Resolution bloat at ITU Plenipotentiary Conferences

Delegates who were in Dubai for the recent ITU Plenipotentiary Conference 2018 may remember the Chair of the Ad Hoc Group on Resolution 130 (about cybersecurity) regularly reporting on how many pages his group had succeeded in deleting from the original 56-page consolidated draft containing all proposed changes to the resolution. Member States engaged in long hours, including nights, weekends, and almost through to the dawn of the final day of the conference, to slowly work their way through the 18,063 words in the initial consolidated draft of proposals. 13 versions of the Ad Hoc Group’s draft resolution were to follow the first version. And I’m not even counting the versions of the draft that subsequently went to Working Group of Plenary, and then to Plenary, to work on.

Last minute work on Resolution 130 (cybersecurity)

The final text of the 2018 (English) version of Resolution 130 was 14 pages, with a total of 5,288 words. Even the title of the resolution contains a lot of words: “Strengthening the role of ITU in building confidence and security in the use of information and communication technologies”. It’s so darn long that most people just refer to it as “the cybersecurity resolution”. If you’re an ITU lifer, talking to other ITU lifers, then you just call it “Res 130”.

The sheer number of words in the proposed amendments to Resolution 130 were virtually unmanageable. If ITU plenipotentiaries didn’t operate on the basis of trying to work from regional, rather than individual country-based proposals, the situation would have been even worse. As it was, each of the five regional groups had submitted proposals to update the resolution, with one country-based proposal from Brazil on top of that.

With only six proposals, though, how did the conference end up with 56 pages of consolidate proposal texts? Partially, it’s because cybersecurity is a very hot topic, and there are very different views within ITU’s Member States about how ITU, and the world generally, should be going about strengthening cybersecurity. Partially it’s because the previous version of the resolution, from 2014, already had a lot of words (3,765 to be exact), and so there were lots of existing sentences that different regions could find issue with, and feel the need to propose amendments to.

It seems that the only way to resolve differing viewpoints on a hot topic like cybersecurity is to add a lot more text that sort of reflects each of the different viewpoints, but not in way that satisfies any of the view holders, resulting in the next plenipotentiary conference receiving yet more proposals to amend the seemingly inadequate text that grudgingly received consensus at the previous plenipotentiary.

ITU, and other intergovernmental agencies, often view the result of a negotiation where “everyone is equally unhappy” as a successful outcome. But I suspect the reality is that what it often does is simply generate more proposals, more debate, and larger versions of the target resolution at the subsequent meeting.

To test my suspicion, I have analyzed the growth of ITU Plenipotentiary resolutions related to the Internet and the information/knowledge society – highly divisive topics these days – and compared them to a handful of other Plenipotentiary resolutions. I’ve included a table including the word counts for all resolutions referred to in this article at the end of the article.

The quartet of Internet-related resolutions

The four key Internet-related resolutions of Plenipotentiary are:

  • Resolution 101: Internet Protocol-based networks
  • Resolution 102: ITU’s role with regard to international public policy issues pertaining to the Internet and the management of Internet resources, including domain names and addresses
  • Resolution 133: Role of administrations of Member States in the management of internationalized (multilingual) domain names
  • Resolution 180: Promoting deployment and adoption of IPv6 to facilitate the transition from IPv4 to IPv6

These four are generally seen as a “package” and are discussed within the same Ad Hoc Group at ITU Plenipotentiaries. Each of the four resolutions contains the famous footnote from the 2010 Plenipotentiary that define “relevant organizations involved in the development of IP-based networks and the future Internet in the context of emerging telecommunications/ICTs” as:

“Including, but not limited to, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the regional Internet registries (RIRs), the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the Internet Society (ISOC) and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), on the basis of reciprocity”.

Negotiations on these Internet-related resolutions are always fraught and reflect wider geo-political differences on what the ideal international and national governance systems should be. The reality is, though, that only a dozen or so Member States are truly active throughout the negotiations. Others jump in from time to time, either to support the interventions of the representative(s) of their regional group or to comment on an issue they as a Member State have a strong position on. Most Member States remain silent in the room, either because they don’t have a strong (or any) position on the proposals or they have a position that conflicts somewhat with their regional group’s official position, so remain silent for the greater good of their regional group.

Below is a graph of how the word counts of these four Internet-related resolutions have grown since their creation (101 and 102 in 1998; 133 in 2002; 180 in 2010).

Word count growth of ITU Plenipotentiary resolutions on Internet-related issues

On average, the four resolutions have grown by 360 words each time they’ve been updated at a Plenipotentiary. (Resolution 101 wasn’t updated in 2002.)

Taken together, Plenipotentiary resolutions on Internet-related issues have grown from a total of 1,225 words, in two resolutions in 1998, to 8,315 words, in four resolutions in 2018. Plenipotentiary delegates are having to wade through almost seven times as many words written in Internet resolutions now as they had to back in 1998.

Resolutions on the information/knowledge society

The four resolutions below aren’t grouped as a single “information/knowledge society” package of resolutions at Plenipotentiaries. But I’ve grouped them as such because, with the exception of the cybersecurity resolution, they were all created in the wake of the two-phase World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). The cybersecurity resolution gained speed after WSIS, so I’ve included it here. The four resolutions in this section are:

  • Resolution 130: Strengthening the role of ITU in building confidence and security in the use of information and communication technologies
  • Resolution 140: ITU’s role in implementing the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as well as in their follow-up and review processes
  • Resolution 179: ITU’s role in child online protection
  • Resolution 197: Facilitating the Internet of Things and smart sustainable cities and communities

Below is a graph of how the word counts of these four resolutions have grown since their creation (130 in 2002; 140 in 2006; 179 in 2010; and 197 in 2010).

