MAG Chair's Blog

IGF 2021: A few changes to look out for

Profile picture for user Anriette Esterhuysen

IGF 2021: A few changes to look out for

Update from the MAG Chair


In 2020, once it became evident that we would not be able to have a face-to-face IGF as planned, the idea of a virtual IGF quickly took hold with everyone involved inspired by the IGF 2021 theme, “Virtually together for an Internet for human resilience and solidarity”. It was not easy, and it was not perfect, but vIGF 2020 succeeded in being large (6150 registered participants from 173 countries and more than 15,000 live viewers of the high level sessions on UN Web TV), more gender-equal than any previous IGF (50% of session organisers and 47% of all participants were women) and more inclusive of new people, with 59% of all attendees being at their first global IGF.

vIGF2020 was a truly collective effort by the MAG, the Secretariat, the UN (many UN agencies contributed), the original host country, Poland, past host countries, IGF donors, and thousands of individuals and organisations from across the stakeholder spectrum.

It also produced a set of digestible and reusable outputs (like its predecessors, which in 2019 resulted in the Berlin IGF messages, building on a tradition which started with the Geneva IGF messages in 2017 and continued with the Paris IGF messages in 2018). And, for the first time, the IGF reflected participation statistics not just based on region but also on the basis of high, middle and low-income countries. 40% of IGF participants in 2020 were from low and middleincome countries; presenting a clear target for the IGF to address as it aims to be more inclusive.

But responding effectively to the COVID-19 pandemic has not been the IGF’s only recent objective. During 2020 the UN Secretary-General published his Roadmap for Digital Cooperation which stated, that, “the Internet Governance Forum must be strengthened, in order to make it more responsive and relevant to current digital issues” as a starting point for building a more effective architecture for digital cooperation. [1]

The Roadmap outlined a set of ideas for making the IGF more responsive and relevant to current digital issues. Some of these, such as the establishment of a ‘strategic and empowered multistakeholder high-level body’ fall outside of the scope of the MAG's responsibilities. But others, such as (b) Having a more focused agenda or the Forum based on a limited number of strategic policy issues, (d) Forging stronger links among the global Forum and its regional, national, sub-regional and youth initiatives,  and (e) Better integrating programme and intersessional policy development work, [2] are covered by the MAG’s terms of reference.

This presented the IGF, and particularly the MAG and Secretariat, with significant opportunities and challenges. In the course of 2020, the MAG Working Group on IGF Strategy and Strengthening systematically explored these challenges and opportunities, also drawing on previous IGF-strengthening initiatives. The result is a comprehensive, practical set of recommendations, presented to the rest of the MAG in early 2021. These proposals are at the heart of some of the innovations being tried in this year’s programme development.

Thus, in its 16th year, with renewal of its mandate by the UN General Assembly in 2025, and a global pandemic which is simply not “ending”, the IGF MAG and the Secretariat have taken on a lot. 

• Organising a hybrid IGF is a huge challenge; more so than convening a fully virtual IGF was in 2020. The MAG, led by the MAG Working Group on Hybrid Meetings and supported by the host country and the Secretariat have tried to make sure that by using the hybrid format, the IGF does not lose the degree of inclusion enabled by the virtual format in 2020, while also offering the opportunity for those who can to gather face-to-face in Katowice in Poland in December. A recent letter from a large number of civil society organisations requested that IGF organisers make sure that the hybrid format does not result in “reduced” participation for the many, many people who will not be able to travel to Poland. In response, a town hall is being convened on 20 September, open to all, to talk through this challenge, and face it collaboratively.

Intersessional activities, Best Practice Forums and Dynamic Coalitions have been joined by two Policy Networks (one on environment and climate change, and on universal and meaningful access) whose goals are to develop specific recommendations. 

• An issue driven approach: To achieve the goal of a more focused IGF that discusses fewer issues in greater depth, the IGF 2021 programme is structured around two main focus areas (universal and meaningful access, and, economic and social inclusion and human rights) and four cross-cutting and emerging areas (emerging regulation, digital cooperation, environment and climate change, and trust, security, and stability). These six issue areas  were proposed by the community in response to an open call. Each issue area is clustered into sub-topics and policy questions, and the original idea was that deliberations during the IGF could focus on these specific issues and topics, thus producing more focused outputs. Whether this will succeed remains to be seen and in future years the MAG might find it easier to revert to broad thematic tracks. Achieving a more focused agenda is not a trivial exe

• The issue areas will be introduced during the Preparatory and Engagement Phase by the MAG-facilitated issue teams. These issue teams are open to ‎non-MAG members, as are 'wiki pages' created to document initiatives and activities with issue areas. The goals of the preparatory and engagement phase, which also includes youth sessions, and sessions organised by intersessional activities and MAG working groups, the Secretariat and the Office of the Tech Envoy, are to: 

  • Facilitate in-depth engagement with IGF 2021 issue areas towards achieving the goal of a more focused and impactful IGF
  • Provide the IGF community with opportunities for developing capacity in IGF-linked areas
  • Facilitate engagement with IGF intersessional activities, and,
  • Broaden participation and inclusion in all aspects of the IGF process.

