a bit deeper in analysing where do we stand and the complexities (as well as the importance) of this encounter between NCUC and IG community through my personal experience. So, in short, this was a small effort of working towards the following objective: the need to reconcile the “to do lists” with the actual feedback from these events. In other words, not losing sight of building a nuanced perspective of what is the impact and the feedback from this interaction with the broader field of IG amidst the mundane routinely tasks such as the daily PDP calls, bureaucratic processes, procedures. Both equally important, but in need of a reflection so that we may constantly and critically (re)think and (re)assess how we can improve outreach and continue to build meaningful links with broader IG.
Thank you once more for the opportunity, NCUC and ICANN, and for letting me share a small fraction of these incredible days. Hope we can pay it forward and continue to make this fellowship an eye-opening experience for other NCUC members.
Louise Marie Hurel
NCUC IGF Fellow 2017
NCUC EC European Region