Word growth of ITU Plenipotentiary resolutions related to the Information Society

Given the relatively short time the above resolutions have been around, it’s hard to draw strong conclusions about the long-term growth of these resolutions, but the same trend to accumulate text as shown by the Internet resolutions appears to be happening here, too. The average rate of word growth for each plenipotentiary that these four resolutions has been updated at is 819 words. The cybersecurity resolution, 16 years after it was first created, is now 16 times as large as it originally was. It only took four plenipotentiaries after its original creation to expand to 16 times its initial word length.

Note that the WSIS resolution word count actually went down this year. That’s in line with the reduction of word counts in the WSIS/ICT for Development (ICT4D) resolutions approved by Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the UN General Assembly (UNGA). In all three cases, the first WSIS/ICT4D resolution adopted after the UNGA WSIS+10 review held in 2015 was significantly shorter than the version of the resolution adopted before that review. (More on the ECOSOC and UNGA resolutions later in this article.)

Other ITU Plenipotentiary 2018 resolutions for comparison

My choice of the five resolutions below wasn’t particularly scientific. I was looking for resolutions that had been updated in 2018 and had been around for a long time, so were likely to be on non-Internet/Information Society-related issues, and therefore influenced by the same geo-political divisions that plague the Internet and WSIS issues. Instead, I was hoping to see if other geopolitical factors might influence the growth, or otherwise, of these resolutions. The five resolutions I selected were:

  • Resolution 2: World telecommunication/information and communication technology policy forum
  • Resolution 30: Special measures for the least developed countries, small island developing states, landlocked developing countries and countries with economies in transition
  • Resolution 64: Non-discriminatory access to modern telecommunication/information and communication technology facilities, services and applications, including applied research and transfer of technology, and e-meetings, on mutually agreed terms
  • Resolution 66: Documents and publications of the Union
  • Resolution 70: Mainstreaming a gender perspective in ITU and promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women through telecommunications/information and communication technologies

As you’ve probably noticed by now, ITU Member States certainly have a knack for developing really snappy titles for resolutions. In a lot of cases, titles started off short and clear, but as more and more ideas have been inserted into specific resolutions, the titles have been expanded to reflect this. In short, general resolution bloat is reflected in title bloat.

Below is a graph of how the word counts of these five long-standing resolutions have grown since their creation (all but Resolution 70 were around in 1994).

Word growth of a selection of ITU Plenipotentiary resolutions not specifically about the Internet or Information Society

Resolution 64 is basically about the impact of sanctions on ICT development and use by sanctioned countries, so it’s a pretty sensitive topic, but even that hasn’t led to the resolution expanding at anywhere near the rate of the Internet or Information Society related resolutions.

In contrast, the gender resolution (70) has expanded significantly in the last two plenipotentiaries. It went from 1,787 words in 2010, to 3,079 words in 2014, to 3,681 words this year. For reasons that I fully don’t understand, gender equality has become a highly contentious topic, with some Member States objecting to ITU spending time on this issue, arguing it’s more important for ITU to prioritise equal regional participation. To me, it feels very odd for Member States to be arguing about this, given ITU’s involvement in EQUALS, amongst other gender initiatives, and the wider UN Sustainable Development Goal 5, on gender equality, that all UN Member States have signed on to, but as always, what a Member State may promote in one UN process may be very different to their stance on the same issue in a different UN process. Go figure.

Removing the outlying Resolution 70 from this bundle of older resolutions, the average word increase for the remaining four resolutions at each plenipotentiary that they’ve been updated is 106 words. The resolutions are still growing, but very, very slowly.

The general trend for Internet and Information Society resolutions to bloat

As the graph below shows, there’s an increasing number of resolutions on Internet and Information Society-related issues being created, those resolutions are generally being updated at each subsequent plenipotentiary (many of the early ITU resolutions haven’t been updated in years), and the trend is for them to get bigger each time they’re updated.

Word growth of Internet and Information Society-related ITU Plenipotentiary resolutions

For quick reference, here are size comparisons for the above resolutions, showing word count at the time of their original creation, and their size after being updated at Plenipotentiary 2018:

Comparison of word growth in ITU Plenipotentiary resolutions related to the Internet and Information Society

Notice that the closer to the left side of the bar chart that a resolution is, the larger the relative increase in words. This is because the older the resolution, the more plenipotentiaries it’s been through, and the more chances there have been for Member States to add more content to the resolutions.

Also, as shown in the bar chart below, there’s a general trend for Internet, Information Society, and the newer digital applications and services resolutions that arose during the 2018 Plenipotentiary to start life with a larger number of words.

General trend in growth of initial word count for ITU Plenipotentiary resolutions related to the Internet, Information Society and digital applications and services

In the above bar chart, please note that what I’m calling the digital applications and services resolutions (Over-The-Top services (OTTs), Digital Economy and Society, and Bridging the Digital Financial Gap) don’t have resolution numbers yet. Because they are so new, they currently are only identified by their Working Group of Plenary resolution numbers, not by the larger schedule of Plenipotentiary resolution numbers. Rather than use the temporary Working Group of Plenary numbers, I’ve chosen just to refer to their subjects.

The above chart only refers to 11 resolutions, so is not a particularly large pool of data with which I can conclude that there are strong trends, but there is an overall emerging trend for resolutions in the Internet/Information Society/digital applications and services space to start life in more words as the years have passed, particularly if you remove the two extremely high starting-word-count resolutions, 140 (from 2006) and 179 (from 2010).

How do Plenipotentiary resolutions on Internet and Information Society issues compare to similar resolutions in other UN forums?

