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Internet governance – two perspectives from the CIRA team

CIRA has a long history of engagement in the global Internet Governance community and we thought it would be interesting to sit down for a chat with Erin to get the reaction of a IGF-newbie and how it compares to Allan MacGillivray's experience, who has been attending the IGF since 2012.
By Ryan Hill
Communication Manager

CIRA has a long history of engagement in the global Internet Governance community and we thought it would be interesting to sit down for a chat with Erin to get the reaction of a IGF-newbie and how it compares to Allan MacGillivray’s experience, who has been attending the IGF since 2012.

A few months ago, Erin Hutchison, CIRA’s new communications specialist, attended the annual Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Guadalajara, Mexico as one of the Internet Society’s Youth@IGF fellows. We thought it would be interesting to sit down for a chat with Erin, to get the reaction of an IGF-newbie and how it compares to Allan MacGillivray’s experience, who has been attending the IGF since 2012.

Q&A with Allan MacGillivray (left), advisor to CIRA’s president and CEO and Erin Hutchison, communications specialist at CIRA

Right now, most people entering the workforce in Canada are digital natives – they grew up with the Internet and technology immersed in their everyday lives. How might the generation you belong to affect the priorities and issues of concern with the Internet? Do a fresh set of eyes or years of experience change how we see emerging Internet governance issues? And why is the multistakeholder model an important component of the IGF?

Let’s find out.

How did you come to be involved with the Internet governance? 

Erin: I was first exposed to Internet governance after beginning my work at CIRA in May 2016. It was really just a small part of my role at the organization, but I knew that Byron and Allan were key players in the space and that CIRA was highly engaged in the global community. CIRA has delegates at ICANN meetings, people involved in the UN processes, and a degree of credibility when it comes to complex Internet governance issues.

I understood that the field was broad – and that areas of concern involved everything from Net Neutrality to cybersecurity.

Once I started at CIRA (actually my second week!) I attended CIRA’s 2016 Canadian Internet Forum in Ottawa, Canada’s local National and Regional IGF initiative (NRI). Here I saw the multistakeholder model in action and started to understand the power of the approach to address prominent Internet-related issues we are facing in the nation.

Allan: CIRA has been a long-term supporter and participant in the IGF. Byron often leads or participates in panels there and we’re a financial contributor to the event. When I joined CIRA in 2012, I took over the IGF file and started to help coordinate CIRA’s activities at the event. 

What were your first impressions of the IGF?

Erin: I found the size of the event quite shocking. There were over 2,000 people in attendance, with a wide range of experiences and interests – participants from the technical community, civil society, government and academia. The IGF provides an interesting breakdown of participants from the event on their website.

The Youth@IGF Programme did a great job in preparing us for the IGF and managing our expectations. The online course beforehand was key to getting a deep understanding of Internet governance concepts and applying them to issues we are seeing locally, and sharing that with the other course participants around the globe. 

Allan: My first IGF was in Baku Azerbaijan, and to that point, it was (by far) the most unusual place I had ever had the pleasure of travelling to. It was an amazing professional experience and something that I’ll never forget.

I was struck by the diversity of participants and perspectives at the IGF. It is always meaningful for those of us from developed countries to hear firsthand about Internet related issues from a global perspective. 

CIRA is very focused on the Domain Name System (DNS) and participating in the IGF allows us to lift our heads to better understand the global context that affects our work. From Net Neutrality, cybersecurity, to surveillance, and privacy as well as how to connect the next billion global citizens, the issues covered at the IGF are complex, wide ranging, and very important to how the Internet evolves.

Can you talk a bit more about the multistakeholder model?

Erin: The purpose of the multistakeholder model is to get different perspectives on issues and ideas from people who have different interests.

The wide variety of stakeholder groups – civil society, government, technical community – in the room enabled a vibrant discussion. Many sessions focused on Internet access in majority countries. Getting different perspectives on designing solutions to improving Internet access is critical. In one session, I remember speakers gave examples of projects that intended to improve Internet access but failed because stakeholder groups weren’t consulted when designing the solution.

This event also carried a special focus on the concerns of youth. Our generation is the one that will be shaping Internet policies, dealing with the social impacts of Internet access, cybersecurity, working in the digital workforce, etc. I think that Internet governance isn’t something that is of obvious concern to youth currently, and this is why it is so important to get more representation from this group.