There is more: the implementation of the IGF capacity building framework, and the development of a new IGF website – both led by the Secretariat.

The landscape of Internet governance as a concept, a discipline and a set of diverse processes evolves constantly. It is my belief that the IGF has to position itself as the one known, trusted pathway that traverses this shifting landscape. Or, to use a different analogy, as the clearing in a huge forest where the sun always shines, and there is a comfortable seat and safe space for everyone who cares about, and are affected by Internet-related policy to say their piece, argue and disagree if needed, better grasp one another’s perspectives, and strive for solutions. This implies having to maintain a delicate balance between, on the one hand, staying the same – being that IGF where one can meet old friends and colleagues, and rekindle old debates – and, on the other hand, changing, taking risks, opening up to new and different voices and interests, interrogating the status quo, but not at the expense of remaining relevant to people and institutions from across the political and stakeholder spectrum.

Looking forward to making IGF2021 a sunny, interesting and inspiring clearing in the forest of a year, which has been so difficult, in so many ways for most of us.

Anriette Esterhuysen

31 August 2021


[1] Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, p 25…

[2] From paragraph 93 of the Roadmap for Digital Cooperation​.

IGF 2020: Virtually together for an Internet for human resilience and solidarity

Profile picture for user Anriette Esterhuysen

IGF 2020: Virtually together for an Internet for human resilience and solidarity

Update from the MAG Chair

The IGF MAG is very pleased to announce IGF 2020’s dates, 2 to 17 November, and ‎overall theme, “Internet for human resilience and solidarity”.  ‎

This year, the IGF will be held online, in two phases. ‎

Phase One will include Day Zero events, introductory sessions for the four thematic tracks, (Data, ‎Environment, Inclusion and Trust) as well as Open Forums, National, Sub-regional, Regional and ‎Youth IGF initiatives (NRIs), Dynamic Coalition and newcomers sessions. ‎

Phase Two will include main sessions, workshops, high level leader sessions and formal opening ‎and closing sessions. ‎

The MAG is still finalising in which phase to schedule Best Practice Forum sessions, music night ‎and the IGF village, as well as a range of other networking sessions. We will inform IGF ‎stakeholders as soon as these remaining decisions are made.‎

Phase Dates Content
Phase One 2 to 6 November
  • Introductory sessions to the four thematic tracks (data, ‎environment, inclusion, trust)‎
  • Newcomers sessions
  • Dynamic Coalitions
  • Open Forums
  • NRI sessions
  • Day Zero events
  • Other preparatory events
  • Testing and training
  • Networking sessions
Phase Two 9 to 17 November
  • Opening and closing ceremonies
  • Main sessions
  • Workshops
  • High-level leaders track
  • Parliamentarians session
  • Networking sessions

Theme and a motto for IGF 2020 ‎

The overarching theme for IGF 2020 will be: “Internet for human resilience and solidarity”‎.

MAG members developed the theme to represent the extraordinary role that the Internet has been ‎playing during the pandemic. Resilience of the Internet as an interconnected, interoperable ‎network has been a regular topic at the IGF. In 2020, the IGF will approach network resilience ‎specifically from a people-centered perspective, exploring how it has supported the human ‎resilience and solidarity needed to respond to the many challenges posed by the pandemic. ‎

The theme for the high-level leaders track, organized by UN DESA, will be: “Internet ‎governance in the time of uncertainty”‎.

Key considerations in developing the theme and structure for this year’s virtual IGF 2020‎

The above-mentioned theme and structure for IGF 2020 is the result of the MAG processing ‎stakeholder input on the overall shape and character of a virtual IGF as well as careful thought ‎given by MAG members to both the challenges and opportunities presented by the event being ‎online. Two core concerns stood at the heart of the MAG’s deliberations:‎

  • Maximising inclusion, particularly for participants from the global South. A unique ‎consideration for the virtual event is to ensure that the meeting takes place in time zones ‎that suit all regions of the world, and are not only concentrated in hours which coincide ‎with the business day of Europe, Africa and the east coasts of the Americas.‎
  • Utilising the creative and innovative potential of online platforms to convene an IGF that is ‎more than merely an online version of a face-to-face event.‎

IGF 2020 will include well over 200 sessions1 ‎in different formats, stretching over up to 15 hours ‎during the 24-hour day, covering multiple time zones. To avoid an overly cluttered programme, ‎main sessions and workshops will not run at the same time, and there will be no more than three ‎parallel tracks at any time during Phase 2.‎

The MAG also adopted a motto for IGF 2020: “Virtually together”‎.

