Internet Governance Research Project

Image: Internet map 1024 / The Opte Project (CC BY 2.5)Photo: Internet map 1024 / The Opte Project (CC BY 2.5)

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The research effort on Internet governance documented here is a globally coordinated, independent academic research pilot project by the Global Network of Internet & Society Research Centers (NoC). Facilitated by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, this study examines existing multistakeholder governance groups with the goal of informing the future evolution of the Internet governance ecosystem. Building upon the NETmundial Principles and Roadmap, it contributes to current policy debates at the international level, including the Internet Governance Forum, the NETmundial Initiative, and other organizations and efforts.

Internet governance is an increasingly complex concept that operates at multiple levels and in different dimensions, making it necessary to have a better understanding of both how multistakeholder governance groups operate and how they best achieve their goals. With this need in mind, at a point where the future of Internet governance is being re-envisioned, colleagues from several NoC institutions around the world have written twelve case studies examining a geographically and topically diverse set of local, national, and international governance models, components, and mechanisms from within and outside of the sphere of Internet governance. Key findings from these cases are summarized in a synthesis paper, which aims to deepen our understanding of the formation, operation, and critical success factors of governance groups and even challenge conventional thinking. The research effort is grounded in a diversity of global perspectives and collaborative research techniques. Adhering to objective and independent academic standards, it aspires to be useful, actionable, and timely for policymakers and stakeholders. More broadly, the Network of Centers seeks to contribute to a more generalized vision and longer-term strategy for academia regarding its roles in research, facilitation and convening, and education in and communication about the Internet age.

Research Process and Methodology

Responding to the dynamics of the current debate about the future of Internet governance, the objectives of this pilot project have evolved over time as we have gained a better understanding about the interaction between the formation and operation of governance groups, and the contextual environments in which such groups operate.

Initially drawing upon the Panel on Global Internet Cooperation and Governance and Governance Mechanisms (“Panel Report”), the research began with the guiding question of whether a set of best practices that built off of the Panel Report could be distilled from a series of select real-world case studies examining various governance groups. In that mode we sought case studies that would help us better understand three components of the Panel Report: (1) how governance groups best match challenges with the organizations, experts, networks, and governing bodies/entities most able to help develop legitimate, effective, and efficient solutions; (2) how to structure the flow of information and knowledge necessary for successful governance; and (3) how different governance groups approach coordination between regional and global (or national and regional) governance networks in order to avoid conflicting directives.

Building upon twelve case studies, the synthesis paper concludes that there is no single best-fit model for multistakeholder governance groups that can be applied in all instances. Rather, it reveals a range of approaches, mechanisms, and tools available for both the formation and operation of such groups. The analysis demonstrates that whether governance groups meet their objectives depends to a large degree on the careful selection, deployment, and management of suitable instruments from this “toolbox.” As governance groups pass through different phases of operation, conveners and facilitators must remain alert to changes in circumstances that necessitate adjustments to the approaches, mechanisms, and tools that they deploy in order to address evolving challenges from inside and from outside. The case study series provides insights into how those instruments can be deployed and adjusted over time within such groups, and highlights how important contextual factors they interact with may be successfully managed within given resource restraints.

The case studies come from the global academic institutions that constitute the Network of Centers. After a series of planning meetings and learning calls among the participating Centers, the research team met in May 2014 to collaboratively identify and select case studies based on a set of criteria emerging from the current debates about the future of Internet governance, as described above. The case studies represent a wide variety of initiatives, including public and private sector efforts, operating at national and international levels in regions all over the world, addressing issues with varying levels of technical complexity. The selected case studies also cover a wide range of activities, including drafting legislation, developing policy in the absence of formal regulatory authority, defining and exploring the scope of a problem, and building connections among stakeholders. While some of the case studies come from areas related to Internet governance, others come from outside the Internet governance ecosystem. Although they differ in many respects, the governance groups documented in the case studies share a common commitment to using multistakeholder processes to solve complex issues.