Below are the two best-known resolutions related to the Internet and the Information Society:

  • Information and communications technologies for sustainable development (UNGA resolution)
  • Assessment of the progress made in the implementation of and follow-up to the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society (ECOSOC resolution drafted by the Commission on Science and Technology for Development)

These two resolutions are developed annually, so are an interesting contrast to the quadrennial drafting of ITU’s plenipotentiary resolutions. The changing word count of these two resolutions are shown in the graph below:

Word growth of UNGA and ECOSOC resolutions on WSIS and ICT4D

There are two dips visible for both resolutions in the graph above. One is associated with resolutions in the wake of the final phase of WSIS in 2005:

 

  • The first resolution at ECOSOC after WSIS was ECOSOC’s first ever resolution on WSIS (2006), so was rather long on explanation. The following year (2007), it was tightened up considerably, resulting in the big drop in its word count. As various governments started to realize that the outcomes from the 2005 WSIS weren’t going to solve all the ICT issues they’d hoped WSIS would solve, negotiations ramped up again, and the word count of the 2008 version of the ECOSOC resolution on WSIS increased.
  • It seems that UNGA had hoped that WSIS would solve all their ICT issues, too, as there was no ICT4D resolution from UNGA in 2005 or in 2006. Instead, UNGA issues resolutions related to the holding of WSIS. By the time they resumed the ICT4D resolution in 2007, their effort was entirely about pushing off ICTs to ECOSOC in a very short, 260-word resolution. When that didn’t seem to work, negotiations started back up, and word count started going up again (1283 in 2008).

The other dip is related to UNGA WSIS+10 High Level Meeting held in 2015:

  • The ECOSOC WSIS resolution preceded the UNGA event, so the word count increased in 2015, but then dipped in 2016, as CSTD Member States (who draft the resolution) debated how best to update the ECOSOC resolution. Very little was agreed on, so very little new material went in, but common sense meant that Member States could agree to take out the existing text talking about preparations for the WSIS+10 event, which was clearly out of date in 2016.
  • The UNGA ICT4D resolution in 2015 was basically a placeholder resolution, as Member States had been focused on producing the WSIS+10 resolution from the UNGA High Level Meeting that preceded the ICT4D resolution by only a matter of days. In 2016, though, Member States went back to arguing about what the WSIS+10 resolution meant, and the word count of the ICT4D resolution went back up again.

Below is a comparison of the total word counts of the original versus latest versions of the ECOSOC and UNGA resolutions:

Total growth in word count for the UNGA and ECOSOC resolutions, based on first and most recent versions of the resolutions

The UNGA resolution has been updated 14 times – it skipped 2005 and 2006, and negotiations on the 2018 version are not likely to conclude until just before the end of December. The ECOSOC resolution, which is actually four years younger than its UNGA counterpart, has been updated 13 times.

The average rate of word growth for each UNGA section that the ICT4D resolution has been updated at is 303 words. For the ECOSOC WSIS resolution, it’s 288 words.

This means that both the UNGA and ECOSOC resolutions are growing at a slower average pace per update than the Internet-related resolutions (at an average of 360 words per plenipotentiary) and Information Society resolutions (at an average of 819 words per plenipotentiary).

Plenipotentiary resolutions on Internet and Information Society issues still have a word count lower than their UNGA and ECOSOC counterparts, but are growing at a fast rate each time they’re updated

With the exception of ITU Plenipotentiary Resolution 130, cybersecurity, the other older Internet and Information Society resolutions (that is, ones that were created in 2006 or earlier) are still smaller than their UNGA and ECOSOC counterparts:

Total growth in word count for Internet and Information Society-related resolutions from ITU, UNGA and ECOSOC

But given there are fewer opportunities to update plenipotentiary resolutions (only once every four years, the general rate of growth for the ITU resolutions on Internet and Information Society issues is a little alarming. Below is a graph showing how much larger, compared to their original size, resolutions have been getting, per update, for the Internet and Information Society related resolutions at ITU, UNGA and ECOSOC:

Average word count growth per update of Internet and Information Society-related resolutions at ITU, UNGA and ECOSOC

The Plenipotentiary’s cybersecurity is the clear “winner” here, but it’s apparent that all five of the oldest Internet/Information Society resolutions are growing at a faster rate per update than either the UNGA or ECOSOC resolutions.

What causes resolution bloat?

There are a number of factors:

  • General conservativism in the negotiation process means that when old text is proposed to be deleted, it often isn’t. For example, in Dubai a proposed deletion of a reference to telex in Resolution 133 (IDNs) was opposed as, despite the fact that telex is basically unused technology these days, it is important to continue to recognize ITU’s role in standardizing the use of non-Latin characters in telex. Similarly, Resolution 140 (WSIS) still contains a thank you to the hosts of the two phases of WSIS, which were held back in 2003 and 2005, despite a proposal to delete the thank you message. When you don’t delete the outdated text, but keep adding more up-to-date text, the resolution bloats.
  • Highly contentious issues lead to needing to include references to highly divergent perspectives, but in much watered-down form. The watering down enables holders of opposing viewpoints to accept the inclusion of views they would otherwise not be able to accept, but it also ensures that it doesn’t meet the goals of the original proponents. The result is a lot of text which doesn’t really meet anyone’s goals, leading to many of the Member States re-proposing what they originally wanted at the subsequent plenipotentiary. And because of the contentiousness of the topic, the cycle repeats, and repeats, and repeats.
  • To justify adding more actions in the operative part of a resolution (the “resolves”, “instructs”, “encourages” and “urges” parts) there’s a trend to add more explanatory text to the preamble (the “notes”, “recognizing”, “aware”, “recalling”, etc., parts). For contentious topics, this means that the preamble can bloat significantly, as Member States argue for inclusion of references to other resolutions and activities. For example, the 2018 version of Resolution 130 (cybersecurity) refers to a whopping 17 other resolutions and outcome documents under “recalling”, 18 contributory factors under “considering”, and countless other activities and references to resolutions in the rest of the preamble, all to justify the presence of 12 “resolves”, 37 “instructs” (directed at the Secretary-General and various Directors of the Bureaux), and 13 “invites” (directed at Member States, Sector Members and Associates) and one “requests” (to the Council).
  • There’s a trend to add more and more sub-issues to the topic of a resolution over time. This leads to more text for each of those new dimensions. For example, Resolution 102 was only about the management of the DNS and IP addresses until 2006. In 2006, to take into account the outcomes of the WSIS process, the concept of “international public policy issues pertaining to the Internet” and “enhanced cooperation” were added to the resolution. In turn, this led to the Council Working Group on International Internet-related Public Policy Issues cropping up in the 2010 version of the resolution (between the 2006 and 2010 plenipotentiaries, the ITU Council had created a Dedicated Group on International Internet-related Public Policy Issues). At some point, a resolution may get so weighed down with expanding sub-issues that it may give birth to a brand-new baby resolution. But that hasn’t happened yet with either Resolution 102, or Resolution 130 (cybersecurity).
  • Member States will often try and insert text into a resolution that they hope will be able to help them in another forum. For example, there’s quite a lot of interplay between ITU resolutions on WSIS and the Internet and the ECOSOC resolution on WSIS follow-up. If a Member State can add some advantageous text into a resolution of a forum that is more favourable to their views, they can then use that to justify a proposal of theirs in a forum where their views may come up against more opposition; at that point, the Member State can point to the other forum’s resolution and say “but forum X considers this a vital issue, so this forum must too”.

