Multistakeholderism: Old Power Relations in a fancy new coat or something new to the table?

Make an attempt to attend an “internet governance” initiative without considering the concept multistakeholderism. It’s impossible. Tweets and updates from the recent Internet Governance Forum open consultations and the WSIS+10 event in February as well as the currently ongoing ICANN debates in Beijing illustrate the big buzz word value of the concept. You can’t avoid it. “Multistakeholderism” is the word.


The general acceptance of the Multistakeholder model as a key principle for internet governance and the buzz-popularity of the concept, does not only say something about the model per se. It exhibits a general paradigm shift in policy-making and governance towards more participatory and democratic governance models that we can only admire. However, is the multistakeholder model in its specific contemporary form the solution? Much is still left to be explored when it comes to the power dynamics within present day multistakeholder initiatives such as the annual Internet Governance Forum (IGF). It is evident that the mere inclusion of multiple stakeholders does not preclude power relations. But how far does this assumption go? Are these initiatives just reproducing old power relations between stakeholders in a fancy new coat? Or do they actually bring something new and valuable to the table?

Recent global examples, such as Wikileaks, the revolutions of the Arab Spring and the worldwide “Occupy” movements illustrate how new frameworks for the global distribution and exchange of information in the Information Society are creating the conditions for the renegotiation of power relations between local civil society and the state.  It is no wonder that it was within the World Summit of the Information Society processes 2003-2005 that this different distribution of power was addressed for the first time on an official political level. And that it was particularly within the field of internet governance that a new more participatory model for global governance has been tested on a more practical level. However, participation, transparency and more bottom-up approaches to policymaking are not only beneficial to the governance of networks. They are pivotal for the general governance of the Network Society.

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