22 February 2005. While the PrepCom Plenary is mainly debating financing matters, the discussion on the follow-up to WSIS is already underway in the hallways and side-events of the UN Palace. The UN ICT Task Force had invited interested stakeholders to discuss its future role after the mandate ends in December 2005.
The ICT Task Force was set up by the UN Secretary-General in 2001 after a request from the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Its mission is to help link all relevant actors and activities in the field of ICT and development. The Task Force is composed of government, private sector and civil society members, and it mainly serves as an open exchange space. If this is enough, if it is worth all the effort, and how an improved mechanism could better serve implement the WSIS plan of action and also contribute to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was the theme of a side-event during the PrepCom in Geneva today. The Task Force Bureau had published the proposal for an "ICT Global Alliance" that would succeed the Task Force.
Bottom-Up or Top-Down? And how wide?
It became clear that the WSIS certainly has strengthened the general support for multi-stakeholder processes. Many participants asked for a more equal inclusion of civil society members or for a bottom-up nomination process. The Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) is clearly the role model in this regard.
Rik Panganiban from the Conference of NGOs (CONGO) suggested a two-staged approach for this new mechanism. First, a consultation with all stakeholders already involved in policy processes should be done; and second, capacity-building is needed to bring in all those that are not included now, especially from the global south. The latter part was also supported by Sean O'Siochru from the CRIS campaign. Others suggested better links and networking to build on the already existing structures and actors in the field. As Anriette Estherhuysen from APC stated: "Why not collaborate with the Global Knowledge Partnership (GKP) to convene learning events? Why not work with regional bodies like the UNECA when addressing policy issues in Africa, or partner with regional research networks like Research ICT Africa? Why not use a body like Privacy International to convene multi-stakeholder discussions on data retention?"
The other dimension next to this vertical structure is the horizontal dimension: How broad should the new Global Alliance see its mandate? How many topics should be covered? How directly should it be linked to the Millennium Summit and the respective processes? Some are seeing the Global Alliance as a central coordination mechanism for the overall WSIS follow-up. This was listed as one option in the draft Operational Part of the Tunis Summit documents before this PrepCom. Others like to focus on the development-related aspects of ICT policy. A one-institution-fits-all approach for the WSIS implementation will not work anyway, therefore the discussion around a more networked and flexible approach is definitely healthy.