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Guidelines for Chapter Organizers

The guideline procedures recommended in this document were collaboratively developed by a small volunteer team (aka "sphere consult") that comprised ISOC Chapter leaders, staff and individual members. We hope that the resulting document provides a helpful framework for anyone within ISOC wishing to conduct a consultation". - Fred Baker, on behalf of the ISOC Sphere Consult group.

Procedures for conducting a consultation with Chapters and ISOC Global

Version: Final
Authors: Sphere Consult drafting group
Date: 15 September 2009
Last update: 7 December 2009 - updated to use "communities" rather than "constituencies" as per feedback from ISOC Executive team.

1. Introduction

This is the final version of this document which was approved by the ISOC Executive team.

For previous versions of this document including a summary of the feedback received and how it was incorporated into the document.

Read also this document: "Best Practice" summary guidelines for conducting a Consultation in ISOC.

1.1 Our Goal - Development and Implementation of Policy Consultation Protocol

The Internet Society needs protocols and/or procedures in place for how to conduct a consultation with and among its various communities - chapters, organizational members, and individual members - on policy issues. There is no clear protocol for how a chapter may consult with ISOC Global and/or the other chapters about an impending event or development in its local region. Our charge was to devise a draft set of protocols for the conduct of policy consultations between and among ISOC Global and its communities.

In addition to considering the above relationships, the group did some broader thinking about other consultations - exploring ISOC's various communities and the need to collect opinions that would be desirable within the ISOC context. These include interactions between and among the following groups: the ISOC Board, staff, advisory council, regional offices, associate organizations like ISOC-ECC, and chapters.

2. Proposed Consultation Process

2.1 Who is consulting

For the purposes of this document, we initially limited the consultation process discussion to ISOC Global and ISOC Chapters. However, we do feel that this consultation process could easily engage multiple stakeholder groups simultaneously as discussed in the previous paragraph. Hence, this document addresses consultation throughout ISOC.

2.2 Business Process Requirements for Consultations

2.2.1 Trigger for a consultation

Different triggers for a consultation can be classified as:

a) issues arise locally only
b) issues arise locally but have more interest broadly
c) international issues

Within these categories, triggers can be external (from an inquiry, discussion paper etc) arising from issues by Government or other organisations.

Triggers can be rated by their importance to the organisation. Is it critical? Is it important that certain stakeholder groups respond? Are there external timelines imposed?

2.2.2 Planning and Timing of consultations is critical.

Because of global nature of ISOC, planning and timing of consultations needs to be carefully considered. Policy issues have different regional importance at different times. During a consultation, the participants need to engage at a speed which fits with their local needs or the global needs of ISOC Global.

We recommend:

A standard consultation be communicated with appropriate parties at least one month before a final decision is needed.

2.2.3 Engagement expectations need to be set as part of a consultation.

In any engagement, the body initiating a consultation must inform its target audience very specifically about their expectations during the consultation. This includes but is not limited to the following expectations:

  • Timing/due dates
  • Who is being consulted as part of the process
  • What is the purpose of the consultation - who is the ultimate audience
  • How a final decision will be made
  • What the consultees are expected to provide: advice, ideas, etc.
  • The stage of the consultation: dialogue, discussion, decision (see Section 2.3)

2.2.4 Appropriate tools must be used to archive consultations for future use.

Consultations, and the discourse and discussion that surround them, have a tremendous value to ISOC. As such, ISOC must support a discussion forum structure that allows for archival features, participation by and identification of participants, and multiple access methods (online, email, web-based, universal-design-qualified, etc.)

2.2.5 Consultation with other participants must be identified and shared with all participants.

ISOC Global and its various communities understand that multiple sets of stakeholders may be interested in being included in key policy consultations. The organizational entity asking for the consultation needs to identify these other participants and share this information with all participants. Our group recognized that consultations would likely involve interactions between and among the many groups: the ISOC Board, staff, advisory council, regional offices, associate organizations like ISOC-ECC, chapters, the ISOC Advisory Counsel, and ISOC’s organizational members.

