The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is a global multistakeholder forum that promotes discussions and dialogue about public policy issues related to the Internet. It was first convened in 2006 by the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General. With the renewal of its mandate by the UN General Assembly in December 2015, the IGF has consolidated its position as a platform for bringing together members of various stakeholder groups as equals. While there is no negotiated outcome, the IGF informs and inspires those with policy-making powers in both the public and private sectors. Delegates hold discussions, exchange information and share good practices with each other at the annual meetings. The 12th annual meeting of the IGF took place between 18 and 21 December 2017 at the UN Office at Geneva in Switzerland. This blogger was fortunate to make his maiden appearance at this year’s IGF.
#IGF2017 was an intensive 4 days of panel discussions, meetings and networking events addressing issues relating to the future of digital governance, digitisation and democracy, the digital economy, human rights, gender, internet and ICTs for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Artificial Intelligence (AI), big data, access and inclusion, freedom of expression, Internet of Things (IoT), IPV6, fake news, privacy, digital transformation, digital trade, data protection, digital literacy, access to information, hate speech, blocking, internet shutdowns, community empowerment, the digital divide, enhancing accessibility for persons with disabilities, and many more.
Out of a total of 20 sessions attended, 4 of them were ceremonial/high level sessions and main sessions. The remaining 16 were specific sessions across this year’s IGF themes. There were a total of 8 themes at this year’s IGF namely, Access, Inclusion and Diversity; Critical Internet Resources; Cybersecurity; Digital Economy, Digital Work, Trade and Sustainable Development; Gender and Youth; Human Rights Online; Multistakeholder Cooperation & Governance; and New Technologies and Emerging Issues (AI – IoT – Big Data – Blockchain – Virtual Reality – Fake News). For each of the four days of the IGF, there are individual recap blogposts elsewhere of the sessions attended and some of the key take-away points from both panelists and members of the audience.
Overall, the IGF for a first-timer is a pleasantly overwhelming experience rich in learning and sharing with experts from all over the world. There are vast opportunities for building strong networks and partnerships as well as exchanging ideas on best practices, comparing notes on national experiences, on-going projects and disseminating research findings. From an African perspective, it is important for more experts from the continent to attend the IGF, organise sessions and participate so as to ensure African voices are equally represented on the international stage (our colleagues from Latin America and South America generally have excelled at this). Overall, the IGF was eye-opening and very educational unfortunately there were so many interesting sessions taking place concurrently in different venues so participants were forced to make hard choices and sacrifices to attend certain sessions over others.