Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Poster Paper: Stakeholder- Versus Evidence-Based Modes of Internet Governance

Saturday, November 14, 2015
Riverfront South/Central (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

David Cristian Morar, George Mason University and Roxana Radu, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva
With the Internet being central to the lives as more than 3 billion people worldwide, the questions around who controls it and how became salient. As an emerging issue domain, Internet governance poses new challenges to inclusiveness, transparency and accountability due to its multilayered configuration. Understood as ‘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 (WGIG 2005, p 4) following a widely used, but somewhat political definition, this nascent field is often presented as a monolithic structure. While not always clear in the conversation surrounding it (DeNardis and Raymond 2013), Internet governance (IG) has a significant number of distinct areas, such as standards-setting, access and interconnection coordination, cybersecurity, privacy, and many more, that are generally governed differently

Regardless of its actual structure and power dynamics, the IG field is usually presented as inherently multi-stakeholder (DeNardis and Raymond 2013). More so, the claim of multi-stakeholderism is taken both as a value in and of itself -fundamental to the functioning of the Internet - and as the operating principle, with more and more organizations proclaiming themselves multistakeholder. However, it is important to understand that in practice there is no perfect equal sign between IG and multi-stakeholder governance. Some parts of Internet governance are entirely driven by private actors, within the constraints of arrangements that do not include any other type of actor (like network interconnection points, internet registries, etc.), while others are primarily under the purview of the states (regulation of illegal online activities, online child protection) or under mixed public-private arrangements (such as critical infrastructure protection and cybersecurity).

A recent article proposes a different approach at tackling the issues surrounding IG. Verhulst et al (2014) suggest a different governance mode, a decentralized one that functions more as a set of guiding principles built on top of the current technological architecture of the internet, a decidedly evidence-based, issue-specific approach, called “distributed governance”. In fact, this type of governance does not necessarily rule out multistakeholder arrangements, as much as it relegates it to one of the nodes in its distribution ecosystem. The policy process within this type of governance focuses on six stages: “issue identification”, “response identification”, “response formulation”, “implementation”, “enforcement” and “evaluation or review” (Idem, p 16). The authors believe that this move from multi-stakeholder to distributed will shift the unit of governance towards the issues rather than the stakeholders and their power relations, as well as leveraging an evidence-based approach (Verhulst 2014).

Drawing on the empirical framework gleaned from the case studies of multi-stakeholder governance from different policy areas (Gasser et al 2015), we provide a comparative analysis of the founding principles and resulting structures of distributed internet governance mechanisms and multistakeholderism. We thus aim to elucidate whether there is, in fact, a distinction between these two modes of governance, how they could function in concert, and if multi-stakeholder governance is less evidence-based.