By Raúl Echeberría

1. Introduction and Background

LACIGF was one of the first regional Internet governance forums to be organized. The first edition was held in 2008 at the initiative of three regional organizations: APC, LACNIC and RITS.

In that context, the organization of the forum depended on the decisions of the organizing committee. In addition to providing an innovative environment for the discussion of Internet governance issues, for the first few years the main goal was to build the LACIGF community — which was initially quite small — and disseminate this emerging forum.

In the following years, accompassing the growth of the LACIGF community and its positioning as a relevant regional forum, the Forum evolved towards a more complex governance scheme that led to the creation and subsequent consolidation of a multistakeholder Program Committee (Governments, Civil Society, Private Sector and Technical Community) responsible its organization.

For a few years, RITS (currently NUPEF) continued to host the discussion lists and website, and LACNIC has so far maintained its role as logistics and operational Secretariat to complement the role of the Program Committee.

The functions performed by LACNIC extend beyond the mere organization of the event and include supporting the Program Committee, fundraising, the administration of these funds, managing website content, communications and social media, as well as managing the fellowship program, among others.

The Program Committee is made up by members of the various interest groups, who organize themselves for the purpose of appointing their representatives, and currently includes three representatives of each of the four sectors it comprises (for a total of 12 representatives).

Over the past few months, several voices proposed a review of the LACIGF with the purpose of introducing improvements. A feeling that LACIGF was losing relevance and that it needed an assessment began to grow among the community and among organized stakeholders.

In late May, LACNIC presented to the LACIGF Program Committee the idea of ​​conducting a review study of the LACIFG that would allow the generation of inputs that could be used for discussion. The Program Committee understood the value of conducting this study, so LACNIC launched the project by providing resources to fund the first part of the review.

2. Participation in the Process

Over the past two months, several participation channels were created:

  • Individual interviews with persons who are part of the different stakeholder groups
  • An open call for discussion in three different languages (Portuguese, English and Spanish)
  • Ad-hoc meetings taking advantage of other events
  • Meetings at the request of the various stakeholders
  • Written inputs and contributions submitted to

While it is impossible to speak with everyone, the universe of people we consulted or who proactively participated in the process is highly representative of the diversity of the regional community.

A total of 157 people participated:

  • 39 individual interviews (21 men, 18 women)
  • 37 people during the first 3 open calls (7 in Portuguese, 23 in Spanish, 7 in English)
  • 12 written comments were received
  • 2 informal conversations with stakeholders
  • 67 participants in different ad-hoc meetings (remote and face-to-face)
    • 7 at a meeting held in Cordoba during CLT, the Latin American Telecommunications Congress
    • 22 during the visit to, the Brazilian Internet Steering
    • 15 in a conference with the LACTLD Policy Working Group
    • 8 in a conference with the eLAC Internet Governance Working Group
    • 13 in a conference with a group of active participants who are part of the Caribbean Internet community

In all, the 157 individuals who participated in the process in one way or another represent 22 different countries of the region.

As a first positive conclusion, it is important to stress that the consultation process itself was a mobilizing process which brought greater attention to LACIGF and generated expectations regarding its future.

This significant level of participation provided plenty of valuable information: ideas, criticism, varied points of view, and many proposals. It is impossible to reflect all of this information in this report, which is purposefully brief so that it will be easy to read will effectively become useful in moving forward. This is the reason why the report focuses on the search for a common ground, which is ultimately the goal of collaborative construction work, one of the pillars of the multistakeholder approach.

3. Diagnosis

The majority of those who participated in the consultation process, including those who do not regularly participate in LACIGF, share the general view that LACIGF is a valuable forum/mechanism that has been very successful and innovative, but that in recent years it has lost relevance.

Several issues have been identified as causes of this loss of relevance:

  • A format based mostly on panels, which is not attractive and is not very interactive.
  • A lack of balance in the participation of the different stakeholder groups. Participation of the government sector and the private sector is viewed as minor and a stronger participation of Civil Society is perceived. This may be considered either as a cause or a consequence. The low levels of participation of certain sectors may be due to the fact that the forum is not attractive enough for such groups, while the lack of balance in the participation of the different sectors can reduce the forum’s appeal.
  • The same speakers and moderators repeat their roles over several editions of the forum.
  • The non-production of tangible results.
  • A lack of follow-up, which leads to the repetition of agenda items and discussions (the forum does not build on previous discussions), which is partly related to the previous item.
  • The lack of links with other regional forums and national IGFs.
  • The low impact of LACIGF discussions on public policy development, which mostly take place at a local level.