When all these factors converge, you end up with extreme bloating cases like Resolution 70 (gender) and Resolution 130. But sometimes, the contentiousness of the issue can be so overwhelming, it results in absolutely no changes to a resolution at all (for example, Resolution 45, on cybersecurity, at the World Telecommunication Development Conference in Buenos Aires last year); this may mean no bloat, but it also means more lingering bad feeling between Member States.

Does it matter if ITU Plenipotentiary resolutions on Internet and Information Society resolutions are bloating over time?

It does matter if the trend continues, because larger resolutions provide more opportunities for Member States to find issue with the various parts of the text and therefore propose more amendments, which not only leads to the need for more negotiations, but also to yet more text being added to the resolution.

Also, a larger a resolution tends to have more moving parts – that is, they include more references to other resolutions and activities in their preambles (“noting”, “recalling”, emphasizing”, etc.), and more actions in their operative parts (“resolves”, “instructs”, invites”). As the referenced existing resolutions and activities are updated—and often expanded—elsewhere, it encourages Member States to also change/expand the scope of the resolution that refers to them, both in terms of elaborating on those updates in the preamble, as well as proposing additional actions in the operational section that align with those related resolutions and activities.

Another problem that results from the increasing number of interlinked resolutions happens when the interlinked resolutions are all being updated at the same Plenipotentiary, leading to multiple parallel resolution drafting sessions waiting on each other’s outcomes to make updates to their own resolutions. Or more alarming, multiple parallel resolution drafting sessions taking related pieces of text in different directions.

Member State only have a finite three weeks to resolve all their differences at ITU Plenipotentiary Conferences. The length of the plenipotentiary is unlikely to be extended any time soon (in fact, their current length has shrunk from four weeks and longer in the past), meaning that the only way to fit in the need for more time for each of the bloated resolutions to be discussed is to schedule more parallel sessions as well as more, and longer, night-time and weekend sessions.

The problem with doing this, however, is that most Member State delegations are fairly small and don’t have enough delegates with the appropriate expertise to spread themselves across multiple parallel sessions discussing resolutions on related issues.

In addition, scheduling sessions well into the night (and next morning) as well as throughout the weekends results in highly fatigued delegates who are vulnerable to irritability that can reduce progress in negotiations as well as lead to general brain fog that can lead to less-than-optimal decision-making.

ITU isn’t the only intergovernmental agency, or even the only policy-making process, to encounter many of the factors that lead to resolution bloat, or to have to then deal with the increasing levels of stress that its delegates are put under to try and resolve significant differences of opinion on increasingly bloated documents. What’s unique for ITU is the fact that digital issues are becoming increasingly important to all of the world’s activities—be they economic, social, cultural, political, environmental or developmental—meaning that the probability of ITU continuing to have a perfect storm of factors leading to bloating resolutions will remain high, and contribute to increasingly difficult negotiations that result in resolutions that are increasingly too labyrinthine and opaque to understand.

Drafting the WSIS resolution for ECOSOC at the CSTD 19th Session

The 19th Session of the Commission for Science and Technology (CSTD) was held in Geneva, 9-13 May. At each of its annual sessions, the Commission drafts two resolutions for the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC):

  • Draft Resolution on Science, Technology and Innovation (2016 draft adopted by CSTD)
  • Draft resolution on the Assessment of the progress made in the implementation of and follow-up to the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society (2016 draft adopted by CSTD)

These resolutions use the previous year’s ECOSOC resolutions as starting points. ECOSOC has the ability to amend the resolutions when they consider them during their annual sessions, but in reality, it tends to rubber stamp what the Commission has submitted.

Please note that this blog post focuses on the WSIS implementation resolution as it is the set of negotiations that I followed last week.

Participation in the CSTD: its 43 Member States are not the whole story

The CSTD has 43 Member States. These Member States are chosen by the 54 Member States of ECOSOC. The UN General Assembly has 193 Member States. Therefore, the ECOSOC resolutions on science and technology and WSIS implementation are developed by a UN agency that contains just over one-fifth of all UN Member States. In practice, though, any Member State can participate in the CSTD’s development of the draft resolutions. CSTD membership only matters if things need to go to a vote. And the general feeling is that if things need to go to the vote, it basically means the process has failed. So, to date, there has never been a vote on CSTD’s draft resolutions.

