Berlin, 19 February 2004. After a month of rest and recharging after the summit in December, the WSIS-related activities are slowly gaining momentum again. How will it look like this time? Certainly different, that is already clear to see. But how it will develop depends as much on civil society strategies as on the UN and other major actors.
The Tunisian government will chair a smaller "informal" meeting on 4-5 March 2004. The objective is to brainstorm on the process and added value of WSIS phase 2. The event will also be a preparation for a more formal meeting in late spring 2004 to prepare for the first PrepCom of WSIS phase two that is expected to take place in June or July. From what could be heard from smaller meetings and informal talks in Geneva, there is still no clear decided plan for the next phase, and this session will be achance for all stakeholders to contribute.
The ITU has recently published a proposal for the structure of the second phase (see the .doc). According to this, it would consist of a two-layered structure. One layer will be a multistakeholder "coordinating group" with the main task of reviewing the implementation of the summit decisions. The other layer will be a conference process like in the first phase, but this time with less or even no regional meetings, but instead more thematically-oriented preparatory conferences. This seems to be a reflection of the fact that the preparations for the first WSIS took very long to reconcile the overlapping outcomes of the different regional meetings, and that there was often too little time to discuss substance in depth.
Another big event that will attract a lot of WSIS key actors is the sixth meeting of the UN ICT Task Force in March 2004 in New York City. The Task Force has agreed to have an "Global Forum" on the two days before the meeting itself, which will be open to all interested parties. This will be one of the events where substance for WSIS II will be discussed. It will probably also be a place where the open questions of internet governance and finance question will be addressed - the two issues where the summit has decided to set up working groups under the auspices of the United Nations. Maybe from this global forum, a more open multi-stakeholder structure can evolve, where the substance can be discussed and negotiated among the different stakeholder groups without the rigid "rules of procedure" that consumed so much time and ideas during the first phase's PrepComs.
A major problem, though, is the lack of any funding for civil society participants. This will heavily influence the possibilities of the global civil society groups to maintain their influence and pressure during the second phase. The WSIS executive secretariat at ITU even has closed down its civil society liaison office because of the lack of funding. Another problem is the unclear structure of representation within civil society. The invitations to the Tunisia meeting were only sent to members of the civil society bureau, which is only responsible for procedural questions. But the meeting will inevitably also deal with content, as there will be discussions on the thematic preparatory conferences. It is pretty unclear until now what the terms of participation are for this meeting. But it has already kicked off a debate on the civil society plenary list on the legitimacy of the civil bureau and its "family" constituency, and how to make sure the much more active content and themes groups and caucuses will stay in the loop.
Meanwhile, a number of civil society actors and groups are trying to reach out beyond the narrow official process. Some European groups are planning to build stronger links with the European Social Forum and currently discuss a whole day information society networking event at the European Social Forum in London in November. In Canada, a broader consultation and mobilization process has also started, and a number of important US NGOs and advocacy groups are now networking around the summit. They have also founded a US chapter of the "Communication Rights in the Information Society" (CRIS) campaign. Other groups are planning to get involved in implementation on the ground. The example for this could be to localized the action plan decisions like the "Local Agenda 21" did after the Rio Earth summit in 1992.
So, everything is fluid at the moment, and it is far from clear that the preparations for the second summit meeting will have the same shape as in the first phase. This can be a chance for civil society, as its groups are used to flexible structures anyway, and here they could have a "first mover advantage" in many areas.