In addition, internal communications within each stakeholder group and the transparency of the work of the Program Committee were mentioned as two areas with room for improvement to increase knowledge and interest in LACIGF within the region.

In summary, there is a very positive opinion regarding the emergence of LACIGF and the work that has been carried out in (and around) this forum, while at the same time there is a critical opinion of its current situation.

This generalized critical view leads to the need to specifically question whether efforts should be made to improve LACIGF or whether the Forum should only be maintained until the time when it is concluded that its cycle has come to an end.

This question is particularly relevant in a context where multiple other forums related to more specific issues have emerged, as have many ad-hoc multistakeholder consultation mechanisms, some of them originated by governments and others by private companies.

Faced with this key question of whether to make the effort to improve LACIGF or not, the vast majority of individuals who participated in this analysis replied without hesitation that it should indeed be improved.

The main reason cited is that LACIGF is a unique space. A space that belongs to everyone and to no one at the same time, the only place where all stakeholders can effectively participate on an even playing field, even a space that is open to individuals and organizations that are not a formal part of any specific stakeholder group.

There is general consensus in the sense that it is worth making the effort to maintain this forum or mechanism, but only if improvements are introduced to preserve and increase its relevance, a relevance that is seen mainly in terms of the impact of the discussions on the regional and local policy development processes (within the region).

4. Suggested Improvements

In order not to guide the consultation, the process began with a blank page. The purpose was to find out what ideas and opinions the community itself would come up with. However, it quickly became clear that comments converged into what could be classified as six categories: PARTICIPATION, CONTENTS, MEETING FORMAT, INTERSESSIONAL WORK and LACIGF STRUCTURE, FUNDING MODELS.

4.1 Participation

  • One of the basic proposals in this area is the need to increase dissemination work. On numerous occasions respondents mentioned that there is a lack of knowledge of LACIGF in their environments, and that this makes it difficult for them to manage their participation.
  • The possibility of knowing the details of the meeting in advance, primarily the agendas and the list of speakers, stands out as an essential point. Particularly, government and private sector representatives mentioned the difficulty of internally “selling” the importance of LACIGF without this type of information.
  • Government representatives noted that handling official communications, including invitations to the event, through their foreign affairs ministries is very important, not only to justify their travel but also to justify dedicating more time and effort to LACIGF. This issue should not difficult to solve, either by involving the local government of the country hosting the following meeting or even by having the secretariat do this through national embassies. Likewise, in a manner consistent with the multistakeholder approach, government involvement and willingness to assume this role might even be included as a requirement for hosting the meeting.
  • As mentioned in section 2. of this report, one of the pillars of multistakeholder work is the spirit of constructive collaboration. Certain environments are more appropriate for denouncing and antagonism, while others — such as these forums — are expected to focus on creating opportunities for collaboration and collective construction.
    The importance of recovering or strengthening this collaborative/constructive spirit to encourage the participation of all stakeholders so that everyone can feel that they are in a safe space was brought up several times during this process. This requires that those whose turn it is to act as moderators feel prepared and supported in their role.
  • Many have also proposed the organization of a high-level session, not in the style of the global IGF (which is merely a series of presentations), but something more in line with the format used for NetMundial in 2014. This could be included as a session on the last day of the LACIGF program, but it could also be held the day after LACIGF if it were considered as something attached to — but not an integral part of — the Forum. For example, in the case of EURODIG (the regional European Dialogue on Internet Governance), a meeting of the High-Level Group on Internet Governance (HLIG), an initiative organized by the European Commission, takes place the day after the event. This is a formal group and its meeting consists of two sessions, one that is open to all stakeholders and another that is limited to governments and the European Commission. This group is merely an example and there is no reason to replicate it, but it does show one way to implement this proposal.
  • The production of content, which we will analyze elsewhere in this document, was also mentioned as a way to promote participation. Those who mentioned this argue that, if LACIGF were to produce tangible results, the various stakeholders would have increased interest in participating.

