Event Recap: McCourt Institute’s Constance Bommelaer de Leusse urges stakeholders to collaborate for internet governance at IGF 2022




On Friday, December 2, McCourt Institute’s executive director, Constance Bommelaer de Leusse, participated in a panel conversation held by the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) called “Move Fast and Fix Policy! Advocacy in an era of rapid change.” The hybrid discussion took place at the 17th annual IGF meeting hosted by the Government of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa. Daniel O’Maley, the Senior Digital Governance Specialist of the Center for International Media Assistance, moderated the panel.

You can view the full recorded discussion here.

The conversation featured panelists from across government and civil society, providing international perspectives on how internet governance is evolving and the pathway to putting strong mechanisms in place. Leaders in advocacy and civil society tuned in as the panelists deconstructed how to navigate a challenge that involves so many different stakeholders and the best way for them to work together to change the course of internet governance.

It is crucial to bring stakeholders together

The dialogue began with panelists emphasizing how quickly the information ecosystem is changing, and that stakeholders, ranging from the public and private sectors to civil society, need to align with each other in order to make policy progress. On the panel, de Leusse was joined by Mira Milosevic, executive director at the Global Forum of Media Development; Catherine Wanjiru Maya, a lawyer leading the digital rights department at Article 19 in Eastern Africa; and Paola Galvez, Peruvian lawyer and MPP candidate at University of Oxford.

“The key ingredient is trust,” de Leusse explained. Internet governance initiatives run into challenges when stakeholders approach the problem differently. The public sector struggles to keep pace with industry while the private sector needs guidance on building impartial policy proposals, and this is where cross-sector collaboration becomes crucial. “It’s important to have structures out there that are perfectly inclusive when it comes to having representatives from civil society, consumers, associations, youth, and academia.”    

The McCourt Institute works as a convener where this type of collaboration can take place. “At the McCourt Institute, this is our goal — to work in partnership with academia and other stakeholders,” de Leusse said. The institute is an extension of Project Liberty, a multidisciplinary initiative that invites technologists, policymakers, business leaders, and civil society to build a new civic architecture for the internet using Web3 technology. The ultimate goal is to remake an internet with democratic values. Its integrated solution, the Decentralized Social Networking Protocol (DSNP), is an open-source protocol to empower users to own their own data and its economic value.

“The culture is evolving,” says de Leusse. “Public sector leaders are now fully aware of the necessity to include industry and civil society at the table to be able to produce effective policies that are legitimate.”

Moving fast to fix policy

Once parties are aligned and moving in the same direction, its crucial to leverage momentum to enact change. Audience members questioned the challenges that lay ahead, particularly how stakeholders can act to quickly shift policy.

de Leusse highlighted, above all, there needs to be an ongoing effort to educate decision makers and the general public on these issues. “It’s important that we concentrate some of our efforts and resources in empowering people very concretely through e-learning programs, through fellowships, through briefing sessions with parliamentarians: any action that can equip from a knowledge point of view those who need to make decisions.”

The more knowledgeable and inspired voices involved, the better. The community is already seeing headway in how different stakeholders work with one another. There are more opportunities than ever for creating innovative solutions. “It’s something we’re going to have to continue nurturing, asking for, and improving upon,” de Leusse said. “Organizations like the McCourt Institute have been training hundreds of individuals, whether students, policymakers, industry leaders who actually design policy through technology.”