Internet Governance Forum

by Anirudh Sridhar last modified Dec 03, 2013 10:29 AM
Anirudh Sridhar provides an analysis of the creation of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), its structure, and the importance of IGF in this unit.


IGF can be best described as the Forum which brings "people together from various stakeholder groups as equals, in discussions on public policy issues relating to the Internet. While there is no negotiated outcome, the IGF informs and inspires those with policy-making power in both the public and private sectors. At their annual meeting delegates discuss, exchange information and share good practices with each other. The IGF facilitates a common understanding of how to maximize internet opportunities and address risks and challenges that arise.

The IGF is also a space that gives developing countries the same opportunity as wealthier nations to engage in the debate on Internet Governance and to facilitate their participation in existing institutions and arrangements. Ultimately, the involvement of all stakeholders, from developed as well as developing countries, is necessary for the future development of the Internet."[1]

Creation of IGF

As it has been mentioned, IGF was first conceived in the Tunis Agenda. Article 72 of the Tunis Agenda laid the foundation of IGF. Article 72 lays down the mandate of the IGF. It asks the UN Secretary General to put in place an open and inclusive process and to convene a new forum for multi-stakeholder policy dialogue which would be known as IGF.

Past IGFs

The first IGF was organized in 2006 in Athens. Since then it has been held each year in various locations. In has been held in Rio de Janerio in 2007, Hyderabad in 2008, Sharm El Sheikh in 2009, Vilinius in 2010, Nairobi in 2011 and Baku in 2012. The IGF in 2013 is to be held in Bali.

Overarching themes at IGFs so far:

2006 and 2007 – Internet for development"
2008 – Internet for All
2009 – Internet Governance and creating opportunities for all
2010 – Developing the Future together
2011 – Internet as a Catalyst for Change: Access, Development, Freedoms and Innovation 2012 – "Internet Governance for Sustainable Human, Economic and Social Development".

The 2013 IGF has found strong support for two themes, "Building Bridges" and "Enhancing Multi-stakeholder Cooperation for Growth, Development and Human Rights".

Apart from the over-arching themes, it focuses on certain themes which have been discussed across all the IGFs:

  • Human Rights/ Freedom of speech
  • Security, Cybercrimes
  • Spam
  • Data protection and privacy
  • Consumers Rights, Network Neutrality
  • Intellectual Property Rights
  • Development (issues related to digital divide)
  • Open Standards
  • Capacity Building
  • Issues related processes and principles
  • E-commerce and e-governance


Structure of the IGF

The Secretariat of the IGF is based in the United Nations. The main function of the IGF is to coordinate with and assist the work of the Multi-stakeholder Advisory Group (MAG).  The MAG was first set up by Kofi Annan, Secretary General of UN in 2006. The main function of the MAG is to decide upon issues and themes which need to be addressed in each IGF. The MAG comprises of representation from all stakeholders and all regions.

The forum organizes and accommodates plenary sessions, workshops, open forums and best practices forums.

Dynamic Coalitions: The concept of dynamic coalitions was conceived in the first IGF in Athens, which are informal and issue-specific. It comprises of members from different stake holder groups. Currently there are ten active dynamic coalitions, for example, Dynamic Coalition on Accessibility and Disability, Internet Rights and Principles, and Child Online Safety, etc.

Importance of IGF

One of the main critiques of the IGF is that the outcomes of the IGF do not have any binding effect on the participating governments, industry, non-governmental and inter-governmental organizations. But such a process is said to discard the involvement of multi-stakeholder through use of coercive power which is the main feature of government regulation. In this regard, Jeremy Malcolm notes:

"The IGF’s output is explicitly “non-binding,” which means that the participation of states in the IGF process does not involve the use of coercive power as is a typical feature of government regulation. In fact since the process is to be “multilateral, multi-stakeholder, democratic and transparent” with “full involvement” of “all stakeholders involved in this process,” governments do not, at least in principle, enjoy any position of pre-eminence in policy formation through the IGF. Neither should they, if the IGF’s legitimacy and effectiveness are to be assured."[2]

[1]. What is Internet Governance Forun available at

[2]. Jeremy Malcolm, Multi-stakeholder Governance and the Internet Governance Forum, Terminus Press, 2008 at pp. 3.

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