The Future of the Internet and its Impact on the World: A Scenarios Summit IISD

29 September 2011 - A Workshop on Access in Nairobi, Kenya


The Future of the Internet and its impact on the world: A Scenarios Summit

Proposed size and duration: 150-300 participants; 3 hours

In an effort to understand the future of the Internet and its role as a catalyst for change, many organizations have used scenario planning tools to try to assess possible directions and to prepare for them. Scenarios planning is a methodology used widely in business and increasingly in the public and non-profit sectors to allow organizations to anticipate how the future may turn out. It is particularly useful in an environment of great uncertainty, and has been used to guide decision making by major groups like the World Economic Forum, and multinational corporations like Shell and Cisco.

Scenario planning is neither guesswork nor statistical analysis. It is a structured process to help organizations break free from ties to "the official future" to consider other possibilities that they may confront. The stories that result from this process are intended to reveal plausible courses of events, not probable ones. Scenarios try to take into account real events, data and trends which may have various outcomes in their impact. While scenarios are imaginative, they are intended to make people and organizations aware of possibilities that could have an impact.

Scenarios have been used extensively to explore the world’s economic survival, climate change impacts and other critical uncertainties. The future for the Internet is a classic example of where scenarios have been and could be used to great effect: its development so far has been rapid and often unpredictable. So have its impacts, as online access to the Internet and WWW is rapidly altering societies, economies and politics. One of the world’s most rapidly expanding technological mechanisms, the Internet, and the vast realm of content and applications it connects is still very young and emergent in how it is impacting the world’s citizens, businesses and governments. How can those working on Internet governance best make use of scenario planning for the future of the Internet and its impact on the world?

The purpose of this session is twofold:

• Present to IGF participants a wide range of scenarios on the future of the world and the future of the Internet: are Internet scenarios taking into consideration major changes in social, political and economic systems? Are global scenarios considering how changes in Internet technologies, content and services will affect economic, social and political development?

• Bring together people from all walks of life who have applied scenario planning methodologies to try to understand the future of the world and the future of the internet to talk about their experiences: what questions did they try to address? What approaches did they use? What were the outcomes? Were the outcomes useful? What could be improved? How can scenario planning be used to improve our approach to Internet governance and public policy issues related to the Internet?

The session will be structured as follows:

1. Introduction of Scenario processes/Scenario stories
Ten minute overview – speaker/session moderator to be determined.

2. Presentations of three to four major global scenarios:

• Mark Musgrove, CISCO [tbc]: CISCO and the Global Business Network: The Evolving Internet: A look ahead to 2025
• The Internet Society: Internet Futures scenarios
• The World Economic Forum Digital Ecosystem Scenarios
• Shell Global Scenarios Group: 2011 energy and economics “Signals and Signposts”

3. Moderated round table with discussants from a cross section of sectors and interests in global change and the Internet/online world.

Round Table Participants (provisional: not all have been approached at time of deadline):

• Bill Graham (or alternate), Internet Society
• Matt Billot (or alternate), Head, Global Environmental Outlook, United Nations Environment Programme, Nairobi HQ
• Ben Akoh, on behalf of the West Africa Internet Governance Forum, and IISD
• Marilyn Cade, on behalf of IGF USA
• M.T. Dlamini, M.M. Eloff or J.H.P Eloff, Southern Africa Telecommunication Networks and Applications Conference
• Tapio Levä, Heikki Hämmäinen, or Kalevi Kilkki, Department of Communications and Networking, TKK Helsinki University of Technology
• Evelyn Rono, Chair, Women’s network, East Africa
• Youth Participant(s)
• Chair, Lebanon Communications Commission

Outcomes from the summit:

Rapporteurs will help to identify key findings/outcomes regarding how scenarios can support considerations of policy outcomes in Internet Governance
•A short statement on key considerations connecting Internet and Global Futures
•Framework for use of scenarios for national and regional Internet policy and planning processes – pros and cons from experiences to date



A brief substantive summary and the main events that were raised:
A series of presentations were made on the use of scenarios for global issues in general, and in particular their use for considering the future of the Internet.

