NGI Forward’s advisory board held its inaugural meeting on 22 July to discuss the project’s current priorities and future ambitions. The membership of our advisory board represents a broad community of internet experts and practitioners. Going forward, it will meet twice a year to provide the project with support, constructive criticism and guidance. To promote transparency, we publish summaries of our meetings. You can learn more about our board here.
Present: Pablo Aragón, Harry Armstrong, Mara Balestrini, Ger Baron, Katja Bego, Martin Bohle, Markus Droemann, Inger Paus, Katarzyna Śledziewska, Louis Stupple-Harris, Sander van der Waal, Marco Zappalorto
Not present: Ian Forrester (excused), Simon Morrison (excused), Marleen Stikker (excused)
Summary: On 22 July, NGI Forward’s advisory board held a two-hour video conference for its inaugural meeting. The agenda was designed to provide board members with an overview of the project, its place within the NGI ecosystem, its goals and current priorities. In particular, we discussed progress made and future ambitions across a series of activities that broadly fall under NGI Forward’s ecosystem-building objective, especially the delivery of an NGI vision paper and policy network. We also collected feedback on the role of the advisory board itself in supporting these activities and agreed a follow-up meeting to assess should be held within six months to assess progress against the project activities discussed. Board members provided detailed and constructive comments on each, which are summarised in bulleted form below.
In this first part of the meeting, the project provided an overview of the main messages of the upcoming vision paper NGI Forward will release soon,
- Members agreed that the NGI vision should work towards concrete actions and alternatives, rather than framing the issues in a reactive way. It’s necessary to clarify that the NGI is about reclaiming the internet in a European way, without furthering the dynamics moving us towards a splinternet, or or supporting needlessly fatalistic narratives about reinventing the internet from scratch, or pulling the plug altogether.
- Members highlighted the risk that bad practices from big tech companies overshadow the possibilities of doing good through internet technology. The NGI vision should capture this by weaving more optimistic narratives and rewarding those who do the right thing.
- Members argued that an NGI vision should also promote open standards, practical solutions, inclusion and bottom-up action, and should empower a wide net of stakeholders to play their role in bringing about this vision.
- Members highlighted the challenge of balancing the NGI’s human-centred and value-based proposition with Europe’s otherwise more economically-driven Digital Single Market narrative. However, bridging that gap may also present a unique opportunity for the project and wider initiative to speak to policymakers who are caught in between both approaches. The story of this vision needs to be sufficiently inclusive to appeal to policymakers and other stakeholders across the political spectrum.
- Members asked to be provided with an early draft of the vision before it’s published, and generally would like to be involved in the dissemination and future finetuning of the NGI vision.
- Members expressed some language around data justice and bias was not as explicitly mentioned in the summary slides on the visions paper, and that, given the importance of these topics, the project should consider featuring these more prominently.
- NGI Forward presented a short paper on the objectives and design of a potential NGI Policy Network, which would serve as a coalition for change towards a more democratic, sustainable, trustworthy, resilient and inclusive internet by 2030. The proposed network would bring together organisations and individuals with shared ambitions through policy-relevant research and public affairs work. It would serve to avoid the duplication of efforts and the proliferation of competing, often similar, solutions to universal challenges from organisations that operate in different local contexts or represent different stakeholder and practitioner communities. It should aim to make the NGI more inclusive and provide a mechanism for bottom-up contributions to NGI-relevant research and policy work.
- Members welcomed the idea of a community of communities that would serve to break down silos between different discourses and provide for knowledge-sharing at a practical level.
- Members highlighted that many actors in this space have a capacity problem and need to see a clear incentive for joining.
- Members similarly highlighted the risk of setting up a policy network that duplicates the work of similar, already existing groups.
- The network should have very clear objectives and identify areas of mutual interest that are underserved by other groups. At the same time, it should develop good links between these existing networks to widen its impact.
- Members also spoke of the risk of setting up another project or network that cannot be sustainably continued after the end of NGI Forward’s funding period, often a problem for H2020-funded initiatives. The goal should be to create a structure that lasts after the end of the project, and could potentially be carried forward by its members. There should be a continuity or succession plan in place before the network is launched.
- Similarly, members suggested the network should be open to European project consortia to share their own project outputs and deliverables so as to ensure follow-up by others after the end of their respective grant periods.
- Members argued that the project’s ambitions for enabling a bottom-up approach will require the network, and the project more generally, to target local governments and communities or institutions that otherwise have limited exposure to these topics and translate NGI ideas from EU jargon into more useful terminology, methods and tools.
- Another potential selling point is to help public sector organisations who are actively looking for value-aligned alternatives and more ethical ways of organising the digitalisation of their services.
- Members highlighted in particular the need to target non-English-speaking audiences, and recommended that the project seek ways to translate outputs, and reflect Europe’s geographical diversity in, for example, the NGI Policy Summit programme.
- Members agreed that there was a need for practical insights, and tangible, solutions-oriented policy ideas, but less desire for another discussion forum to discuss high-level principles for the future of the internet. One idea put forward was to brand the coalition a ‘Policy and Practice’ Network.
- Members suggested that the network could pursue more formal agreements between organisations, e.g. memoranda of understanding. Members said that the network would need visibility in places where policymakers go, such as the OECD and WEF.
- Members argued that we should consider setting clear responsibilities and deadlines for participants to ensure engagement and partners following through with commitments. On the other hand, we should be realistic about how much time and resource potential partners could invest in another network.
- The Members expressed their interest in the NGI Policy Summit, scheduled for September 28 and 29, and all agreed to attend at least some of the sessions.
- The Members also expressed the suitability of the summit to both highlight the conclusions of the visions paper, and launch the NGI Policy Network, with this in particular being a good moment to start some of the proposed working groups.
- Members recommended we also recruit engaged stakeholders to lead some of these working groups, rather than attempt to organise all of these within the project.