This motto is intended to convey the message that the meeting’s virtual nature should in no way ‎undermine the power of the IGF to bring people together to learn, agree, disagree and, most of all, ‎collaborate for stronger, more inclusive and accountable Internet governance.‎

Anriette Esterhuysen

‎31 July 2020‎

1Session proposers were asked to confirm whether they wanted to be part of a virtual event. Only a handful ‎withdrew their proposals.‎

Message from the IGF MAG Chair

Profile picture for user Anriette Esterhuysen

Update from the IGF MAG Chair

April 2020

The 2020 IGF MAG started its work soon after the conclusion of a very successful fourteenth IGF ‎held in Berlin from 25 to 29 November. By the end of 2019, the Berlin IGF messages were shared; ‎eight new MAG members were inducted; and a call for feedback on the 2019 IGF and input on ‎plans for 2020 was circulated.  By the time the first face-to-face open consultation and MAG ‎meeting took place in Geneva, from 14 to 16 January 2020, input from the IGF community1 ‎had ‎affirmed widespread support for the simpler2 thematic structure which formed the basis for the ‎Berlin IGF programme. Based on this feedback, the MAG constructed a provisional thematic ‎framework and presented it to the IGF community for comment and validation in late January. ‎

The response to this call demonstrates the dynamic interaction between the MAG and the ‎community. Feedback received both affirmed and expanded on the MAG’s initially proposed ‎framework and was distilled by MAG members into four thematic tracks for the IGF ‎‎2020 programme: (1) Data; (2) Environment; (3) Inclusion; (4) Trust. Also in response to ‎community feedback the MAG simplified the form and published the call for workshop proposals ‎on 2 March 2020. 

Other key achievements during the first quarter of 2020‎

  • Public consultation: The MAG Chair and the Government of Switzerland convened a ‎consultation on the follow-up on the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Digital ‎Cooperation on the occasion of the first MAG meeting in Geneva on 14 January 2020. It ‎created the opportunity for a rich set of proposals on how the IGF can be strengthened ‎while at the same time making progress towards implementing the IGF plus model ‎proposed in the High-Level Panel’s report. Read the report to see who attended and what ‎they said.‎
  • Best Practice Forums: The MAG reviewed proposals and approved four Best Practice ‎Forums for 2020: Gender and Access; Cybersecurity; Local Content and Data and New ‎Technologies in an Internet context. ‎
  • One new BPF, referred to as the “BPF of BPFs” was established, specifically to look back ‎at BPFs since their inception, assess what worked well and what can be improved, and ‎make recommendations on the way forward. We are very fortunate to have Markus ‎Kummer, past IGF MAG Chair and Executive Coordinator of the IGF Secretariat, as the ‎coordinator of this BPF.‎
  • Establishing four MAG working groups for 2020: Two are continued from 2019, the ‎Working Group on Outreach and Engagement (WG-OE) and Working Group on ‎Workshop Process (WG-WSP), and two are new: the Working Group on Language (WG-‎Language) and the Working Group on IGF Strengthening and Strategy. ‎
  • Workshop proposal and evaluation process: The MAG, mostly through the efforts of the ‎MAG working group on workshop process, updated the workshop proposal and evaluation ‎process and the manual for workshop proposers in response to a survey they conducted in ‎‎2019. ‎

The IGF and the COVID-19 pandemic‎

Little did we know at the time of the January 2020 MAG meeting that the world would change so ‎dramatically in a matter of weeks. The impact of the pandemic has been profound. People’s ‎personal and work lives have changed dramatically and economies are in decline. Inequality ‎between countries and the relative capacity of their public health infrastructure are front and ‎centre. It goes without saying that those who are already impacted by social inequality are most ‎affected, particularly people who have lost their jobs, or for whom social distance is simply not ‎possible because of high density living conditions, and, those who are not affordably and ‎sustainably connected to the internet. ‎

The internet and its power as a platform for connecting people in positive ways, for remote work, ‎entertainment, learning, and distribution of essential information has stood out more vividly in the ‎last two months than ever before. What this means for internet governance globally and locally ‎needs to be explored in the coming months. For me three dimensions stand out: ‎

