Submission to Brazil meeting committees on deliberative processes for the Brazil meeting

by Anja Kovacs

The Internet Democracy Project has supported a submission made through the Best Bits platform by civil society organisations from around the world to the organisers of the NETmundial meeting in Brazil in April 2014. The submission follows-up on an earlier letter on related issues by suggesting a range of concrete procedures that can be adopted by the meeting to facilitate purposeful deliberation and focused outcomes. The full list of signatories to the current submission can be found here.

To: Executive Multistakeholder Committee, cc: Logistics and Organizational Committee

When the Brazil meeting was officially announced, it was stated that The purpose of that meeting is to pursue consensus about universally accepted governance principles and to improve their institutional framework.” This objective will not be achieved without adopting specific procedures that can facilitate both the development of such consensus, and its accurate measurement.

As the Brazil meeting’s organisers are free to experiment with such procedures, an important opportunity to achieve these objectives and to thus transcend the constraints of the IGF in particular, caused by its location within the UN system, now exists. Indeed, Brazil has an admirable track record in this regard, having proposed innovative online collaboration mechanisms such as edemoc​ra​cia​.cama​ra​.gov​.br and cul​tur​a​dig​i​tal​.br.

In this spirit, we wish to offer some suggestions on the procedures to be adopted by the meeting that can facilitate purposeful deliberation and help to narrow down the meeting’s conclusions on both governance principles and on changes to the institutional framework. In general these suggestions are examples of mechanisms of deliberative democracy, which is a field dedicated to producing decisions that reflect the informed deliberations of a diverse group of affected stakeholders. Rather than just consultation, we could call this participation 2.0″.

Whatever mechanisms are used to facilitate this should work online and offline, or at least the online and offline mechanisms should be mutually supportive and well integrated.

For online deliberation, the edemoc​ra​cia​.cama​ra​.gov​.br portal could be adapted for use in a multi-lingual version, that would allow proposals to be opened for comment so that they could be refined and improved in advance of the Brazil meeting. Alternatively, there are other online tools that offer even more flexibility in turning discussions into well-informed consensus outcomes, such as AthenaBridge (athenabridge​.com). This would be far more useful and a better use of resources than merely allowing the upload of static text.

Similarly for the meeting in São Paulo, there should not simply be a parade of speeches, but rather a very actively facilitated process that is designed to distill the ideas of those present into a manageable set of proposals, to expose those proposals to reasoned deliberation, and to assess their acceptability to a diverse group of stakeholders. Just one of the techniques that can be used to accomplish this is called Dotmocracy (dotmoc​ra​cy​.org).

Whilst some have expressed doubt that the Brazil meeting will be able to provide solutions rather than merely offering an opportunity for discussion, we believe that this assumption should be challenged. In fact there is much evidence from large scale deliberative democratic processes already carried out around the world, that even a large meeting such as that planned for Brazil can produce useful outcomes that reflect a broad and well-informed consensus.

Such successful outcomes will require proper facilitation and the use of tools and techniques that although successfully used elsewhere, have not yet entered wide use in Internet governance. We therefore encourage you to make these tools and techniques a central feature of the Brazil meeting and its preparatory processes. Experts in deliberative democratic theory and practice, in both online and offline modes, could also be consulted as necessary where gaps in the committee’s own expertise may exist.