Learning in a Multistakeholder Environment: 15 Years of Summer School on Internet

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The 15th edition of the European Summer School on Internet Governance (EuroSSIG) took place recently in Meissen/Germany, from August 15 -20, 2021. It was the second hybrid meeting under the challenging condition of the pandemic. Eighteen fellows from 15 countries representing all regions of the world traveled to Germany, as well as five faculty members. Fifteen faculty members joined via Zoom from California to Beijing. The agenda of the one-week course included a broad range of topics such as cybersecurity, digital diplomacy, IGF+, DNS Abuse, human rights, digital trade and taxation, as well as artificial intelligence. Corona stopped the original plan to celebrate the 15th anniversary with former alumni. However, an online “SIG World Tour” connected around ten other Schools on Internet Governance (SIG), which were inspired by the “Meissen School” and are collaborating now under the umbrella of an IGF Dynamic Coalition on Schools on Internet Governance.

Where to Study Internet Governance?

The history of the Summer School on Internet Governance goes back to the days of the UN World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS1&2). The UN Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG), established by WSIS1 in 2003, was tasked to develop a definition for Internet Governance. The WGIG was a multistakeholder body, including academic experts such as Professor Peng Hwa from Singapore University, William Drake from the University of Zürich, Avri Doria from Lulea University, and myself from the University of Aarhus. Within this community, a question came up again and again: Where would it be possible “to study Internet governance”? The simple answer was: Nowhere! Universities are built around disciplines. There are faculties for computer sciences and social sciences, and there are law schools and business schools. But Internet governance is a multidisciplinary issue, which includes elements from many academic disciplines. Meanwhile, some universities offer interdisciplinary courses on Internet governance. But in 2005, it was challenging to find an academic place to get all the needed technical, political, economic, legal, social and cultural knowledge in a one-stop-shop to understand the growing complexity of the global Internet governance ecosystem.

In a post-WSIS2 workshop in July 2006, co-sponsored by UNESCO, the International Communication Association (ICA), the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) and the German ccTLD Registry DENIC, it was discussed how the academic community could contribute to the implementation of the Tuns WSIS Agenda. The workshop took place in Kurort Rathen, a small village outside Dresden, where the ICA had its annual world congress. The Rathen workshop produced two concrete ideas for research and education: One was establishing a “Global Internet Governance Academic Network” (GIGANET), which aims to promote interdisciplinary research on Internet-related issues. The other one was to develop an interdisciplinary curriculum and to initiate regional summer schools on Internet governance. GIGANET was founded during the 1st IGF in Athens in November 2006. The pilot project for the summer schools took place in July 2007 in Meissen, a picturesque town also close to Dresden.

This pilot project, supported by DENIC, became a success. Leading experts both from the academy, business, civil society, and government served as faculty members and we welcomed around 20 fellows from across the world. The “Meissen School” became a source of inspiration for other regional and national projects. In discussions with Olga Cavalli from Argentina and Hartmut Glaser from Brazil, both faculty members of the first pilot project, the idea emerged to establish another summer school in the global south. The first two editions of the “South School on Internet Governance” (SSIG) took place in Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo in 2009 and 2010. In 2009 Tarek Kamel, Egypt’s Minister of Communication, was very supportive of including a first Arab School on Internet Governance into the preparatory process for the 4th IGF in Sharm el Sheikh. Several initiatives emerged in Asia in 2010 and 2011. And it was Anriette Esterhuysen who used the ICANN meeting 2013 in Durban to kick start an African School on Internet Governance (AfriSIG). Today there are around 20 regional and national SIGs. Many of them agreed to assemble under the umbrella of the IGF Dynamic Coalition on Schools on Internet Governance, where they exchange experiences and best practices. Irrespectively of the pandemic, Glenn Mc Knight organized the first virtual SIG in 2020, which included fellows from all over the world in a series of Online lectures.

The “Spirit of Meissen”

The organizers of the first summer school were very mindful in selecting the venue. The St. Afra Monastery in Meissen is a unique place with an old history, going back into the Middle Ages. At the end of the 18th century, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, the father of the “German Enlightenment,” was a student at this school. The historical environment creates a special atmosphere when the future is discussed within ancient walls. St. Afra Monastery offers a unique space where fellows live and learn together with all faculty members under one roof. This allows a rather intense communication among fellows and faculty also besides the formal lectures and seminars. All meals are taken together in the Wine cellar—Meissen is also known as one of the most northern wine regions in Germany – and discussions continue until late at night at the terrace. And there is always a nice social program, like visiting the porcelain manufactory, singing at a bonfire, a boat- or guided city tour. The original plan for 2021 included a high-level symposium, a gathering of former alumni and faculty members, and a keynote speech from Vint Cerf. At the 10th anniversary in 2016, Steve Crocker, another “father of the Internet,” gave the keynote.

The number of former fellows and faculty has grown now over 500. The Meissen School has two slogans: “Learning in a Multistakeholder Environment” and “Teaching the Internet Governance Leaders of Tomorrow.” Members of the faculty included high-level representatives from all stakeholder groups. Governmental speakers were, inter alia, Larry Strickling, former US Assistant Secretary of Commerce, Bertrand de la Chapelle, former Envoy for the Information Society in the French Ministry on Foreign Affairs, Thomas Schneider from the Swiss Government, former Chair of ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) or Regina Grienberger, Cyberambassador of the German Foreign Office. Leading representatives from Internet companies came from Amazon, Google, Facebook, Alibaba, Deutsche Telekom, Telefonica, Siemens, Cisco, ATT, Verizon, Microsoft and others. EuroSSIG faculty members came from civil society organizations like Amnesty International, Article 19, APC, Global Partner Digital, or the World Wide Web Foundation. IGF leaders like Markus Kummer, Chengetai Masango or Anriette Esterhuysen and well-known academics as Tatjana Tropina, Jon Bing, Wolfgang Benedek, Jeanette Hofmann, Bill Drake, Hong Xue, Jovan Kurbalija and Milton Mueller lectured in the EuroSSIG. Experts from the technical community—like ICANN Directors, ISOC leaders or specialists from Regional Internet Registries (RIRs), and managers from gTLD and ccTLD Registries such as Verisign Afilias, Donuts, DENIC as the “gold partner”, SIDN, Norid, nic.at, SWITCH, CIRA, EURid and others became engaged in sharing their experience and knowledge to enhance the fellow’s understanding of the functioning of the technical infrastructure of the global Internet Governance Ecosystem.

Many Meissen alumni are now serving in leading positions in Internet organizations, government, or the private sector. Alumni from the 1st edition in 2007 included George Salama, who is now Director with Twitter in the Arab Region, Andrea Glorioso, who is now a EU diplomat and served as digital liaison in the EU Embassy in Washington, D.C., Zahid Jamil, who became a member of ICANN’s GNSO Council and Matthias Kettemann, who is now a professor at the Leibnitz Institute in Hamburg. Other former fellows include, inter alia, Hadja Ouattara-Sanon from Burkina Faso, who was appointed as Minister of Communication for her country, Bernadette Lewis from Trinidad and Tobago became Secretary-General of the Caribbean…

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