Each of the case study authors conducted desk research and interviews in order to develop the case studies. In several cases, the case studies reflect direct input from participants and leaders in the group’s operation. Once drafted, the case studies underwent several rounds of peer review and served as key inputs for a meeting of the Network of Centers on October 1-2, 2014. At the meeting, the case studies were discussed and key findings were identified and synthesized. That discussion formed the basis of the synthesis paper, which underwent peer-review.


This project takes a networked approach to academic research. By activating a global network of interdisciplinary research centers, we were able to conduct in parallel research on twelve different case studies, and then collaboratively consider lessons from those case studies. Although the work was conducted in a highly compressed timeframe, we endeavored to demonstrate that such an interdisciplinary and global approach can offer nuanced, helpful, and timely insights to the stakeholders involved in Internet governance debates or concerned with the implementation of governance groups more broadly.

Of course, such an approach is not without methodological limits. First, our conclusions are bounded by the samples chosen. We chose only cases that were multistakeholder in whole or in part, and did not study groups with entirely different structures. Nor did we seek examples of failed governance groups; although not all of the groups analyzed in our research achieved all of their intended goals, they all were viable in their operations and sustainable throughout their existence. Accordingly, this research does not endeavor to identify factors that may trigger failure and instead focuses on factors that seem to enable success. Second, as with most case study-centered research, this project does not assert to be a statistically representative sample of models, regions, or experiences. Despite these limitations, we believe this synthesis and the accompanying case studies provide timely insights to the current debate over Internet governance, while also laying a foundation for future research that will be able to more fully explore the concepts, considerations, and questions raised in this work.


“Aviation – The Worldwide Slot Guidelines” by Giovanni Sartor and Hanna Schebesta [European University Institute]
This case study explores the history and evolution of the Worldwide Slot Guidelines, an international set of agreements that guide the allocation of airport capacity, which is a complex process with many stakeholders at multiple levels, including 240 airlines. The WSG case presents an interesting example of private sector-coordinated resource management.

“The Evolution of Governance Structure in Cryptocurrencies and the Emergence of Code-Based Arbitration in Bitcoin” by Markus Oermann and Nils Tollner [Hans-Bredow-Institute]
This case study describes how Bitcoin, the open source cryptocurrency, revised its core code to accommodate a new feature called “multi-signature transactions,” and looks closely at the decision-making processes within this open source community.

“Creative Commons (CC)” by Federico Morando [Nexa Center for Internet & Society at Politecnico di Torino]
This case study examines the formal structure of Creative Commons as an organization stewarding the development of the most well-known set of standard public copyright licenses. It highlights how a transnational organization can operate outside of the scope of formal regulatory authority with the purpose of creating an output that has legal weight.

“Fighting Spam the Multistakeholder Way – A Case Study on the Port 25/TCP Management in the Brazilian Internet” by Ronaldo Lemos, Carlos Affonso de Souza, Fabro Steibel, Juliana Nolasco [Institute for Technology and Society at Rio de Janeiro State University]
This case study explores how, the multistakeholder Brazilian Internet Steering Committee, addressed through a collaborative decision-making and educational process the difficult issue of arresting spam propagation, and it highlights how collaborative governance can be applied in an iterative and educational fashion.

“Enquete-Kommission Internet und digitale Gesellschaft (Enquete Commission on Internet and Digital Society)” by Kirsten Gollatz, Sarah Herweg, Jeanette Hofmann [Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society (HIIG)]
This case study examines the Enquete Commission on Internet and Digital Society (EIDG), a special parliamentary inquiry body of the German Bundestag, which brought together policy-makers with academic and professional experts to address the complex and varied challenges for policy and society posed by digitization.

“Multistakeholder Approaches to Water Resource Management in the White Volta River Basin” by Rebekah Heacock Jones, Ryan Budish, et al [Berkman Center for Internet & Society]
This case study examines and compares the international deployment of the decentralized integrated water resource management (IWRM) model for the management of water resources at the local and transboundary levels of the White Volta River Basin and discusses the development of IWRM in water governance more broadly.