As well as all UN Member States, the CSTD allows a number of non-governmental entities to participate in its work, including those with WSIS accreditation or ECOSOC accreditation. At the 19th Session, representatives from ITU, UNESCO, UN Women and UN DESA, staff members from ICC BASIS, ICANN, ISOC, and APC were present, as well as a researcher from the University of Essex and a small business operator (mCADE LLC). I attended under the ARIN banner. There were also some other faces present that I did not recognize.mics

Non-Member States have gradually been able to participate more fully in the drafting negotiations over the past few years, at the discretion of the chair of the negotiations. This year, the chair of the WSIS-related negotiations (Canada) was very receptive to the inputs of non-government participants and regularly called on any non-government participant who raised their flag (what you and I would call a large “tent card” if we weren’t in a UN meeting). In addition, rather than making the non-government participants trudge around the corridors in the breaks, hoping to find a Member State willing to “adopt” their proposed text as their own (and therefore making it possible to appear as part of the official compilation draft), the Chair, after a non-government representative had presented their idea, would ask, on the spot, if any government in the room was willing to sponsor/adopt the proposal.

The starting point: the 2015 ECOSOC WSIS resolution

Last year’s WSIS implementation resolution was adopted by plenary at the unusually early hour of 6:40 pm on May 10. Previous years had dragged on well past midnight, and on at least one occasion ending at 2:30 am on the Saturday morning. Usually, the Internet-related parts of the resolution were the biggest sticking points. The only reason that the CSTD’s draft of the 2015 WSIS resolution was adopted so early was that it had become very clear that there would be no agreement to proposed changes to the resolution. At issue was the fact that some Member States had wanted to add forward looking text to the resolution, looking beyond the WSIS+10 anniversary toward the next phase of implementation, while others believed it was premature to make decisions before the UN General Assembly had completed its 10-year review of the WSIS (in December 2015). Late on the Friday afternoon, it was very clear that there was not going to be any possibility of compromise between those two positions.

The only possible solution – other than to not have a resolution at all – was to stick with the 2014 resolution, just with updated dates and names/numbers of annual meetings and resolutions referenced in the resolution. Everyone agreed that substantive changes would be deferred until after the WSIS+10 UN General Assembly (UNGA) had been decided.

Optimism in action: 2016 zero draft assumes WSIS+10 and SDGs will be reflected in the 2016 resolution

The zero draft sent to Member States highlighted sections of the text that may have been useful to consider updating in the wake of the WSIS+10 resolution at UNGA (December 2015) and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (September 2015) being adopted.

However, in hindsight, it was perhaps a little ambitious in its expectations that Member States would want to overhaul the complicated, often redundant, text that had built up over many years of compromises that allowed the resolutions to be passed, if not to make particular sense to anyone who hadn’t been in the room at the time.

States are divided on the way forward

Pro-overhaul parties

The Western European and Others Group (WEOG) were keen to start afresh and streamline the resolution and make the issues it contained clearer and more succinct. For WEOG states, the resolution had become overly complicated and unreadable. Because of the difficulties in previous years’ negotiations, it had built up a considerable amount of text about events and activities that had long since been held or begun. For the WEOG states, it was more important to focus on the future, particularly since they viewed the WSIS+10 UNGA resolution as a kind of “reset” button on WSIS activities.

Pro-“keep existing text” parties

Many of the developing countries were suspicious of WEOG proposals to delete paragraphs and replace them with merged, shorter text on the same issues. For those developing countries, there was consternation that the deletions seemed overwhelmingly related to text aimed at the challenges faced by developing countries and that deletion of this text would disadvantage them. In addition, for governments who felt that the existing resolution was to their advantage, deletion of text from that resolution would mean risking their ability to maintain an advantage in the new text. Finally, some states were concerned that there was not enough time to update the text. It is certainly true that unlike other UN bodies and processes, where governments submit their proposed changes weeks or months in advance, CSTD’s process is very truncated, with governments only submitting their edits the week of the CSTD session, leaving a maximum of 2.5 days to negotiate together on the text. However, it is also symptomatic of UN glacial slowness that the UN can pass two major resolutions that set the way forward for development and ICT for the next 10-15 years but one of its subordinate bodies chooses not to incorporate those big changes in a resolution designed to monitor the implementation of one of those processes.

Key areas of difference

As usual, Internet governance was a big area of contention.

Enhanced cooperation

The composition of the second Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation (WGEC 2.0), announced during the WSIS Forum 2016, particularly problematic. Developing countries felt that their interests were being sidelined in the final lineup of the working group. The overwhelming majority of the intergovernmental and international organizations and the technical and academic community representatives were from the developed north. In addition, for the CSTD regional groups that had had a very difficult time in nominating only four states to represent them on the WGEC, it was hard to accept that the WEOG and African Group had five members each (WEOG had such a hard time that the Chair of the CSTD, Peter Major of Hungary, had to choose the final member). The fifth member of those two groups was a result of Switzerland (CSTD membership ends 2016) and Tunisia (not a CSTD member) being the hosts of the WSIS process, 2003-2005. However, if you were a state that had missed out because you weren’t a CSTD member now, or wouldn’t be a CSTD member for the entire life of the WGEC, the inclusion of these two states could be seen as a bit of an insult. Therefore, there was a big push to allow all UN 193 Member States to be able to participate on an equal footing, should they wish to participate, in the working group. There was an equally big push, however, from the other side, which pointed out that the WSIS+10 resolution had left it up to the WGEC itself to decide its modalities – not the CSTD.

IGF

IGF supporters wanted to add text that mentioned some of the progress made in improving the IGF, such as the inter-sessional work on policy options to connect the next billion, the Best Practice Forums and Dynamic Coalitions. Those less supportive of IGF thought that this was unnecessary detail for the ECOSOC resolution.

