I just finished reading a "reflection" report of the Association for Progressive
Communications on the World Summit on the Information Society.
It’s a nice flyover of the main issues faced by civil society and how
APC navigated through a difficult international policy space.
Entitled "Pushing and Prodding, Goading and
Hand-holding," the report issued last month begins by noting
APC’s own skepticism and wariness in entering the WSIS process. They
were particularly worried about whether or not the WSIS was going to
produce any concrete advances for civil society that were worth the
substantial cost in time and energy it would take to try and impact the
APC concludes that the WSIS was a mixed-bag, with most of the
results insubstantial and not-yet-determined. The main institutional
innovation was the creation of an Internet Governance Forum, which will
at least bring into the policy fold more actors than have been able to
engage through the ICANN structure. Beyond that, the main benefits
from the WSIS were expanding and developing of issue-based networks on
a number of critical issues, such as human rights, access for people
with disabilities, and ICT financing issues. As they say:
Taking a hard look at concrete outcomes of WSIS, one would have to say that it was not worth the money and time. However, the power of networking, and the intended and unintended consequences of having so many people interacting with one another and a set of issues for an extended period should not be underestimated.
What they left out of the report was how great of a role APC
themselves played in supporting civil society involvement in the WSIS.
By mobilizing their own national-based partners, APC was able to
greatly expand the participation of NGOs from around the world and in
particular the developing world. Under-resourced NGOs from Asian and
Latin American in particular I believe would not have been involved in
the WSIS had APC not informed and supported them.
Beyond just NGO outreach, APC leadership was central to the
effectiveness of a number of key WSIS structures, such as the Working
Group on Internet Governance, the UN ICT Task Force, the "content and
themes" civil society committee, and the various substantive
issue-caucuses. In particular it was APC President Anriette
Esterhuysen and director Karen Banks who helped us get through a number
of sticky strategy and political challenges along the way, from "agent
provacateurs" deployed by the Tunisian government to drafting
alternative civil society declarations.
Without the active involvement of Anriette and Karen and the rest of
the "APC mafia", I have grave doubts as to whether or not civil society
would have done any effective monitoring or lobbying at the WSIS. I
hope they remain engaged through the much dicier national and
international implementation phase.