1. A number of important intersections are evident between the internet and sustainable development such as the importance: a) of universal access as an essential part of an internet commons scenario (a desired future scenarios which involves everyone, their input, agreement, resources and tools needed to achieve this future); b) IPv6 is necessary to wire up the natural environment, facilitate the internet of things, and to address online trust and identity issues.
2. Excessive government control is the main risk to the future development of the internet.
3. Stakeholders involved in the scenarios exercise should be helped to understand the importance of the process as a planning methodology and to see its relevance to their own local context including the recognition of any existing policies, processes, and frameworks that relate to the present and future state of the internet.
4. Stakeholders should recognize two important observations which should be considered during future scenarios activities: a) the shift in the IGF from single topic discussions that focused on purely technical issues, to areas such as global foreign policy, internet rights and freedoms, and cross-cutting thematic dialogues that takes on a multi-stakeholder approach; b) the tension between state and non-state actors and the roles that these stakeholders have to play in the internet’s development.
5. Good data is important for proper scenarios planning. The World Bank’s Open Data Initiative sets the tone for the release of data by other important organizations such as ICANN. However, mechanisms to ensure the integrity of the data should be built into data gathering methodology and process. Likewise, users should have their capacities built and the right amount of awareness raised on the importance of gathering and manipulating data.
6. The decisions in terms of the Internet that are being made today are going to have ramifications for the next 50 to 100 years, because infrastructure developed 50 to 60 years ago are still in use today. Scenarios should take this into cognizance.
7. Organizations or policymakers that are targeted for influence from scenarios outcomes need to have their capacity or ability to know what to do with the information that is generated

Conclusions and further comments:
Next Steps, Action Points and Key Messages
• Open data is important to scenarios and data should be made available to be used. To addresses data needs for future scenarios, the IGF can leverage the support offered by the OECD to use its data in complementarity with those already made available by the World Banks. “OECD’s data focus on newer variables, have newer data sets, and offer more trends focused on the market and technology.”
• At least one scenarios workshop should be held at the next IGF. A pilot scenarios project, preferably half a day, is recommended at the next IGF which may be useful for comparing notes and lessons learned in the past year since the summit, and to improve on knowledge of the methodology through a “learning by doing approach”. At least one of the IGF workshops should be implemented using a scenarios methodology. Scenarios exercises should be encouraged at the national level.
• Resources are required to conduct an IGF scenarios exercise, and strategies are needed to explore the availability of resources: Stakeholders should explore options for resources to support having a scenarios exercise at the next IGF. In this regard, organizers of the scenarios summit should meet, debrief and explore resources required for a workshop on at least one global scenarios process.
• Internet economy/green economy, ICTs and sustainability, ICTs and knowledge creation, and content are desirable pilot workshop topics at the next IGF. A number of possible scenarios topics that could be explored are:
o A specific agenda item on the upcoming Rio+20 summit namely; the green economy. The need for a scenarios workshop with a green agenda, one that shifts global economic structures to be more supportive of green activities; and one that links existing internet economy work in support of a transition towards a green economy.
o The linkage between ICTS and sustainability following the increasing numbers of workshops in the Nairobi IGF that focus on ICTs in disaster management.
o The importance of local, user and community generated content that is relevant to people in their own language, maintains their heritage and protects their identity.
o The role that ICTs play in linking to multiple and coordinated transitions in-between processes such as from creating knowledge to its generation and eventual distribution. These involve locally coordinated transitions necessitated by culture, specific local problems and local ecosystem conditions.
• Skills development of users, policy makers, government required for scenarios methodology for it to be useful. The stakeholders should explore the possibilities of skills development on scenarios methodology and how to do so effectively using some of the generic capacity building and training modules that have already been developed; distributed to train trainers in a consistent way across different regions. Capacity building should also focus on various levels of governments in order to have them engage more structurally in policy focused conversations about the future.
• Sufficient scenarios work has been done that can be evaluated to inform future practice. The scenarios discussed in Section A should be reviewed in the coming years to determine their value to internet public policy. This review may involve a wide monitoring of sources that could potentially inform the need to adapt existing programs and plans.
• Scenarios should be explored as a useful tool at the IGF. Stakeholders should explore how they could make scenarios planning a more useful tool for the IGF in the future. Particularly, how it could adopt some of the tools and processes that were discussed during the summit, use more third party data and information, and poll and utilize stakeholders’ network and partner bases around the world.