2.3 Consultation process

Through this process, participants will be able to map out the likely consequences of decisions, work out the importance of individual factors, and choose the best course of action to take. We are proposing a three level consultative model based on dialogue and discussion and resulting in a valued, shared decision.

2.3.1 Step One: Dialogue - understanding the different perspectives

The physicist David Bohm, who devoted his last years to the investigation of dialogue, described it this way. Dialogue is "not an exchange and it’s not a discussion. Discussion means batting it back and forth like a ping pong game. That has some value, but in dialogue we try to go deeper…to create a situation where we suspend our opinions and judgements in order to be able to listen to each other."

During the dialogue phase of a consultation, the participants need to engage with each other in an open way and learn how an issue is perceived from a variety of difference perspectives. The dialogue phase of a consultation is possibly the most important phase since it allows one to view many different sides of the same issue. This phase should be done in an open, encouraging and respectful manner to ensure that as many perspectives as possible are considered in later phases.

2.3.2 Step Two: Discussion — examining the competing values from the perspectives

During the discussion phase of the consultation, participants need to weigh the competing perspectives collected during the dialogue phase against the consultation goals and the ISOC Principles. It might be that this part of the consultation could be done with a smaller group to hasten progress. But, the value of the process itself and the discussion is important for archival purposes and for future references. As such, we encourage an open and respectful forum for this phase.2.3.3

Step 3: Decision - choices made in the best interest of the ISOC principles

Once a final decision is made, it should be documented in a formal document that is archived along with the dialogue and discussion that lead to the decision. The final document should outline how the decision supports the ISOC principles and its importance to the future of the Internet.

2.3.4 Structure of the Consultation Process

We recommend that consultations be conducted by forming ad-hoc and short-lived purpose-built groups of interested stakeholders that are aware of the Consultation Fundamentals outlined in Appendix A. It is envisioned that a standard consultation will involve proactive consideration of issues with adequate time for stakeholder engagement following the three steps outlined below. A reactive consultation process should only be in response to an immediate crisis and should still encompass many of the attributes discussed herein. Reactive processes may have shorter timeframes and a more targeted stakeholder group focus in order to meet tight deadlines.

2.3.5 Consultation Milestones and Activities

The consultation should be framed so that the participating community understands the nature of the consultation.

  • For Information: The statement is to inform the participant of something and expects no response. Rarely used in a consultation process
  • For Dialogue: The statement requests dialogue from the addressee, usually within a stated time frame.
  • For Discussion: The statement requests discussion from the addressee, usually within a stated timeframe.
  • For Decision: The statement includes a decision and expects no further response.

A reasonable consultation process will consist of the following activities.

  1. Create a statement of what is being asked
  2. Create a statement of the proposed position (if appropriate)
  3. Assure that the statement is consistent with ISOC's core principles and the current ISOC Global Strategic Operating Plan.
  4. Identify the participants needed for a robust consultation process.
  5. Set a timeline for a discussion process and review.
  6. Publicize the consultation by including the following information in an appropriate forum:
    • who is asking
    • the intended recipient of the final policy
    • the point of contact for questions and responses
    • what is expected of the participants
      • is this strictly informative?
      • is this for comment?
      • is a specific action required?
      • Acknowledgment/interest in participation
      • what constitutes a useful reply
    • Important deadlines for dialogue, discussion, final policy formation and documentation
  7. 7. Is any part of the consultation private? If so, please indicate this.

If participants find the proposed deadline unreasonable, they should reply immediately with a date that they think they can achieve, and then act accordingly barring further communication from the requester.

2.4 Electronic Support for a Robust Consultation Process

Because of ISOC’s global nature and the widespread worldwide distribution of chapters, the need for translation support and the various levels of engagement of chapters, it is necessary to have a robust online toolset that will make consultation easy for all members of ISOC. Basically, a discussion forum needs to be created that:

  • Makes it easy to ask for input,
  • Makes it easy to track the input even if you weren't watching realtime, and
  • Makes it easy to archive the results for future reference.

