Has ‘multistakeholderism… become a mantra, void of its progressive potential and outcomes’? Stefania Milan and Arne Hintz analyze internet governance’s hyper-focus on multistakeholderism and how civil society should adapt a clear IG agenda.
“All I’m saying is, if #multistakeholder were a drinking game, I’d be in the hospital with alcohol poisoning right about now,” tweeted civil society delegate @pondswimmer during the opening ceremony of the recent Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Istanbul, where references to the multistakeholder principle were as omnipresent (and, seemingly, mandatory) as thanking the local organizers. Since the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in 2003 and 2005, the idea of bringing together governments, the business sector, and civil society for debate and policy development has been celebrated and promoted. Probably nowhere has multistakeholder governance been implemented as thoroughly as in internet governance, where civil society actors and experts occupy key positions in the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and where all stakeholders discuss relevant policy issues at the IGF on (supposedly) equal footing. It is now unimaginable to discuss the governance of the internet without some form of multistakeholder participation. References to multistakeholder processes have been pervasive in speeches and documents, from the official 2003 WSIS press release titled “Summit Breaks New Ground with Multi-Stakeholder Approach” which praised the method rather than highlighting the substantial issues of the summit, to the NETmundial outcome document calling for “democratic, multistakeholder processes, ensuring the meaningful and accountable participation of all stakeholders, including governments, the private sector, civil society, the technical community, the academic community and users.”
The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), the Kimberly Process, and the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) are just a few examples of major Multistakeholder Initiatives (MSIs). Through comprehensive deliberative processes, involving a broad set of stakeholders from governments, private sector, and civil society, MSIs form and adopt new norms, which they seek to make part of the global agenda, and implement on the ground. MSIs gained traction in the late 1990’s, as a means of filling “governance gaps,” due to the failure of existing structures and processes, and as a means to solve problems through collective action. Lucy Koechlin and Richard Calland, have identified five functions of MSIs: 1) dialogue/forum, 2) institution building, 3) rule setting, 4) rule implementation and 5) rule monitoring.
As the use of MSIs is fairly recent, it might be too soon to question their effectiveness. However, Koechlin, Calland, and N.K. Dubash have identified challenges in their analysis of the EITI and the World Commission on Dams. These challenges, involving effectiveness, legitimacy and accountability, can impede a successful outcome.