Asst Secretary General Jinhua Li and Japanese Prime Minister Kishida enter the stage

The Internet Governance Forum is a multistakeholder forum established by the United Nations and held annually around the world since 2006. The 18th edition was held in Kyoto, the city in which I reside, so I decided to attend.

I have been to a few technical conferences, barricaded in rooms with passionate technologists arguing over the most minute details of a newly forming standard, but the IGF promised something different. This is a policy forum to discuss the societal impacts of digital technology worldwide. It is “multistakeholder” in that participants come not just from the national governments of UN member states, but also inter- and non-governmental organizations, private sector, and the technical community. The forum brings together people from all over the globe (11,145 registered participants with 6,279 from 178 countries showing up in person in Kyoto) to talk about how we should govern this supranational resource we call “the internet.” It is certainly my kind of place!

Over the five day period I attended just 21 of 355 sessions. My approach was simply to spend the entire conference listening and learning. I did not speak up during sessions, but approached panelists afterwards or in the halls including people from more familiar technical forae like the IETF, ICANN, and IEEE, but also many human rights activists, politicians, and even more lawyers. High-level speakers included people like Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, former PM Jacinda Ardern, Maria Ressa, Meredith Whittaker, Vint Cerf, and more. I spoke to many people on duty in the vendor booth area, including the policy team of Wikimedia, The Citizen Lab, Github, LEGO, and more. Each time I chatted with someone I would ask the same three questions:

  • How many IGFs have you been to?
  • Has it changed over the years?
  • What is the goal of your organization in attending?

That was usually enough to kick off a conversation, sometimes leading to a second convo, and always to an exchange of business cards.

I wanted to find out a few things: 1) why do people go to IGF? 2) why should the average dev working on an app care? and 3) as someone who works in tech, has an MA in International relations, how have I not heard of this before?!

There are many answers to those above questions, and I spent the five days from morning to night learning a lot about the structures and actors involved in internet governance. Too much for a single blog post, so I think I will post a series of shorter notes in the coming weeks. Some topics I would like broach are:

  • How the event was structured and what it was like shuffling from room to room
  • how the IGF fits into the global internet governance regime as a whole
  • Multistakeholderism and its challeng{es|ers}
  • What trending topics were being covered in the sessions and in the halls
  • Some of my memorable sessions and interactions

Outputs from the forum are still being released, so there might be some other topics to report on. If you have any questions or requests please let me know and I will try to cover those as I progress.

Posts in the Attending the Internet Governance Forum series