Appendix A: Consultation Fundamentals

1. The ISOC Principles are shared core values utilized in policy formation but could use a revamp.

The group agreed that all chapters, ISOC global and other members of ISOC should agree to and use the ISOC principles as the common ideas and shared values that we all respect and utilize as the underpinnings of all policies.

ISOC's activities are founded upon, and driven by, the following principles:

  • Open, unencumbered, beneficial use of the Internet.
  • Self-regulated content providers; no prior censorship of on-line communications.
  • On-line free expression is not restricted by other indirect means such as excessively restrictive governmental or private controls over computer hardware or software, telecommunications infrastructure, or other essential components of the Internet.
  • Open forum for the development of standards and Internet technology.
  • No discrimination in use of the Internet on the basis of race, color, gender, disability, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status.
  • Personal information generated on the Internet is neither misused nor used by another without informed consent of the principal.
  • Internet users may encrypt their communication and information without restriction.
  • Encouragement of cooperation between networks: connectivity is its own reward; therefore network providers are rewarded by cooperating with each other.

However, the group also thought that these principles needed to be revisited as they are seen as North American-centric. The principles could be made a stronger, foundational set of values if they were amended to reflect a more global perspective.

2. Policy decisions, even when considered relatively minor, should be shared amongst the parties.

One of the interesting ideas that emerged during our dialogue was that policy decisions should be allotted adequate time for discussion, dialogue and/or distribution. Parties need to be given adequate time to digest information and determine the need to share amongst their colleagues.

3. Mutual respect for roles and responsibilities are fundamental to a positive collaboration process.

The group discussed a number of instances in the past where there was a conflict in policy between ISOC Global and the chapters. In the course of our dialogue, it became clear that a fundamental recognition of roles and responsibilities needed to be understood and respected both from the ISOC Global side and from the chapter side.

In order for consultations to take place that allow for the best exchange of ideas, a genuine trust relationship needs to be in place among the parties that are participating in the consultation. This “fabric of relationships” is fundamental to success. The participants in a consultation need to understand and respect the values, the passions and the time available for each individual.

The chapter representatives are usually volunteers with “day-jobs.” At the same time, many have very strong local and/or regional liaison relationships and may need to have a reasonable amount of time allotted to ensure that new policies are framed and understood in a local context.

The ISOC Global staff is under enormous pressure to deliver policy statements that support the ongoing education of policymakers worldwide to ensure that the Internet can support the next billion users. Its policy recommendations are based on the principles. Occasionally, these recommendations may have to be developed with swiftness to ensure that an immediate need for education and advice is met. Swift policy development should be the exception not the rule. Most policies can be developed in a thoughtful, well-timed, collaborative process based on mutual respect — where each participant is willing to look at things from another perspective and understands our shared common ideas and values that underlie the consultation.

4. Language is a major issue.

Many of the chapter participants are not native English speakers. As such, when an important policy consultation is needed, it is imperative that the time and translation requirements be understood and respected on both sides of the consultation. In an important consultation, where there may be significant local issues or socialization of ideas needed, the chapters must be given either translated materials or adequate time to translate the ideas into locally understood concepts.

5. The concept of subsidiarity should be employed by ISOC participants for consultations.

The subsidiarity principle is based upon the autonomy and dignity of the human individual, and holds that all other forms of society, from the family to the state and the international order, should be in the service of the human person. Within ISOC, subsidiarity assumes that Internet users are the focus of our work, and emphasizes the importance of chapters and organizational members acting as regional or vertical market mediating structures which empower individual action and link the individual to society as a whole. "Positive subsidiarity” is the ethical imperative for ISOC HQ to advise globally on methods to create the policy and technical conditions necessary in the Internet for the benefit of the Internet user, based on ISOC’s principles.