The Global Network of Internet and Society Research Centers (NoC) and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University have released a new report on Multistakeholder Governance Groups, which informs the debate about Internet governance models and mechanisms.

The report is the result of a globally-coordinated academic research effort among NoC participants and consists of twelve geographically and topically diverse case studies of governance structures, and a synthesis paper that summarizes key findings across these cases. The research examines multistakeholder governance groups with the goal of informing the future evolution of the Internet governance ecosystem. Building upon the NETmundial Principles and Roadmap, it contributes to current policy debates at the international level, including the Internet Governance Forum, the NETmundial Initiative, and the World Economic Forum.

“We at the Berkman Center are excited about the release of the first report that emerges from the Global Network of Internet and Society Centers, which was incubated Harvard Law School two years ago,” said Executive Director and Professor of Practice Urs Gasser LL.M. ’03, who led the international research effort.  “The study comes at a moment where we are at crossroads in global conversations about the future of Internet governance, and we hope to inform these debates by sharing experiences with multistakeholder models and mechanisms from various parts of the world.”

At a point where the future of Internet governance is being re-envisioned, the report deepens our understanding of the formation, operation, and critical success factors of governance groups. The study concludes that:

“there is no single best-fit model for multistakeholder governance groups that can be applied in all instances. Rather, it reveals a range of approaches, mechanisms, and tools available for both the formation and operation of such groups. The analysis demonstrates that the success of governance groups depends to a large degree on the careful selection, deployment, and management of suitable instruments from this ‘toolbox’. As governance groups pass through different phases of operation, conveners and facilitators must remain alert to changes in circumstances that necessitate adjustments to the approaches, mechanisms, and tools that they deploy in order to address evolving challenges from inside and from outside. The case study series provides insights into how those instruments can be deployed and adjusted over time within such groups, and highlights how their interactions with important contextual factors may be successfully managed within given resource restraints.”

Ryan Budish ’07, Berkman fellow and report co-author, said: “With multistakeholder governance, there’s often this assumption that if you find the correct preconditions–the right stakeholders, in the right place, at the right time, working on the right issue, in the right way–then everything will click into place. What we learned from our case studies is that the process of successful governance is actually far more dynamic and complex.”

Other key observations from the study, as further described in the synthesis paper, include:

  • Inclusiveness (including mechanisms for participation) and transparency are critical factors to be managed and adjusted throughout the lifecycle of governance groups.
  • How governance groups define accountability and legitimacy is highly reflective of and dependent on contextual factors.
  • Different governance groups have different measures of success and effectiveness that are tied to their unique contexts and to factors that change over time.

The report is the first study by the recently launched Global Network of Internet and Society Centers, which brings together over 30 academic institutions from around the globe. As a milestone, it demonstrates that a global network of academic research centers can create a shared repository of timely and relevant research, which includes peer-reviewed methodologies and adherence to academic standards, open data, and expertise on diverse issues related to global policy debates.  More broadly, the Network of Centers seeks to contribute to a more generalized vision and longer-term strategy for academia regarding its roles in research, facilitation and convening, and education in and communication about the Internet age.

The Berkman Center has facilitated the research project, drafted the synthesis document, and contributed the following two case studies to the collaborative effort:

“Water Management in Northern Ghana”

This case study examines and compares the international deployment of the decentralized integrated water resource management (IWRM) model for the management of water resources at the local and transboundary levels of the White Volta River Basin and discusses the development of IWRM in water governance more broadly.

“Swiss ComCom FTTH Roundtable Case Study”

This case study explores the dimensions of how the Swiss government used a multistakeholder process to organize private sector firms to begin deploying in a coordinated fashion a fiber optic network connected to every home in Switzerland.

The full text of these, and the other case studies by our international partners, are available on the Publixphere website where the authors welcome comments and feedback.  The series and individual papers are also available for download from SSRN.  The synthesis paper is also available on Publixphere and SSRN.

The Global Network of Internet and Society Research Centers (NoC) was launched by a group of academic centers – including the Berkman Center – in 2012 in recognition of the lack of internationally coordinated research and engagement activities in issues concerning the Internet and related technologies. The NoC is a collaborative initiative among academic institutions with a focus on interdisciplinary research on the development, social impact, policy implications, and legal issues concerning the Internet. This collective aims to increase interoperability between participating centers in order to stimulate the creation of new cross-national, cross-disciplinary conversation, debate, teaching, learning, and engagement regarding the most pressing questions around new technologies, social change, and related policy and regulatory developments.