Development was also a big issue.

Activities aimed at addressing the needs of developing countries

WEOG states had tried to consolidate various sections of the past resolution so that all development-related material would be shorter, less distributed throughout different parts of the text, and easier for people to understand. However, many states from the developing world felt that the proposals to consolidate the text were removing subtle, but important, nuances in the development oriented text. WEOG states said they had no intention of deleting anything important and, during the negotiations, had been working to update their proposed texts to incorporate elements that the developing states had said were vital to them. However, with the limited time available, there just wasn’t the time to complete this exercise to everyone’s satisfaction.

A war of attrition: Member States and observers start leaving the room

late-night-negotiationsOnce 6 pm hit on Friday night, gradually, a number of the Member State representatives and some of the observers started leaving. Partially, this was because a number of the Member States were represented by their mission staff who were only there to observe, rather than be active participants. After 6 pm, for Member States who weren’t actively invested in the outcomes of the draft resolution, there really was no point in staying. Other Member States had multiple representatives in the room, and so didn’t need to have all their representatives stay on. Others simply had prioritized their lives over being stuck in small room eating vending machine supplies for dinner and had booked flights out of Geneva on Friday night. This meant that only the incredibly committed (and possibly certifiably insane) stayed on to the end.

Trying to find a consensus text on a Friday 13th, with a full moon, while exhausted and subsisting on caffeine and sugar

The nuclear option is proposed: Let’s dump it all

At around 1 am, one of the governments suggested that given the massive amounts of text left to work on, and the late hour, there needed to a decision to either hold a resumed session in a few weeks or to produce a massively truncated text that basically recalled the WSIS+10 and SDG resolutions and reaffirmed a commitment to implement the goals. Then, next year, the government representative said, we could embark on a longer preparatory process that could consider the various ways to develop a post-WSIS+10 resolution that met everyone’s needs.

The Chair proposes an alternative option: Tread water

In response to the nuclear option, the chair of the drafting group suggested that the group could adopt a different type of barebones resolution: this one would recall the 2015 ECOSOC resolution on WSIS (the one that was the 2014 ECOSOC resolution, just with updated dates and resolution and meeting references) as well as recall the SDG resolution, the WSIS+10 resolution, and request the Secretary General to submit his report to ECOSOC.

At this point, the chair of the drafting group called for a break while he consulted with various delegations about how to proceed.

A compromise solution: When all else fails, try a facilitator’s text

After a break that lasted just over an hour, the chair of the drafting group resumed the meeting with a new proposed way forward: a facilitator’s text. In the event that participants are having so much trouble reaching any form of consensus, a facilitator’s text can be the best way forward. The idea is that the facilitator/chair of the drafting negotiations could put together his/her own compromise version of a resolution based on her/his sense of what could gain consensus in the room.

This is how the WSIS+10 resolution at the UN General Assembly was drafted during the preparatory process last year in New York. Recognizing how very difficult the topic was, the two co-facilitators, United Arab Emirates and Latvia, “held the pen” throughout the drafting process, even though there were some attempts by some of the Member States to have direct control over the drafting.

In this CSTD case, the chair of the negotiations noted that the facilitator’s text would be based on:

  • Development language proposed by WEOG that had been largely agreed to already plus existing resolution language (but no other additions)
  • WSIS Action Lines text proposed by Russia (not yet looked at by the room at this point, but there had been agreement for Russia to go away and consolidate various proposals and existing texts on Action Lines and the WSIS Forum. This compilation text was truncated significantly by the facilitator, not because there was anything wrong with it, but simply to ensure that this section on Action Lines didn’t form the majority of the text of the resolution (given all other sections were reduced significantly as part of the general compromise)
  • Compromise text on enhanced cooperation developed by Brazil, which had facilitated informal discussions on that section on Thursday night.
  • Existing language on Internet governance, including the IGF (proposed new language had not been agreed to)

Text on the reporting mechanism from the CSTD to the ECOSOC High Level Political Forum would be deleted (many hours had been devoted to trying to understand what exactly CSTD reports consisted on and whether or not Member States could change the format of the reports that were sent to this particular High Level Political Forum).

Some other bits of text that had not had complete consensus were, in the spirit of compromise, were either kept in or deleted.

Finally, we get to go home, at 2:55 am on Saturday 14 May, all knowing we’ll probably repeat the experience next year

Not everyone in the room was happy with the resulting text, but there was widespread recognition that possibly, via this facilitator’s draft, everyone would be less unhappy than if we had continued with everyone’s hand on the drafting pen. One state – not a CSTD member – was particularly unhappy and made their position very clear. When the chair of the negotiations asked if all governments could accept the facilitator’s compromise text, all but that one state was willing to adopt the text. The state insisted that their reservation be included in the report of the meeting, which was agreed to.

In many ways, the fact that a non-CSTD Member State was able to have so much influence on the process and have their objection included in the outcomes of the meeting report shows how open the CSTD is to the participation of all Member States.

A number of non-CSTD Member States were at the meeting and did participate. Belarus, for example, was a non-CSTD member that was active in the WSIS negotiations as was Saudi Arabia. Australia was also present, but less active, given it is currently in caretaker mode (federal elections are at the start of July). The inclusion of more UN Member States, and of other accredited entities, in the CSTD’s work can only make its deliberations richer and more representative of the wider needs and requirements of those who are the purpose for the CSTD’s work to draft ECOSOC resolutions in the first place.

