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Drafting in policy processes: nurturing socialization of policy texts in multistakeholder context

Page history last edited by Mary Murphy 8 years ago

Speakers

 

Moderator: Vladimir Radunović, DiploFoundation and GIP
Alex Sceberras Trigona, Special Envoy of the Prime Minister of Malta and former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Malta 

Richard Hill, President, Association for Proper Internet Governance
Avri Doria, Principal Researcher, Technicalities

 

Outline

 

One of the fathers of the Internet Jon Postel said ‘Group discussion is very valuable; group drafting is less productive.’ The more people involved, the greater the complexity of the process. The drafting process is not individual writing; it is highly social. Thus, ‘socialisation of the text’ is essential for successful negotiations. All involved should be aware of how the final draft was negotiated, what was included, and what was left out. Participants should know that their voices were heard, considered, and adopted… or not, accordingly.

 

The panellists will address the following questions:

  • How do we harvest and harness a wide range of inputs in the drafting process? 
  • What types of procedures are needed to ensure that the drafted text can have legitimate acceptance by most actors involved in the process?
  • How do we deal with conflicting situations in the drafting process

 

 

Session notes

 

The workshop was divided into three main stages in the policy process: agenda setting, negotiations, and writing the final document. They were discussed by a small group of in situ participants, and quite a large number of remote participants.

 

Alexander Sceberras Trigona, Special Envoy of the Prime Minister of Malta and former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Malta, started by illustrating the agenda-setting process in the traditional political sphere. He explained that agenda setting in diplomacy tends to be one-dimensional since diplomats have the ambition to keep play their cards close to their chest and operate on their own. In emergency situations, the agenda is oftentimes set without much consultation. Both embody deficits: The drafting process cannot be explored to find an answer to questions that might appear later on.  However, when the agenda is set in a more public manner, over a longer time and with wider consultation of multistakeholders, this process gives the agenda strength and deep democratic roots and enables actors to find answers to questions and interpretations for ambiguous phrases in the final mandate by going back in the timeline.

 

Avri Doria, a Principle Researcher at Technicalities, spoke about agenda setting in technical communities, in which she focused on lower level meetings. She explained that agenda setting is really a bottom-up practice, although there are some exceptions. The board of ICANN, for example, can always put items on the agenda. Furthermore, she noted that although meetings and agendas are generally open to outsiders, they might sometimes feel uncomfortable due to the particular language that is used in these technical communities. Outsiders also need to be up to date and know where the discussion is at. Vladimir Radunović then added that there have been attempts to help policymakers understand how the Internet works, but that it happens less often that engineers study the diplomatic world.

 

Richard Hill, President of the Association for Proper Internet Governance, explained by what processes consensus is reached in international organisations. Usually, people propose items for discussion; these are prepared by the secretary. The chairman presents them in the meeting where agreement will be found or not.

But how it consensus reached in an international organisation? The inputs are mainly coming from states, i.e. beforehand set members. To simplify the process, like-minded groups are formed, often by regions. This also saves time. According to Hill, this is a double-edged sword since it tends to create polarization and it will be more difficult to find consensus.  There are also different processes where anybody can come in and participate (ITU), which is positive for discussion phase but not to find consensus (What is consensus? What is significant?).

 

Within the UN, there is a practice that consensus is found by a lack of formal opposition. This makes sense for the UN because you also have the right to oppose and to call for a vote. Another way presented by Hill is the strategy to take aside people who do not agree in order to persuade them or you split up the issues to separate the problem in order to find consensus.

 

In business, it is the management who decides (if there is consensus or not), a top-down approach. Other seemingly top-down but more bottom-up processes are cases when the chairman tries to make sense of the discussion and decides or when the secretary listening to everything is to come up with a consensus text. Disputing courts are an extreme illustration of these processes: you hire a third party who is going to decide for you.

 

Transparency

 

The discussion mainly focused on the transparency of the policy process. Trigona reminded us that diplomats often dig in to drafts without considering the actual final agreement, as they are trying to find something that suits their interest. He said that only when there is great ambiguity, one falls back on the preliminary draft. He also suggested distinguishing bilateral from multilateral negotiation for agenda setting; in multilateral settings, there are many strict and well-observed rules, whereas in bilateral settings, it is much more of an unregulated pull and push process.

 

Doria explained that at the IGF process, all drafts and emails are available, although we need to be able to understand technical language to read them. This view was echoed by a participant, who argued that languages can exclude and destroy transparency. He argued that human nature reduces complexity by creating a culture that allows creation of a consensus. Breaking out of this culture is very hard if not impossible. Marilia Maciel also brought up this issue and shared with us that reading codes is particularly difficult, since there are no dictionaries to translate them. This is problematic when this technical language has policy implications that need to be understood by policymakers.

 

However, there are some positive developments: Doria told us that, to overcome the language barrier, all technical final reports are written in a way that is understandable to policymakers. Hill added that the understanding the issue also goes for consensus finding procedures, since their formal rules are complicated and people do not understand it. He added that the challenge of legal drafting is to find a text that does not only imply the intended but also sustains from implying the unintended.

 

Consensus-seeking

 

Hill brought up another aspect important to consensus finding processes: Not only are multistakeholder processes and the ITU blocked by consensus but the whole UN system is since the USA is using its veto power to block and this needs to stop. Otherwise we cannot go for consensus anymore.  

 

Doria explained ‘the hum’ at the IETF further: Humming is not explicitly for making decisions but to find out how much more discussion is needed. Hum is initiation and not termination. One of the problems about the rough consensus process at the IETF is that it does not work in a timed environment. The IETF’s rough consensus on its standards process furthermore includes a last check, the community last call: Anybody in the world can bring up issues and send back a standard into discussion for another round. In a final step the standard goes to the steering group who checks if it could cause any damage to the Internet. The final step is the implementation and only if it proves to be implementable, it can become a standard.

 

Furthermore, someone mentioned that consensus-seeking as done by ISO should be applied to diplomacy; ISO members feel the obligation to reach a consensus. Also whether consensus is reached also strongly depends on the chair, atmosphere, and participants of a meeting, or in general, on the feeling that things need to move forward.

There was also discussion on the NETmundial outcome document, which was presented as being rough consensus. However, Hill noted that this consensus was a myth, as if the chairman had said: ‘I as chairman think it is good enough, so it is a rough consensus.’

 

Finally, Trigona commented that it may be useful to try and see the various organisations procedural rules at each agency. They are all part of the same UN family, so why should there be so many different procedures?

 

 

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