4.2 Contents

  • The most widespread opinion is that the LACIGF agenda should be more focused and that it is necessary to prioritize the issues that are most relevant at each moment. There are several, possibly complementary proposals on how to address the few issues that are identified as relevant, either by creating topic clusters or by having different sessions address the same topic from different points of view. For example, the same topic might be approached from a regulatory, an economic, a rights or technological point of view.
  • Although, as mentioned in the item above, there is a demand for more focused discussions, this also poses a challenge, as there appears to be a contradiction between two other important suggestions: on the one hand, there has been a proposal to address the situation of those countries that are advancing more slowly in the development of the Information Society and whose priorities may therefore not be relevant to the most advanced countries of the region, while on the other hand it has been proposed that LACIGF should be the forum for addressing emerging issues to raise awareness among the regional community regarding current major challenges. These contradictions are not really such, but they do mean that we should be able to prepare agendas that combine very focused discussion spaces with spaces for addressing more general issues and that consider the needs and priorities of different parts of our community who are experiencing different realities and living in countries in different stages of ICT development.
  • Over the past few years there have been changes in how the LACIGF agenda is prepared. Overall, respondents value very positively the possibility of participating in the public consultation that takes place every year, and they also appreciate the combination of this consultation with consultations with organized stakeholders. A recurring proposal was that the agenda should continue to be prepared based on this public consultation and a consultation with organized stakeholders, while also requesting contributions from national IGFs or other equivalent multistakeholder participation processes.
  • There is fairly widespread consensus that it would be positive for LACIGF to produce more tangible results. Opinions vary as to what these results should include, but there seems to be a convergence towards the possibility that they might include the most important aspects of the debates, main positions, high-level consensus whenever possible, as well as the points of dissent. It is important to stress that nobody is proposing forcing consensus, but rather maintaining the Forum’s non-negotiation nature and recording consensus when it exists. Several options have been discussed for how to prepare these reports, which should be taken into consideration at the time of potentially implementing these recommendations.
  • A strong demand regarding the contents of LACIGF is to avoid repeating the same discussions. It is understood that sometimes certain issues must remain on the agenda because of their continued relevance, but new discussions should build on prior discussions and results and the same debates should not be repeated. In this sense, it is important to consider the recommendation included in the previous item, as a better documentation of the discussions would allow a better follow-up.

4.3 Formats

  • Few points achieve as much consensus as the need to continue exploring more interactive discussion formats. Formats exclusively based on panels have become obsolete. One of the persons we interviewed referred to this as the “teaching format,” where one or several specialists teach to the rest of the audience. Usually there is limited time for audience interaction, and this generates frustration among participants. This, however, does not mean that panels and keynote presentations should be completely eliminated, as they are in fact important and can be inspiring. It is good to have the participation of specialists who know more about a given topic, but this “teaching format” cannot be the usual form of debate. In this sense, multiple ideas were brought up during the consultation process:
    • Debates among people with different positions
    • Histrionic discussion models
    • Sessions with a moderator but no panelists
    • Role-playing
    • Breakout sessions
  • As noted in section 3, having the same people repeatedly in the role of speakers or moderators is seen as a problem, so the proposal is to increase the rotation and diversity of speakers and moderators where such roles exist. While it is obviously felt that gender equality is present in these roles, there is a demand for other forms of diversity: cultural, geographic, language and a strong emphasis on generational balance, which involves offering more important roles to young people.
  • Improving transparency when selecting panelists and speakers is another clear proposal, even offering opportunities for different people to proactively aspire to occupy such roles.

4.4 Intersessional Work

The opinion among those who participated in this consultation is almost unanimous regarding the importance of changing LACIGF’s approach and that it should no longer be a yearly meeting but instead become something more permanent. More focused on the topics than on the meeting.

Several activities were mentioned which could continue throughout the year. Most of these ideas are complementary:

  • Virtual working groups either to continue the discussions of the LACIGF meeting, to prepare the discussions prior to the meeting and/or to manage the discussions themselves throughout the year (similar to the global IGF’s Best Practice Forums, BPF).
  • Identification of priority topics.
  • Coordination with other national, regional and global forums.
  • Dissemination activities.
  • Sending LACIGF materials to relevant regional stakeholders.