As one Member State repeatedly intervened to note during the WSIS negotiations, trying to reach consensus on the draft resolutions in less than a week is clearly an impossible task. As the issues of sustainable development and the role of ICTs become more and more politically important to the world, the process of drafting associated resolutions becomes more complicated and delicate. It remains to be seen if the CSTD changes its approach to drafting the 2017 ECOSOC resolution on WSIS implementation. CSTD only meets twice a year for a total time of less than two weeks. It also has a very streamlined secretariat provided by UNCTAD. Because of these factors, there is very little focus on the CSTD’s work for most of the year, and most governments do not assign specific liaisons to follow the CSTD’s work on WSIS. Instead, it’s the local mission-based staff who are sent. Or whoever has been assigned to work on ICTs and WSIS issues at ITU. This means that each time the CSTD meets to develop its WSIS resolution, it’s pretty much starting from scratch. Many of the participants don’t know each other and there is no thread of ongoing CSTD work throughout the year that binds people together. Unless ways to overcome these barriers are developed, we are likely to see similarly difficult negotiations in the WSIS implementation drafting in May 2017.

Deconstructing the WSIS+10 non-paper

Update: the non-paper is now available on the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) website for the preparatory process for the WSIS+10 review. The date for submissions of comments on the non-paper has also been extended from 14 September to 18 September. When this blog was originally published, the non-paper had not been published officially, but had been sent to the IGF 2015 MAG mailing list on preparations for the main session on WSIS+10.

First, if you want some background into what the non-paper is, who made contributions to it, and where it sits in the overall United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) preparatory process for the High Level Meeting on the WSIS+10 Review, see my other blog post, Background to the WSIS+10 non-paper.

The co-facilitators of the preparatory process have done a remarkable job of distilling almost 400 pages of contributions into just over 4 pages of the non-paper (not counting 2 pages of letters at the front). Unfortunately, unless you speak fluent UN-ese, even those 4 pages are likely to be a bit confusing.

First WSIS+10 preparatory meeting in New York, 1 July 2015

First WSIS+10 preparatory meeting in New York, 1 July 2015

A quick overview of the non-paper’s contents

Would you believe that the word “Internet” appears 15 times in the four and a bit pages compared to only 8 references to “ICTs” and 5 references to the “digital divide”? It seems that the World Summit on the “Information Society” has turned into 10-year review of the “Internet Society” (and no, I’m not talking about ISOC). This is both probably somewhat alarming to some stakeholders and also to be expected, given the Internet is becoming a fundamental tool for so much of the world’s activities these days.

In short, the non-paper says:

  • A lot has been achieved, but there is still much to do to bridge evolving forms of the digital divide.
  • ICTs can play a major role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Multistakeholder cooperation and engagement is supported.
  • There is a need for gender equality.[1]
  • There should be “universal Internet access” by 2030.
  • Governance of the Internet should involve all stakeholders.
  • There is a need for the internationalization of Internet governance, including the full implementation of enhanced cooperation.
  • Extend the mandate of IGF, but with a few things that need possible improvement.
  • Cooperate globally to combat cybercrime and cyber-threats.
  • Put more effort into financing ICT development activities.
  • There needs to be better data collection and analysis to better evaluate progress on WSIS issues.
  • Keep reviewing WSIS outcomes annually and have another review of WSIS in the future.

WSIS+10 non-paper reconstructed in plain English and bullet points

The WSIS+10 non-paper contains three main types of content:

  1. Basic statements of fact and/or general consensus beliefs about WSIS issues
  2. Principles that WSIS should follow
  3. Ways forward for post-2015 WSIS

Below is a summary of the suggested principles and post-2015 landscape. Please note that I have edited the text of the original non-paper for clarity and brevity. The headings, however, are straight from the non-paper.

Ways forward for post-2015 WSIS

Digital divide

  • Increase the number of women with Internet access.
  • Ensure:
    • ICTs are affordable and relevant
    • Content is available in different languages and formats that are accessible to all people
    • People have the capabilities to make use of ICTs.
  • Encourage all stakeholders to take measures to achieve universal Internet access by 2030.
  • Increase efforts in capacity building, technology transfer, and multilingualism.

ICT for development

  • Use ICTs as a critical enabler to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Internet governance

  • Further the internationalization of Internet governance, including:
    • Greater participation of developing countries
    • The full implementation of Enhanced Cooperation.
  • Extend the Internet Governance Forum‘s mandate for [x] years AND:
    • Consider the need for clearer terms of reference for IGF’s governing structure, working methods, and outcomes.
    • Continue building upon current efforts to ensure support for the participation of least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States.

Cyberspace

  • Increase global efforts and cooperation in combating cybercrime and countering cyber-threats.

Follow-up and review

  • Mobilize domestic public and private resources to spur ICT access and content creation, particularly in a wider range of languages.
  • Review the lack of progress in the Digital Solidarity Fund.
  • Encourage official development assistance and financial flows, including foreign direct investment, to developing countries that need the most assistance in achieving ICT goals.
  • More capacity building.
  • Give ICT a prominent profile in the new technology mechanism established by the Addis Ababa Action Agenda.
  • Prioritize cross-cutting technical challenges that affect the implementation of Tunis Agenda Action Lines, including:
    • The deployment of lPv6
    • The deployment of Internet Exchange Points
    • The resilience of international ICT networks and resources
  • Improve data collection and measurement so it’s easier to assess how well WSIS goals are being achieved.
  • Keep reviewing WSIS outcomes annually, and hold another overall review in the future.

Principles that WSIS should follow

Digital divide

  • Commit to mainstream gender in WSIS implementation, notably through the Action Lines.

Human Rights

  • The same rights that people have offline must also be protected online.
  • All human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development, to achieve the WSIS vision.
  • Respect freedom of expression, the independence of press and the right to privacy.
  • No person shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home, or correspondence,c onsistent with countries’ obligations under international human rights law.

ICT for development

  • Mitigate the environmental impacts of ICT use and growth.

