It is quickly becoming apparent that an important function of the UN's Internet Governance Forum could be to serve as a long term clearinghouse for knowledge acquisition and assessment concerning Internet governance. Despite its structural imperfections, the IGF is becoming a magnet for the academic community to discuss Internet governance ideas. A quick count reveals that representatives from 74 different universities were in attendence at Rio. Numerous other organizations which conduct and publish research were also present. As reported earlier, the 2nd Annual Symposium of the Global Internet Governance Academic Network (GigaNet) was held in Rio de Janeiro, with about 100 scholars and interested participants from around the world participating in a full day pre-IGF meeting. The GigaNet Symposium hosted three sessions with expert panels presenting the latest research on a range of topics including creating an IG development agenda, the changing institutionalization of IG, and critical policy issues in IG. Papers presented ranged from work highlighting lessons that could be learned from the WTO Doha Development Agenda to empirical studies of ccTLD management and conceptual work exploring net neutrality as a global principle for Internet governance.
That the IGF could evolve to serve such a role in shaping global Internet policy should not be surprising. Other UN-based institutions dealing with global governance problems have done such. As detailed in a recent special issue of International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics, the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) was created in 1972 and designed as a central repository for the monitoring of issues, collection and evaluation of research data, forecasting of trends, funding of scientific research and providing information exchange between experts, governments, international organizations, the private sector, and civil society. UNEP was formed with the support of many governments, including the US Congress, which argued that it would be an impartial “anchor institution” for the global environment, which could be used “speed up international action on urgent environmental problems…and stimulate further international agreements of a regulatory character.”
Somewhat viewed as uncharacteristic when compared to other UN institutions (e.g., UNEP is headquartered in Narobi, Kenya) UNEP arguably succeeded despite having no enforcement powers and existing in a landscape crowded with competing and more powerful governance institutions. Its competitive advantage resided in the fact that its activities were scientifically based and non-partisan. If the IGF were to evolve in a similar way, promoting the creation and feeding of research into IG policy making venues, it could be unique and an extremely beneficial asset to the global Internet community.