The Rio IGF: The Center Does Not Hold?

The Rio IGF has been a great venue for raising ideas and fostering dialogue. But the managers of the Forum will have to address some severe structural problems during the next two years. The basic problem is that all of the action at the Forum has gravitated to the “edges” — i.e., to participant-defined workshops and dynamic coalitions — while the “core” plenary sessions have become hollow. They were mostly stilted, boring one-way communication affairs; the speakers were selected more for their lowest common denominator political acceptability than for their ability to advance important ideas. Worse, there is almost no common processing of ideas and common deliberation on what transpires at the edges. In fact, due to the competition for attention created by scheduling many workshops at the same time as the plenary sessions, the workshop programs attracted far more people than the plenary itself during the second and third days. The result is a decentered trade-show or academic conference-like atmosphere. One can sense growing frustration with this among a variety of parties. It's great, as Jeanette Hofmann suggested at the final session, that workshops reflect real participant interests. But these fragmented and free-associated affairs need some kind of integration.

Of course, the opening plenary on critical internet resources (CIR) was relatively exciting and very well attended, and sparked many questions from the floor. Even there, however, problems are evident. Many people at this event have pointed out to me that if I was not on the CIR panel as a critical voice, the session would have been useless and boring. And it is an open secret that a number of people connected to the ICANN regime fought long and hard to keep me off that panel. This shows that Advisory Group politics can act as a brake on creative discussion. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the workshops and coalitions on the edge attract more interest and attention. The workshop programming is less constrained.
Future plenaries should get rid of the complex “panelist-discussant” arrangements and clunky written question submission. They should have a smaller number of panelists, focus on real political diversity (diversity of views), and just let people queue up at the microphone the way they do at ICANN meetings or IETF. Moderators should be subject matter experts not journalists, as the discussion should be an attempt to develop agreement or at least better-informed agreements to disagree.

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