Internet governance

  • Governance of the internet should be open, inclusive, and transparent, within the working definition of internet governance as ‘the development and application by governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet.
  • The management of the Internet encompasses both technical and public policy issues and should involve all stakeholder groups.

Cyberspace

  • Confidence- and security-building initiatives are important for the future of the information Society.

Follow-up and Review

  • The Addis Ababa Action Agenda and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provide an important framework for ICT policy and investment.
  • Public-private partnerships and universal access strategies, amongst other funding and financing approaches, are important ways to spur ICT access and content creation.
  • Capacity-building remains a primary focus.
  • Data collection and analysis is an important part of how WSIS goals are being achieved.

And to end with, a couple of observations

It is of potential concern that the non-paper differentiates between “cyberspace” and the “Internet”. “Cyberspace” is used as a catch-all term for Internet-related security issues. Is this a distinction that we really want to make? Do we want to be excluding security issues related to ICTs other than the Internet?

The inclusion of “cross-cutting technical challenges” in the non-paper demonstrates the increasingly blurred line between public policy (the responsibility of the Member States who will ultimately decide the contents of the final outcome document) and technical management of ICTs. This line was in reality always blurred, but when ICTs were less ubiquitous in the world, governments were less interested in exercising their rights to have a say in the possible public policy implications of those ICTs. But as stakeholders on the technical side of ICTs engage more with governments, there is also an expectation that governments will also engage more with non-government stakeholders as part of a two-way dialogue on the policy implications of technical issues. We are seeing this increasing expectation of greater interaction play out not only in the UNGA’s WSIS+10 process, but also in the ICANN accountability process that is currently underway.

Footnote

[1] Anyone who participated in the Multistakeholder Preparatory Process for the WSIS+10 High Level Event in Geneva in 2014 will remember how contentious proposed text about encouraging women’s participation in the Information Society was. The change in stance between Geneva and New York demonstrates how different Member State views can be depending on the forum.

Background to the WSIS+10 non-paper

Update: the non-paper is now available on the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) website for the preparatory process for the WSIS+10 review. The date for submissions of comments on the non-paper has also been extended from 14 September to 18 September.

At time of the original posting this blog, the non-paper had not officially been posted but a copy had been sent to the IGF 2015 MAG mailing list on preparations for the main session on WSIS+10.

When a paper is not a paper, but is actually a non-paper

Negotiations at the UN can obviously be highly political, so it can be advantageous to hold off publishing a formal input document (and the resultant skirmishing between States) as long as possible and instead publish an informal document to test the waters.

But, of course, the use of unofficial non-papers is so widespread, that it’s now a UN equivalent of the emperor’s new clothes: collectively, in public, everyone pretends that the non-paper is a harmless informal document but, in private, everyone actually puts just as much effort into responding to it as they would to an actual official draft.

The life of the WSIS+10 non-paper

Step 1: Call for contributions

wsis-co-facilitators

WSIS+10 co-facilitators, Jānis Mažeiks, Ambassador of Latvia & Lana Zaki Nusseibeh, Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates

The non-paper was developed by the co-facilitators of the UNGA WSIS+10 review process based on 74 submissions by governments and other stakeholders sent in during July 2015. The submission by G77 and China was given an extension due to the fact that the G77 consists of a whopping 134 governments.

Step 2: Find common ground among the submissions

The co-facilitators of the process then had to whittle down the 387 pages of contributions into a single document that ended up only being just over 4 pages long.

Step 3: Non-paper submitted to the President of the UNGA (PGA)

Although the non-paper is nominally an informal document, it still has to follow the formal protocol of being submitted to the PGA for approval and distributions.

Step 4: Non-paper is published and the comment period begins

The comment period ends 14 September, which gives stakeholders two weeks to comment. An online comment form will be available when the non-paper is formally published.

Step 5: Co-facilitators integrate comments on the non-paper to produce the “zero draft” of the final outcome document

Who would have thought that the world of UN diplomacy would have so much in common with software programmers? In both cases, they start a number sequence with zero, not one! Oddly, though, the UNGA WSIS world seems to have missed basic mathematics and skips one entirely, moving straight to draft two. The zero draft, which ups the ante for diplomatic negotiations in New York, is meant to appear at the end of September. However, given the non-paper missed the end of August deadline, it is quite possible that the zero draft due date may slip a little too. When the zero draft appears, the non-paper’s short life ends.

Following the publication of the zero draft, there will be another round of comments, followed by a second informal interactive stakeholder consultation in New York and a second preparatory meeting for UN Member States. For the full set of steps in the WSIS+10 process, see the Preparatory Process Roadmap.

Key statistics on submissions for the non-paper

  • 74 submissions received
  • 21 submissions from Member States
    • 174 Member States in total represented – group statements from the Group of 77 (G77), the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and the European Union (EU) bumped up the total number of States represented in the process
  • 26 from civil society
  • 9 from technical & academia
  • 9 from the private sector
  • 9 from intergovernmental organizations
  • 387 pages of contributions in total

A detailed look at who submitted

Because of the fluid nature of multistakeholderism, some governments and organizations chose to submit individual responses as well as be part of group responses. Below are the details of where contributions overlapped:

Governments

Seven G77 Member States chose to submit individual submissions as well as be part of the larger G77 submission:

The AOSIS contribution represented 35 G77 Member States as well as 2 non-G77 Members States, Palau and Tuvalu

  • Cuba is also a member of AOSIS, so is, in effect, represented in 3 submissions to the non-paper

One EU Member State chose to submit an individual submissions as well as be part of the larger EU submission:

Ten Member States submitted individual contributions and were not part of any collective contribution:

Civil society

The Association for Proper Internet Governance submitted an individual contribution and is also part of the Just Net Coalition.

Private sector

Telefonica and the Africa ICT Alliance submitted individual contributions and are also part of ICC BASIS.