  • The shift from the preoccupation with the harmful use of the internet reflected in the huge ‎increase in the last few years in debates on regulation of content and use, to a widespread ‎recognition, even a celebration, of its positive potential.  Even legitimate concerns about ‎pandemic-related misinformation do not overshadow the overwhelming sense that we ‎would be so much worse off without the internet. This does not mean that internet ‎governance should not address harmful use or cybersecurity; but it does create common ‎ground for collaborative work on harnessing the internet’s potential for good and ensuring its ‎availability to all people, as a global public resource. ‎
  • Leading from this, does this crisis perhaps create a moment where agreement can be built ‎on how internet governance can protect and consolidate the internet as both ‎‎“multistakeholder” and a global public resource (or even a global public good)?  Can the ‎IGF fulfil its promise to be the platform that leads to the development of globally-‎applicable rights-based public interest norms and principles for internet governance, policy ‎and regulation? It started to do this, directly and indirectly, through workshops and main ‎sessions on the topic; through its relationship with the NETmundial and the NETmundial ‎principles on internet governance; as well as through many other sets of principles ‎developed and agreed on by institutions and networks that are part of the IGF community, ‎such as the UNESCO R O A M principles.‎3 

These are not new questions for the IGF, but the current context could facilitate a more effective ‎engagement with them. In the same way that the 2013 IGF, held in Bali not long after the ‎revelations of mass surveillance, paved the way for the IGF taking human rights-related concerns ‎more fully on board, can the COVID-19 pandemic help achieve concrete agreement on globally ‎applicable common principles for internet governance? For further exploration of the implications ‎of the pandemic I recommend David Souter’s recent columns on the topic.‎

Will the 2020 IGF take place as a face-to-face event?‎

Many people are asking this question. The answer, for the moment, is a loud and clear “yes”. Host ‎country, MAG, UNDESA and IGF Secretariat preparations are on track. Please submit your session ‎proposals by the 22 April and keep the IGF on your travel schedule. But we are not ignoring the ‎situation and are fully aware that extensions of lockdowns and in the closure of visa offices can ‎impact the convening of the IGF and the Secretariat and the host country are assessing the situation ‎continuously. Updates will be sent regularly, and should there be any change in plans it will be ‎communicated well in advance.‎

Many National and Regional IGF Initiatives (NRIs) have responded proactively by deciding to ‎postpone their meetings for later in the year or convene virtually. For now, the LACIGF and ‎EuroDIG are the very first NRIs that will be hosting their annual meetings virtually. We extend our ‎support to them and look forward to learning from their experiences. ‎

Thank you to the outgoing MAG Chair and MAG members ‎

A huge thank you to the outgoing MAG chair, Lynn St. Amour for her years of dedicated, hard ‎work and for her ongoing support. Thank you also to the MAG members whose term ended in ‎‎2019. It is hard work to be an active MAG member.  Thank you Lynn for your commitment, for ‎making a massive contribution to building collaborative work methods, and for establishing strong ‎routines, with the MAG starting its work early-on in a new IGF cycle. ‎

Recognising all those who keep us connected ‎

In closing, I want to recognise and thank the many people and institutions who keep the internet up ‎and running. System administrators, engineers, those who provide user support, look after internet ‎exchange points, who check cables and wires, servers and power supply. There are millions of ‎them and they are working harder than ever as more and more of our daily interactions and ‎functions take place online. Without them the world as it is today would be a much worse place.‎

Anriette Esterhuysen

Chairperson, Internet Governance Forum Multistakeholder Advisory Group 2020‎

In lockdown in Johannesburg, 14 April 2020‎

The term “community” is often used in a manner that is not very specific, and that implies cohesion even when ‎there is no evidence that such cohesion exists. The notion of there being an “internet governance community” is ‎often criticised for obscuring the diversity of interests, perspective, power and capacity among the institutions ‎and individuals involved. The notion of an “IGF community”, however, seems to me to be legitimate and helpful ‎to refer to the large number of people and institutions, from multiple regions, disciplines, sectors and stakeholder ‎groups who contribute to and participate in the IGF and in NRIs. What they have in common is their engagement ‎with the IGF process.‎

2 Core concepts and themes had been used to build the IGF programme since its inception. Initially five thematic ‎areas, sometimes with variations, were used as a basis for the programme. They were: “access”, “critical internet ‎resources”, “security, openness and privacy”, “diversity” and “emerging issues”. Later new themes and subthemes ‎were decided on by the MAG each year to be responsive to current priorities. By 2018 the IGF programme was ‎built around eight themes. They were all relevant, but it did make following the event more difficult. The ‎selection of just three broad themes for 2019 was well-received effort by the MAG to build a  more cohesive and ‎focused programmatic structure.‎

3 R O A M = Rights – Openness – Access – Multistakeholder. Read more at‎universality-indicators/background.