Policy Paper

Shaping Inclusive Governance in Cyberspace

September 02, 2019
4 min read
Photo Credit: Drop of Light / Shutterstock

The United Nations remains the best platform to shape global norms on state behavior in cyberspace. But, despite its achievements, the UN’s intergovernmental process struggles to make progress, not least because of deep divisions within the international community about which rules should apply in cyberspace. There is a need to reevaluate cyber governance efforts and to think of new practices that adopt a multi-stakeholder model, instead of relying solely on the current rigid intergovernmental approach. There may be renewed energy for such discussion now that the UN’s First Committee has endorsed two parallel processes on cyber norms—the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) and a sixth round of the UN Group of Governmental Experts (UNGGE).

Other international organizations have already successfully institutionalized multi-stakeholder models involving NGOs or business in their policymaking processes. Their best practices and lessons learned for stakeholder input could be adapted and used at the UN level. This paper looks at the experience of several intergovernmental organizations active in various non-cyber domains, including the Arctic Council, the European Union, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the World Health Organization. They vary widely in form and function, and they are not comparable to the UN. Nonetheless, studying them identifies the following types of multi-stakeholder inclusion:

  • stakeholders as opinion-shapers,
  • stakeholders as problem-solvers,
  • stakeholder selection and trust-building,
  • a role for stakeholder associations in decision-making,
  • multi-stakeholder engagement at the national level, and
  • stakeholders as whistleblowers.

Based on these findings, this paper makes six recommendations on how to include non-governmental stakeholders in the UNGGE and OEWG process so as to make progress toward an open cyber governance model.

Include external subject matter expertise in OEWG and UNGGE discussions

The OEWG can organize a regular briefing platform for external experts, but first it will need to state which stakeholders it plans to engage with. The UNGGE members and chair are already exploring how to engage with stakeholders in informal ways, but a structured, strategic approach is still missing. The UNGGE and OEWG could also task their secretariats to produce ad hoc food-for-thought papers that summarize external debates on a specific topic.

Create an engagement framework to preselect stakeholders and introduce observers to the OEWG

The OEWG can introduce criteria that stakeholders must meet in order to engage with or become observers to the group. Such a framework will introduce transparency toward stakeholders. It can also help the OEWG to narrow down the number of stakeholders it engages with and ensure that these are credible.

Convene like-minded stakeholders into larger interest groups

Groups or associations of stakeholders seeking a common purpose carry more weight to influence policy. They are also easier for intergovernmental organizations to interact with since they aggregate many different views into one voice. Such interest groups might include like-minded business actors or NGOs.

Organize independent events that gather UNGGE member states and stakeholders

Each member state of the UNGGE can hold informal consultations with local non-state actors in their own capital. More roundtable discussions, or a major annual event, can be organized independently from the UN context, and could support the UNGGE’s regional consultation process.

Develop an ‘Aarhus Convention for cyberspace’

Cyberspace needs a multilateral agreement, similar to the UN Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (also known as the Aarhus Convention’), through which opportunities for non-state actors to access information are increased and reliable regulation procedures are secured. The OEWG and UNGGE could use such an initiative to engage outside actors who have valuable expertise to offer.

Engage the UN through multi-stakeholder dialogue in national and regional platforms

Other international platforms, beyond the UN, often gather diverse key players, and have more experience working with external stakeholders. Ideas developed inside such platforms, such as the OECD, the OSCE, or the EU, could then be more easily transferred to an institution like the UN. Such diplomatic sequencing creates options for stakeholders to be heard at the global level too.


Full Policy Paper