Towards a protocol of protocols for multistakeholder collaboration and decision-making

By Jorge Cancio.

Principles of open and inclusive multistakeholder collaboration in digital governance are scattered in various foundational documents and declarations, but nowadays we lack an agreed set of principles that would guide multistakeholder collaboration and decision-making. This means that communities wishing to establish multistakeholder collaboration lack clear reference when doing so. It also means that some processes that lack fundamental multistakeholder features may be presented as “multistakeholder” in a sort of “white-washing” exercise.

This is an attempt to distill some main guidelines from existing foundational documents (WSIS Outcomes, NetMundial Statement, IGF Charter, etc.) as well as from current good practice and experience. The aim is to jointly develop a sort of “gold standard” or “protocol of protocols” that may serve national, regional, and global communities to establish and advance multistakeholder collaboration processes and mechanisms, as well as to assess processes and mechanisms that are presented as being multistakeholder.

The following suggested process principles and guidelines build especially on the 2014 Net Mundial Internet Governance Process Principles and try to concretize and complement them as much as possible:

  1. Participation: Encourage the active involvement of diverse stakeholders from government, civil society, private sector, technical community, academia, and users in digital governance processes.
  2. Transparency: Multistakeholder processes should be transparent, with clear communication of objectives, processes, and outcomes. Transparency fosters trust among stakeholders and ensures accountability for decisions made. Ensure transparency in multistakeholder processes by providing accessible and timely information about agendas, discussions, and outcomes of digital governance processes.
  3. Accessibility: Multistakeholder processes should be accessible to all stakeholders, regardless of their background, status, or level of expertise. This may involve providing information in multiple formats, languages, and channels to facilitate understanding and participation.
  4. Accountability: All stakeholders involved should be accountable for their actions and decisions within the multistakeholder process. This accountability helps maintain integrity and legitimacy in the multistakeholder process.
  5. Inclusivity: Multistakeholder processes should involve a diverse range of stakeholders representing different perspectives, interests, and expertise relevant to the issue at hand. This ensures that all relevant voices are heard and considered in the multistakeholder process. It requires to foster inclusivity by creating opportunities for meaningful engagement and participation of stakeholders from all regions, genders, cultures, and socioeconomic backgrounds.
  6. Empowerment: Multistakeholder processes should empower stakeholders by providing them with the necessary information, resources, and skills to participate effectively. Empowerment enhances stakeholders’ capacity to influence decisions and contribute to positive outcomes.
  7. Mutual Respect: Stakeholders should treat each other with respect, recognizing the value of diverse viewpoints and contributions. Mutual respect fosters a positive and productive atmosphere for collaboration, facilitating constructive dialogue and cooperation.
  8. Deliberation: Multistakeholder processes should involve informed and deliberative discussion among stakeholders, allowing for the exchange of diverse viewpoints, evidence-based arguments, and reasoned debate. Deliberation enhances the quality of multistakeholder and promotes consensus-building.
  9. Shared Responsibility: Stakeholders should share responsibility for the outcomes of the multistakeholder process, recognizing that collaboration and cooperation are essential for addressing complex challenges effectively.
  10. Rule of Law: Multistakeholder processes should be governed by the rule of law, with respect for constitutional principles, human rights, and legal frameworks. The rule of law ensures that decisions are made within established norms and procedures, safeguarding democracy and individual freedoms.
  11. Conflict Resolution and Consensus Building: Mechanisms for resolving conflicts and building consensus among stakeholders should be in place to ensure productive dialogue and decision-making. This involves active listening, negotiation, and compromise to reach mutually acceptable solutions. Strive for consensus-based multistakeholder processes that seek to accommodate the interests and concerns of all stakeholders involved.
  12. Flexibility and Agility: The process should be flexible and adaptable to changing circumstances, allowing for iterative adjustments based on feedback and evolving needs. This ensures that the multistakeholder process remains relevant and responsive over time. Embrace flexibility and agility in digital governance processes to adapt to evolving technologies, emerging issues, and changing geopolitical dynamics.
  13. Sustainability and Long-Term Orientation: Decisions should consider the long-term implications and sustainability of outcomes, taking into account environmental, social, and economic factors. This principle ensures that decisions contribute to long-term resilience and well-being.
  14. Capacity Building: Invest in capacity-building efforts to enhance the understanding, skills, and capabilities of stakeholders, particularly those from developing countries and underrepresented communities.
  15. Equity and Diversity: Multistakeholder processes should strive to treat all stakeholders fairly and equitably, considering their respective needs, capacities, and vulnerabilities. This principle ensures that power imbalances are addressed and marginalized voices are given due consideration. Promote equity and diversity in digital governance by addressing digital divides, ensuring equal access to information and resources, and promoting the inclusion of marginalized voices and communities.
  16. Global Multistakeholderism: Embrace a global multistakeholder approach to digital governance that recognizes the interconnectedness of digital issues and the need for collaborative action across national borders and stakeholder groups.

In addition, a potential “protocol of protocols” could include a list of process steps that are essential for an open and inclusive multistakeholder collaboration and decision-making process.

Based on experience from existing multistakeholder and inclusive processes, such process steps could be the following:

  1. Scope the issue/s: define the issue or set of issues to be considered by the multistakeholder collaboration process, considering as much as possible, all affected perspectives.
  2. Identify Stakeholders: Identify all relevant stakeholders, including individuals, groups, organizations, and communities affected by the decision or collaboration.
  3. Engage Stakeholders: Actively engage all interested stakeholders through methods such as public consultations, surveys, workshops, and forums to gather input and feedback.
  4. Share Information: Provide clear information about the process, objectives, and outcomes to ensure transparency and understanding among stakeholders.
  5. Ensure equitable participation: Ensure equitable participation of all relevant diverse perspectives and interests, including marginalized or underrepresented groups.
  6. Facilitate Dialogue: Facilitate open dialogue and collaboration among relevant stakeholders, encouraging respectful communication and consensus-building.
  7. Prepare draft outcomes: develop draft outcomes for consultation on the basis of the dialogue of relevant stakeholder.
  8. Consult draft outcomes: consult the draft outcomes with the wider community of all interested stakeholders.
  9. Factor in feedback from wider community: adapt the draft outcomes taking into account the inputs stemming from the consultation, laying down transparently how inputs were considered, and the corresponding reasons.
  10. Decision-making: use collaborative decision-making processes that involve all the relevant stakeholders in identifying solutions, exploring trade-offs, and reaching agreements.
  11. Community powers: submit final outcomes to the consideration of the wider community, providing for mechanisms empowering the wider community to react (by blocking and/or overturning them) to outcomes inconsistent with the wider community interests.
  12. Implement Decisions: Establish mechanisms for implementing decisions and holding stakeholders accountable for their commitments.
  13. Monitor and Adapt: Monitor progress, evaluate outcomes, and be willing to adapt the process based on feedback and changing circumstances.

NetMundial+10 is an excellent opportunity to making progress on the above elements. This article is but a modest contribution for such efforts.