Strengthening this intersessional work requires improving the tools used to support it. Basically, there is significant consensus that information repositories should be improved ant that virtual collaboration platforms should be implemented.

4.5 LACIGF Structure

The community has a very positive opinion of the contribution made so far by LACNIC in its role as LACIGF secretariat. LACNIC was not only one of the originators of this initiative together with RITS/NUPEF and APC, but the organization continues performing this role which includes supporting the Program Committee, the organization of the event, fundraising work, and the operational implementation of the fellowship program, among other tasks.

While there is a very positive view of the work carried out so far, the majority share the opinion that there is a need to evolve these structures. The following proposals appeared most strongly:

  • The Program Committee should have greater visibility and more clearly assume responsibilities towards the community.
    • All Program Committee members should be equally committed.
    • The Program Committee should have clearly defined roles and responsibilities.
    • Greater transparency and better communication will increase appreciation for the work of the Committee and more people will want to volunteer for this position.
    • There should be more clarity on how to be part of the Committee. Greater clarity in eligibility criteria and processes.
    • Although this was not a unanimous recommendation, several respondents mentioned that it would be good to create leadership positions within the Committee (a chairman, for example) to increase its visibility.
  • There is significant support for the creation of a permanent LACIGF secretariat. Several of the recommendations mentioned in the previous sections require energy and effort. A permanent secretariat would be the way to successfully address these challenges. We also perceived the need for something to operate between the Program Committee and the operational-logistical secretariat currently operated by LACNIC. The consensus among those who support the creation of this secretariat is that it should be “light” and non-bureaucratic.

4.6 Funding.

The discussion of how LACIGF should be funded came up naturally during the discussions and interviews we conducted.

The proposed improvements and evolution would clearly demand resources, which means that the funding of LACIGF is not a trivial discussion.

Faced with the specific question of whether the current funding model should change or remain the same, the majority responded that the donation-based model is best and that, if LACIGF increases its relevance for all regional stakeholders, it will be easier to maintain current and attract new donors.

Nevertheless, other complementary options were mentioned, among them the creation of a membership structure, an attempt to hold self-funded meetings (where the host is responsible for the costs) and separating the fellowship programs from the operating costs of LACIGF and its annual meeting.

5. Conclusions and Next Steps

As evidenced throughout this report, LACIGF has earned a place within the regional Internet ecosystem. Numerous people from different sectors and from different parts of the region agree not only that this Forum has been innovative, successful and important, but also that the future still holds a relevant place for LACIGF.

Likewise, there is a shared vision among the regional community about the need for this mechanism to evolve into a tool to properly address a challenging reality and future, with an impact on the development of Internet-related policies from a multistakeholder perspective.

As described in section 3., LACIGF is a unique forum that belongs to everyone and to no one at the same time.

The suggested changes are not minor changes and, in the event of moving forward in the proposed direction, they will require effort and commitment from all the stakeholders involved.

So, what should the next steps be?

If broad consensuses are achieved during the discussions at LACIGF 12 in La Paz, this will allow the development of a roadmap that should be implemented under the leadership of the Program Committee.

There seems to be enough merit for a new stage of this project to advance not only in the implementation of certain ideas that do not require much further analysis but also, at the same time, to delve deeper into the analysis and develop proposals for the implementation of other, more complex ideas.

Pending the discussions that will be held in La Paz and the considerations of the LACIGF Program Committee, the next step would be to prepare a concrete proposal for the second stage of the project, including objectives, timelines, costs and funding schemes.

Potentially, the goals of the next phase of this project might include:

  • Articulating with the host of LACIGF 13, the Secretariat and the Program Committee for the early definition of the organizational details of the 2020 meeting.
  • Identifying priorities, public consultation and preparation of the agenda.
  • Suggesting processes for improving Program Committee communications.
  • Reviewing and preparing proposals for improving the website and information repository.
  • Formally communicating the results of LACIGF 12 and the preparations for LACIGF 13 to the governments of the region and organized stakeholders.
  • An analysis of changes to the LACIGF structure, including a possible timeline for the creation of a secretariat and medium-term funding models.