A laboratory for new mechanisms...

Using both lessons learned and the overall concept of volunteerism as building blocks for multi-stakeholder approaches
Viola Krebs, Director of ICVolunteers and Focal Point of the WSIS Volunteer Family, published by Heinrich Böll Foundation
27 September 2005

WSIS: quick assessment of what worked and what did not

While there is no substitute for a comprehensive evaluation of WSIS from a multi-stakeholder perspective, some lessons can be drawn on a more limited basis. The following section is an attempt to reflect upon the successes and failures of WSIS from my perspective as a civil society representative, member of the Civil Society Bureau and focal point for the volunteer constituency.

Overall, from a process perspective, the Summit can be described as a success. I would stress that this is particularly true for the first phase of WSIS, as momentum was built thanks to excellent leadership by the President of the WSIS Preparatory Committee, H.E. Mr. Adama Samassekou. His leadership was driven by a vision of inclusiveness and cooperation, embracing and building on the multi-stakeholder approach, allowing the Summit to become more than just a technocratic meeting. The Summit had both a strong human dimension, and an understanding that technology alone can by no means solve all the issues at hand. Instead, various actors need to come to the negotiating table and wholeheartedly engage in forging dialogue and innovative recommendations. I believe that this vision and drive to find solutions brought us from what Professor Wolfgang Kleinwächter called 'turmoil', to cooperation, or even a certain degree of trust, between governments, civil society and the private sector. True, the process was not perfect. But if we consider it as a first series of baby steps, or as the fledgling attempts of a bird that is learning to fly, initial imperfections can only be considered normal.

So, from a civil society perspective, what are the lessons that can be learned from the whole process of the WSIS? Please note that the list below contains some basic and non-exhaustive observations.

Lesson one: the bodies created to organize the participation of civil society help streamline input. Three main bodies played such a role: 1) the Civil Society Plenary, which brought together all participants; 2) the Working Groups and Caucuses, which focused on specific issues; and 3) the Civil Society Bureau (CSB), which dealt with procedure. While, in the case of the latter, the mechanisms for establishing the Bureau could be refined and improved, it clearly played a useful role, acting as both a facilitating body and a connector between civil society and other stakeholders. As such, it managed to establish trust with governmental interlocutors, laying the foundations for ongoing dialogue and joint Bureau-to-Bureau meetings during every PrepCom and Intersessional gathering.

Lesson two: The opportunity for various sectors to participate as speakers is a good precedent and model. The closing event of the Geneva Summit of the WSIS in December 2003 was the first UN closing session I attended where actors other than governments played such significant roles. This participation provided a uniquely comprehensive overview of all the various initiatives led by different actors and interest groups, which added value to the process.

Lesson three: mechanisms can and must be regularly refined and adapted to changing needs. During its Cape Town meeting in December 2004, for example, the CSB evaluated its functioning and underwent a reform to better meet its goals. Additionally, during this meeting, an open-ended working group on working methods was launched, looking at the various mechanisms and seeing how these can not only interrelate, but also how they can constantly be refined and improved. This additional think tank was very helpful in drafting, for example, the CSB charter, a document that needs to reflect the essence of the CSB, but is best written with a fresh and outside perspective.

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