Civil Society groups reflect on WSIS process
  Where to Next?
  18 November 2005. As the WSIS summit draws to a close, civil society groups are reflecting on the past but also looking at the road ahead. In a gathering organised by the CRIS Campaign on Friday afternoon, key participants of the civil society processes of the past 4 years proposed ways of keeping up the pressure and making sure that the visions that were developed around the WSIS process will be implemented. The event highlighted a wide variety of projects that will keep civil society actors busy during the upcoming months and years.

Jeannette Hofmann, convenor of the Internet Governance Caucus, outlined the outcomes of the government negotiation process. Governments have agreed on creating a forum on internet governance which will be founded next year and which will be a multi-stakeholder forum involving civil society. So the question for the internet governance caucus , at this moment, is how to effectively influence it. The caucus is currently discussing its transformation into a more closely defined working group, based on a defined set of common principles.

Chantal Peyer from the coalition on financing looked back at the finance debates which first received a lack of interest by civil society actors and then were conducted in a very intransparent way by, particularly, the Task Force on Financial Mechanisms (TFFM). In contrast to the recommendations of the TFFM, Peyer expressed the need to re-frame the financial debate as a public policy debate. The government negotiations on financing had included much rhetoric but little concrete commitments. As a step forward, Peyer mentioned the fact that the final text incorporated a role for public investment and that poverty reduction now has to be considered in national e-strategies. What next? The coalition proposes that national e-strategies as well as international institutions should be monitored, and civil society should participate in the Digital Solidarity Fund that has been established during the WSIS process but should also focus on original civil society initiatives such as community-owned networks.

Bertrand de la Chapelle, convenor of the follow-up working group, recalled the difficulties of the inter-governmental debate on implementation and follow-up mechanisms, with some governments refusing any follow-up process and others wanting to establish strong mechanisms. The result was that governments have postponed much of the debate, which opens a space for civil society interventions. Some kind of follow-up mechanism has been agreed, as part of a revised UN ECOSOC commission on science and technology for development, but their concrete shape is still to be established. The multi-stakeholder principle was accepted for that process after intense lobbying by civil society, but will have to be defended in the upcoming process against a possible backlash by governments. In the words of de la Chapelle: "Governments have accepted the multi-stakeholder principle in the documents but not in their hearts and practices. The battle has only just begun. The challenge is on us to keep up the pressure." The email list of the follow-up working group will continue to work and will attempt to come up with a working programme to influence the further process.

Regarding the implementation of the WSIS results, governments have decided to go beyond exclusive UN responsibility. They have allowed other actors to facilitate implementation of WSIS action lines. For de la Chapelle, this represented a huge improvement, as this would actually allow civil society caucuses and networks to step forward and become prime forces of implementation. He called on all civil society entities to volunteer for this task.

However this optimism was not shared by all. Civil society activists from India criticized that governments from the North had been unwilling to commit to any meaningful follow-up process. They noted that the opennes of the process now agreed may weaken current global governance architecture and that this opennes may lead to the most powerful actors (which would certainly not be civil society) to fill the vacuum.

Claudia Padovani from the University of Padova presented a proposal for a monitoring initiative which would look at the post-WSIS multi-stakeholder environment. She suggested to move from multi-stakeholderism to true participatory governance.

Sally Burch from the international council of the World Social Forum (WSF) talked about the experiences of the WSF and suggested it as a suitable space for further developing and coordinating a civil society agenda on communication.

Several civil society networks used the opportunity to present their own plans for future work. The Swiss network comunica-ch will focus on developing and advocating for the public domain. One of the aims will be to establish the nation-wide principle that all institutions and projects that have been created or are operating through public funding are obliged to release their work in the public domain rather than through commercial channels.

The CRIS (Communication Rights in the Information Society) network, which had been created specifically for the WSIS, has agreed on a new common framework this very morning. CRIS member Jason Nardi explained that the organizations and individuals involved will continue to influence global governance mechanisms on information and communicaqtion issues, for example in the WTO, the WIPO, and UNESCO. Yet they will also create closer links with wider social justice movements and with local initiatives.

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