In several ways, the WSIS has served as a testing ground for innovative approaches. It is the first UN summit focusing on the Information Society, a new and complex concept. Additionally, it has been a laboratory for innovative modalities of participation and input into UN processes, based on a multi-stakeholder approach, involving governments, civil society, the private sector and international organizations. It is also the first summit to be held in two phases, rather than structured as a one-phase event with follow-up meetings.
Praised by many for its inclusive approach, comments about the WSIS overall have ranged from the resolutely critical to the highly optimistic. However, for this article, we will consider specifically the lessons learned from the WSIS regarding multi-stakeholder mechanisms. There is much ongoing dialogue about the necessity for effective such processes, as governments acknowledge that they need to work with other stakeholders to deal with issues as complex as the information society and its transformation into a knowledge society. Considering that there is clearly work left to be done to refine a model for multi-stakeholder involvement, it seems that one of the most pressing needs is to develop a way to evaluate the quality and value of multi-stakeholder participation in the WSIS.
The success of WSIS as a multi-stakeholder process can only be evaluated based on whether all stakeholders were not only able to participate, but also feel that, ultimately, their input had a positive outcome and impact. While it is beyond the scope of this paper to outline specific methods for evaluating the success of the entire WSIS process from the perspective of all stakeholders, we nonetheless urge that such an evaluation be undertaken. -This would necessitate the following steps:
Different mechanisms for the evaluation of WSIS and the development of good multi-stakeholder models have been proposed recently, such as, for example, the creation of a United Nations Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships Agency (http://www.unmsp.org). In addition, in Saint-Petersburg in May 2005, UNESCO was encouraged to create a working group focusing on multi-stakeholder partnerships
(http://www.unmsp.org/DOCS/RecommendationsSection08-final.pdf). If such a working group is created, it would make sense for it to lead the evaluation process of WSIS, comparing it with other UN mechanisms, dawning on existing resources, such as the Cardoso Report, to see how it can best serve as a precedent for future international meetings. The multi-stakeholder working group could act as a think-tank involved in the follow-up activities to the WSIS.
Also during the Saint-Petersburg meeting, a civil-society working group was launched, focusing on multi-stakeholder dialogue. This launch has the potential to be an important step, addressing a second, pressing need in the larger effort to create effective multi-stakeholder processes: it could help clearly explain to all the importance of civil society's participation in local, national and international decision-making. The new working group could allow civil society to demonstrate once more that its very role as a key actor in such political and diplomatic processes makes it a catalyst, helping new ideas find their way to the negotiating table. It could show, in other words, that civil society is a driving force in international processes such as WSIS, expressing and defending sometimes critical views, but also bringing added value, negotiating a space and occupying it well.
Multi-stakeholder follow-up mechanisms are essential to make sure that the example of WSIS is not just filed away as an innovative past event, but rather used as a building block, providing good models that lay out a clear method with which to engage the multiple entities, establishing a situation where individual stakeholders push for a multi-stakeholder approach for their own reasons and interests.