The I* Organizations and their Contribution to Development Global Internet Policy Initiative

28 September 2011 - A Workshop on Internet Governance for Development in Nairobi, Kenya

Agenda

The core group of administrators of the Internet's functions, comprising ISOC, ICANN, the RIRs, the IETF, and the IAB are often referred to as the I* group. Since their inception, they have been giving increasing attention to issues both indirectly and directly related to economic and social development. For example, during the 1990s, the Internet Society alone trained over 1500 people from most developing countries regarding how to link their country with the Internet, how to spread the net and make resources available and how to manage the increasingly complex environment into which the Internet was progressing. The UNICODE Consortium and the IETF did significant work to assure a comprehensive standard of character coding that would encompass all of the world's scripts, and most recently ICANN has used these developments to implement international top-level domain names.

The current efforts of the I* group of organizations focus on training of various kinds in developing countries, conferences and networking opportunities, fellowships, and joint projects. As the Internet evolves and penetrates countries more pervasively, there will be opportunities for additional types of assistance in the technical and managerial spheres.

The fundamental question that the workshop will address is: what is the effectiveness of these various components of assistance that are currently being provided, and are there alternative modalities of aid that should be considered?

Questions that are no relevant include the following:

- What is the proper role of the various I* members with respect to economic and social development?

- What is the proper measure of resources now being directed to development by the I* community?

- Is the current pattern of assistance the most appropriate and the most effective in terms of sustainable development?

- Should different goals, or a different distribution of resources, be considered and adopted for the future?

- What types of assistacne are members of the I* community most effective in providing? Does that reflect the current allocation of resources and if not, what changes might be beneficial?

Using the breadth of experience of the panel in both ICT and development, members will address the above questions. Their presentations wiill be followed by audience and panel interaction.

 

 

A brief substantive summary and the main events that were raised:
The session concentrated on the relationship between the I* organizations and development. Members of the panel discussed in some detail activities of the various organizations, and the attention to possible development-oriented spinoff activities.

One persistent theme was what brought the people an the organizations together to engage specifically in development offshoots to technical work. In part, it relates to the considerable university and academic orientation of the technical personnel building the Internet. Academic environments have a very strong cultural component of sharing, and the early Internet developers, understanding the poser and importance of what they were building, wanted to have it grow to encompass the entire world and to make its benefits available to everyone. While the infrastructure of the Internet has been substantially (and necessarily) commercialized since that time, that early spirit is widely shared in the I* organizations, and increasingly in the IGF itself. There is no resistance to using the Internet for development; its use is limited only by the supply of good ideas, the volunteers, and the financial resources that could be employed.

The issue of language was commented upon. While there is now a lot of content on the Internet in multiple languages, there was a word of caution by one of the panelists to remember that linguistic diversity does put up barriers that limit or prevent understanding and the ability to use knowledge. Also mentioned was the notion of a generational gap. While young people generally become easily conversant with the Internet and learn to exploit it, there are significant numbers of older people who are often overlooked in efforts to develop people to benefit from the newer technology.

Several people noted that the mandate of the use of the technology for development takes on new urgency now, and that the I* developments have shown the way and deserve to be continued. This is of course, exemplified in the promotion of development from a cross-cutting issue to a major objective as exemplified in the Nairobi IGFs primary concentration on development.

It was noted that there is still perceptual ignorance on the part of both sides of development. The technical community does face hurdles in becoming more development oriented, and governments do not understand the magnitude of the advances, both technical and developmental, that the I* community has provided for them.

There were many other points raised, and the transcript provides a good sense of the feelings in the room.


Conclusions and further comments:
There was a general conclusion that the I* organizations have contributed a great deal in the aggregate to development, even though most of the work has been in the technical sphere. There was also perceived to be a realization that now that the Internet is so pervasive in affairs of all dimensions, that the governments are actively looking for assistance in dealing with various aspects of Internet technology and policy.

The general thrust of almost all of the remarks was very much in the same direction, which was a surprise to the session organizers. Almost all remarks highlighted various initiatives that ha been taken by various I* members. One participant suggested that I* as a group did not get nearly the publicity that they should have given the aggregate contributions to development. There were no comments arguing that the I* community was not contributing sufficiently or significantly to development. No one identified a dimension of development to which the I* organizations could easily be contributing to but were withholding any contribution. Given the degree of concern and occasional hostility with which the Internet administrative ecosystem was regarded at some of the early IGFs by a variety of participants, this was an unexpected and welcome result, and may signify that a greater degree of understanding an maturity of participation is developing as more IGFs occur.

One very interesting observation was made by one of the panelists: that the beginnings of development activity and cooperation among I* organizations was essentially a bottom up process. Several people made comments to the effect that the participants in many of the training activities were regarded as colleagues, not students, and that this made a significant difference in the interpersonal relations both during the training activities an afterwards.

One person made a suggestion at the end of the session that seemed to encapsulate a number of suggestions: that it may be time for the I* community to think about a kind of consortium arrangement to focus upon development and raise the profile of the different initiatives that currently exist.