For a More Inclusive Internet Governance

We talked with policy makers at the first YouthxPolicyMakers roundtable on inclusive internet governance ecosystems, and here is what we learned 


This blog post is an attempt to deepen our reflections about more inclusive Internet Governance. Some of us have previously attended Internet Governance meetings, while others are newcomers. Yet what we have in common is that we are young people around the world, representing different stakeholders, countries, genders, races and studies and full of expectation, craving for opportunities to build new ideas and solutions.

On October 14, we attended an online roundtable with two policy makers from Switzerland and Canada. As young people from over 10 different nations, we understand the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is an important space for dialogue, together with National and Regional Initiatives (NRI). We also believe national states have an important role to play for a more inclusive internet governance ecosystem. That’s why the YIGF initiative to create a safe space for exchange between young people and policy makers around the world is so important.

In this roundtable, we spoke with  Livia Walpen, Policy Advisor at Swiss Federal Office of Communications and Canadian Senator Kim Pate. Just like we learned from them, we would like to think we offered them some of our experience and expertise as young people.

Public policies we would like to see

Because public policies are limited by resource availability (especially funding), we have to consider them in the context of our priorities for a more inclusive internet governance. So, we created a little plan to define specific positions, present demands and elaborate possible questions to policy makers.

The public policies we would like to see are based on (1) our workshop and networking session discussions; (2) our pre-roundtable group discussion; (3) our questionnaire and; (4) our roundtable;

Results from our Youth Ambassadors questionnaire 

To better understand one another and our individual (or contextual) priorities, we circulated a small questionnaire. After analysing our answers as a whole, a few words pop-up frequently: education; capacity building; diversity; intersectionality; community building; digital cooperation; civil society participation; security; multi-stakeholder approach; accountability.

Based on our perspectives and conversations, we concluded with 5 priorities. (1) Countries should have defined policies to make sure young people can attend meetings related to Internet Governance. (2) Countries should have their own forum to allow an open and inclusive dialogue from the youth, where we can actively engage with policy makers on different Internet policies. (3) Countries should have initiatives for capacity building and mentorship of their youth allowing them to properly engage in public policies related to Internet Governance. (4) Internet infrastructure needs to be expanded and emphasis put on community networks to facilitate the inclusion of the next billion, but this will have environmental costs. National states should promote a carbon free Internet. (5) Internet policies should be inclusive by taking into consideration language, race, gender, sexual orientation, cultural diversity, and different customs among others.

Highlights from our roundtable 

Many of us are worried about the rise of authoritarian governments worldwide, and we are especially concerned since an inclusive multi-stakeholder approach depends on public participation, particularly from civil society and academia. In addition to  our concerns about state security and surveillance, we also worry about our security, privacy and mental health with regard to big tech companies. 

Considering the fact that politicians do not need a technical background to be elected and there is a risk of miscommunication or misunderstandings, we find it even more critical for policymakers to incorporate bottom-up processes into their decision making processes; that way, the whole community can cooperate.

We were glad to hear that politicians, like Senator Pate, from Canada address this “weak spot” by keeping in touch with youth associations. 

What do policymakers believe to be important?

Quite often, young people don’t see themselves represented in public life. This is especially true when we propose an intersectional analysis based on gender, race, class and sexual orientation. In this context, is it possible that young people and policy makers are thinking about the same things?[1] [2] 

Results from policymakers questionnaire 

During the roundtable, we asked policy makers to point out their priorities and answer the same questionnaire we circulated among ourselves beforehand.  Senator Kim Pate ranked access to be her number one priority, with education coming in second, followed by oversight/accountability, international applicability, and, finally, global connections. Livia Walpen chose capacity building and education as the main priorities for meaningful participation, followed by less complexity in processes, easier access, and better inclusion of youth, women, and the Global South.

Notes based on the roundtable

With internet users over the globe increasing, the call for a progressive and inclusive policy across different institutions and countries is a central issue.

The inclusion of youth in internet governance was mentioned by both policy makers as key to tackling two of the most relevant gaps in internet governance today: a lack of technical capacity and a lack of diversity. They mentioned the participation mechanisms for youth participation exist in their countries and how those mechanisms have enhanced policymaking so far. Whether they have provided  relevant technical knowledge or allowed young people to weigh in on problems that directly affect them, like the effects of social networks on their mental well-being. 

Both policy-makers emphasized, however, the fact that national frameworks in the global north are not capable of building truly inclusive internet governance. Senator Pate mentioned the fact that most young people that get a chance at participating are privileged to begin. She also explained why she focuses on access and education and highlighted the fact that, even in Global North countries, the power of capital interests means that policing is often the standard mode of internet regulation. She favors education as she believes that policing is always leveraged at the underprivileged. Whereas for Walpen, Switzerland plays a relevant international role through its many capacity-building projects abroad. She believes that this role could be enhanced by adoption of civil society demands and improvement of multi-stakeholder processes and formats. Both recognized implementation as a serious bottleneck in global policy. While policy intentions are, according to Livia Walpen, clearly stated in regional governance forums, effective action lags. This was shown in an example from Senator Pate: when the UN called out Canada’s treatment of indigenous peoples.

Some reflections on our exchange with policymakers

This is a rich experience and young people around the world should be able to talk to politicians from their own country, especially regarding initiatives to promote youth engagement. Youth should not be seen as an homogeneous population and not merely subjects to public policies because of our age. We must be listened to when policy makers  create policies to address our needs. To properly contribute, we need more internet governance schools around the world. This will allow for capacity building and real opportunities for greater engagement.



Final comments

We would like to thank the German Informatics Society and Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy from Germany for this opportunity. Bringing together youth and policy makers is a rare occasion. The IGF itself has a major civil society participation, they are more 40%. But keeping in touch with the government or even having a meaningful interaction is really hard sometimes - in 2019, they were less than 20% of the onsite participants. 

The COVID-19 pandemic generated a lot of questions and definitely showed how relevant the internet can be for remote education, but the emergency didn’t push many people to understand how to offer meaningful online experiences. While we look forward to meeting everyone, we had an interesting experience with breakout rooms (networking session) during our workshop that allowed us to check the discussion that occurred in other rooms. An important step in this learning process is to deepen our reflections based on the previous workshops and our conversations. Those collective notes were very helpful.

It is important to highlight that we, as young people, have the responsibility to promote an inclusive and diverse space for future generations. Human rights are the basic structure of a more Inclusive Internet Governance. This approach can allow us to face the current and future challenges in a more efficient, innovative and responsible way.

The generational gap between politicians and us should not be used to question our capacity for analysis and creation. #YouthXPolicyMakers is an important initiative that should be replicated in the future and promoted in a multisectorial internet governance approach.

Finally, we must remember young people contribute to our society by being responsible citizens, consumers and creators of initiatives that allow us to achieve substantial change. This could be strengthened if public policies are aligned to create ecosystems of innovation, digital public goods, open source technologies, based on human rights, like privacy, inclusion, access to opportunity and security. We are counting on the cooperation between governments to promote more multi-sector dialogue tables to formulate and to implementate these public policies.

Authors: Gustavo Souza, Mariana Maia, Jazmin Fallas and Kevin Lopez.

Reviewer:  Alex Magaard



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