“Multistakeholder Governance and Nodal Authority – Understanding Internet Exchange Points” by Ben Wagner [European University Institute] and Patricia Mindus [Philosophy Department, Uppsala University]
This case study considers Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) as an example of governance processes in action. By tracing out the plurality of models used for IXP governance and comparing the processes of developing peering relationships, this case highlights the decisions they each faced, including trade-offs between inclusiveness and effectiveness.

“Towards a Cyber Security Policy Model – Israel National Cyber Bureau (INCB) Case Study” by Daniel Benoliel [Haifa Center of Law and Technology (HCLT), University of Haifa Faculty of Law]
This case study follows the creation of a cyber security policy model at the national level. It uses Israel’s recently established National Cyber Bureau (INCB) as a case in point and offers a cross-section comparison between leading cyber security national policies of the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Japan and the Netherlands.

“A Bill of Rights for the Brazilian Internet (“Marco Civil”) – A Multistakeholder Policymaking Case” by Ronaldo Lemos, Carlos Affonso de Souza, Fabro Steibel, Juliana Nolasco [Institute for Technology and Society at Rio de Janeiro State University]
This case study explores the events that led to the passing of the “Marco Civil da Internet” legislation, which Brazil enacted in April 2014. The first of its kind anywhere in the world, Marco Civil is a landmark “Bill of Rights” for the Brazilian Internet users. This case study explores the unique features of that drafting process.

“The Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance (NETmundial)” by Marília Marciel, Nicolo Zingales, and Daniel Fink [Center for Technology & Society at FGV School of Law, Rio de Janeiro]
This case study examines NetMundial, the 2014 Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance. It sought to develop a set of universally acceptable Internet governance principles, which serves as an innovative example of the use of technological tools for both planning and participation.

“Swiss ComCom FTTH Roundtable” by Urs Gasser, Ryan Budish, David R. O’Brien, Sarah West, Sergio Alves Jr., Alexander Sculthorpe [Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard University]
This case study explores the dimensions of how the Swiss government used a multistakeholder process to organize private sector firms to begin deploying in a coordinated fashion a fiber optic network connected to every home in Switzerland.

“Turkish Internet Improvement Board” by Leyla Keser, Mehmet Bedii Kaya [IT Law Institute, Istanbul Bilgi University]
This case study focuses on a multistakeholder working group that the Turkish Internet Improvement Board created in order to generate innovative, bottom-up approaches for fixing the Internet law in Turkey.

“Multistakeholder as Governance Groups: Observations from Case Studies” by Urs Gasser, Ryan Budish, and Sarah Myers West [Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard University]
This document synthesizes the twelve case studies, identifying cross-sectional themes and starts extracting lessons across the draft case studies and situating these hypotheses within current debates about the future of Internet governance. This builds upon the NetMundial Roadmap and the work of various panels and committees, including the report released by the Panel on Internet Cooperation and Governance Mechanisms in 2014.


NoC Events Series on the Future of Internet Governance: The Evolution of the Internet Governance Ecosytem
Host: Nexa Center for Internet & Society, Politecnico di Torino, Italy
Torino, Italy | October 1-2, 2014

NoC Events Series on the Future of Internet Governance: Moving Towards a Collaborative Internet Governance Ecosystem: Contributions by the Academic Community and Next Steps
Host: ICT Law Institute, Bilgi University, Turkey
Istanbul, Turkey | May 22, 2014

NoC Events Series on the Future of Internet Governance: Multi-Stakeholder Internet Governance Models, Mechanisms, and Issues
Center for Technology & Society, FGV School of Law, Brazil
Sao Paulo, Brazil | April 25-26, 2014

NoC Events Series on the Future of Internet Governance: Brazil-Germany Meeting on Internet Governance
Center for Technology and Society, Rio de Janeiro State University, Brazil
Sao Paulo, Brazil | April 22, 2014