The Youth@IGF Programme brings youth to the event, but it’s up to the individuals to not only be present, but to participate fully and have the knowledge background and capacity to meaningfully engage in the issues. It can be intimidating to stand up and make comments or ask questions when you are the youngest person in the room. There was a lot of participation from youth fellows but there was a general feeling that we were outsiders during the week – that is, we were not part of important decision making processes. I hope that this is something that can continue to be improved for future IGFs. 

Allan: Honestly, I am still learning every year how the IGF processes work and how they have evolved. I think this is part of the value of the event. There are newcomer events to help integrate some new folks into the program, but it’s a community that you can certainly learn to participate in.

I agree whole-heartedly Erin’s point on youth participating and I can say that there has been a marked improvement in youth participation at the IGF. There was a visible presence that I think was meaningful. The Youth@IGF Programme is helping to get young people into the room, while also ensuring that they can contribute to the discussions.

I think the multistakeholder model helps ensure the diversity at the IGF. The group that attends is both politically and culturally diverse and that is invaluable to the discussion; it also makes it much more interesting. There aren’t always ways for diverse communities to build both formal and informal connections, so this is an important part of the IGF for me.

What were your favourite sessions and favourite moments?

Erin: The Teaching Internet Governance session looked at ten years of Schools of Internet Governance (SIGs). It was surprising to see just how many opportunities there are to engage in this work globally, and it made me come to the realization that while this is a specialized topic that people have the opportunity study in depth, more could be done to educate the general public (and in particular, our youth) about Internet governance.

The session on the Digital Economy and the Future of Work was also one of my favourites. As part of a younger population, I’m becoming increasingly aware that there’s more our education system could do to teach us about technology to be prepared to compete in a modern economy. This isn’t a topic that I engage with daily at CIRA, but it’s a personal interest and it was great to get a global perspective on the issue.

Meeting the other youth fellows was truly one of the highlights of the week as well. There were students working on research on the IANA transition, people working on new gTLDs, someone in charge of coordinating an NRI in their country, and people working in the development field. It was a great group and I took a lot away from my discussions with them.

Having done an exchange in university in Guadalajara, it was also great to be back in a familiar city and to experience Mexican culture once again.


A mariachi band playing at the opening ceremonies of the 2016 IGF

Allan: Some have been critical that the IGF wasn’t as action-oriented as it could be and so there have been moves to ensure there are practical sessions where attendees can bring information back to their national and regional organizations. This year there were sessions on Gender and Access, Cybersecurity, and IXPs. I spoke briefly about the Canadian IXP experience on this panel and I think it was an interesting discussion.

The focus was on the operations and management of IXPs, which I think is often overlooked in when discussion turn on more technical issues. You can have the technology in place, but if you’re not ready to actually run the business it can be tough. From CIRA’s perspective, we’re not there to tell others what they should do, but we can share our experiences doing this work in Canada and answer questions about what we think was successful for us. I hope others can take something informative out of the experience – even if it is to learn from our mistakes and missteps.

The cybersecurity themes at this event were striking. It’s really a great venue for these discussions, where we have technical folks from the IAB, IEE and such who can engage with policy and civil society types on these issues. I’ve also been very interested in following the Internet of Things content at the IGF this year. We’re seeing IoT emerge as both a topic of concern for security experts, and also as a huge business and development opportunity.

The multistakeholder approach to the IGF is key – to have representation in all different forms, such as geographic (by nation), demographic (age and gender), and stakeholder group (civil society, technical community, etc.) to come together to discuss solutions to Internet governance issues. Representatives from each stakeholder group have a chance to contribute their own unique experiences and opinions on panels, roundtable discussions, or just by getting to know one another in the hallways between sessions.

Whether you are an industry veteran who has seen the progress and development of technology over the years, or a youth who has not experienced a world without the Internet, everyone can give and take away something different from the IGF.

About the author
Ryan Hill

Ryan Saxby Hill is an expert in communications and digital marketing. He is served as the communications manager at CIRA from 2014-2017. Previously, Ryan led media relations and online engagement efforts at the Canada Foundation for Innovation and has held positions handling global communications and PR programs for Ciena Corporation and Nortel Networks.

Ryan is a founder of Apartment613, an award winning Ottawa-based digital community media organization and serves on the board of directors for the Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation, one of Canada’s most innovative non-profit housing providers.