The international community is not starting from scratch. It can build on established mechanisms for digital cooperation involving governments, technical bodies, civil society and other organisations. Some are based in national and international law,185 others in “soft law” – norms, guidelines, codes of conduct and other self-regulatory measures adopted by business and tech communities.186 Some are loosely organised, others highly institutionalised.187 Some focus on setting agendas and standards, others on monitoring and coordination.188 Many could evolve to become better fit for purpose.

The need for better digital cooperation is not so much with managing the technical nuts and bolts of how technologies function, as mechanisms here are generally well-established, but with the unprecedented economic, societal and ethical challenges they cause. How to tell, in context, when conversations on social media cross the line into inciting violence? How to limit the use of cyber weapons possessed not only by states but non-state actors and individuals?189 How to adapt trade systems designed for a different era to the newly emerging forms of online commerce?

The 2003 and 2005 World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) established the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) as a platform for multi-stakeholder dialogue.190 Global, national and regional IGF meetings have contributed to many important digital debates. But the IGF, in its current form, has limitations in addressing challenges that are now emerging from new digital technologies.

The need for strengthened cooperation mechanisms has been raised many times in recent years by broad initiatives – such as the NetMundial Conference,191 the Global Commission on Internet Governance192 and Web Foundation’s Contract for the Web193 – and more narrowly focused efforts such as the Broadband Commission, the Alliance for Affordable Internet, the Internet & Jurisdiction Policy Network, the Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace, the Charter of Trust, Smart Africa, and the International Panel on AI recently announced by Canada and France.194

In our consultations, we heard a great deal of dissatisfaction with existing digital cooperation arrangements: a desire for more tangible outcomes, more active participation by governments and the private sector, more inclusive processes and better follow-up. Overall, systems need to become more holistic, multi-disciplinary, multi-stakeholder, agile and able to convert rhetoric into practice. We have identified six main gaps:

First, despite their growing impact on society, digital technology and digital cooperation issues remain relatively low on many national, regional and global political agendas. Only recently have forums such as the G20 started regularly to address the digital economy.195 In 2018, the UN Secretary-General for the first time delivered an opening statement in person at the IGF in Paris.196

Second, digital cooperation arrangements such as technical bodies and standard-setting organisations are often not inclusive enough of small and developing countries, indigenous communities, women, young and elderly people and those with disabilities. Even if they are invited to the table, such groups may lack the capacity to participate effectively and meaningfully.197

Third, there is considerable overlap among the large number of mechanisms covering digital policy issues. As a result, the digital cooperation architecture has become highly complex but not necessarily effective. There is no simple entry point. This makes it especially hard for small enterprises, marginalised groups, developing countries and other stakeholders with limited budgets and expertise to make their voices heard.198

Fourth, digital technologies increasingly cut across areas in which policies are shaped by separate institutions. For example, one body may look at data issues from the perspective of standardisation, while another considers trade, and still another regulates to protect human rights.199 Many international organisations are trying to adjust their traditional policy work to reflect the realities of the digital transformation, but do not yet have enough expertise and experience to have well-defined roles in addressing new digital issues. At a minimum there needs to be better communication across different bodies to shape awareness. Ideally, effective cooperation should create synergies.

Fifth, there is a lack of reliable data, metrics and evidence on which to base practical policy interventions. For example, the annual cost of cybercrime to the global economy is variously estimated at anything from $600 billion200 to $6 trillion.201 Estimates of the value of the AI market in 2025 range from $60 billion202 to $17 trillion.203 The problem is most acute in developing countries, where resources to collect evidence are scarce and data collection is generally uneven. Establishing a knowledge repository on digital policy, with definitions of terms and concepts, would also increase clarity in policy discussions and support consistency of measurement of digital inclusion, as we have noted in our Recommendation 1D.

Sixth, lack of trust among governments, civil society and the private sector – and sometimes a lack of humility and understanding of different perspectives – can make it more difficult to establish the collaborative multi-stakeholder approach needed to develop effective cooperation mechanisms.

Inter-governmental work must be balanced with work involving broader stakeholders. Multi-stakeholder and multilateral approaches can and do co-exist. The challenge is to evolve ways of using each to reinforce the effectiveness of the other.


As noted in the discussion of values in Chapter 1, we believe global digital cooperation should be: inclusive; respectful; human-centred; conducive to human flourishing; transparent; collaborative; accessible; sustainable and harmonious. Shared values become even more important during periods of rapid change, limited information and unpredictability, as with current discussions of cooperation relating to artificial intelligence.

It would be useful for the private sector, communities and governments to conduct digital cooperation initiatives by explicitly defining the values and principles that guide them. The aim is to align stakeholders around a common vision, maximise the beneficial impacts and minimise the risk of misuse and unintended consequences.

Alongside these shared values, we believe it is useful to highlight operational principles as a reference point for the future evolution of digital cooperation mechanisms. The principles we propose for global digital cooperation mechanisms include that they should: be easy to engage in, open and transparent; inclusive and accountable to all stakeholders; consult and debate as locally as possible; encourage innovation of both technologies and better mechanisms for cooperating; and, seek to maximise the global public interest. These are set forth in more detail in Annex VI, based on the experience of internet governance and technical coordination bodies – such as the WSIS process, UNESCO and the NetMundial conference.204

Defining values and principles is only the first step: we must operationalise them in practice in the design and development of digital technology and digital cooperation mechanisms. Where the reach of hard governance is limited or ambiguous – for example, at the stage of innovation or when the long-term impact of technologies is hard to predict – values-based cooperation approaches can play a vital role.

We should look for opportunities to operationalise values and principles at each step in the design and development of new technologies, as well as new policy practices. For example, educational institutions could encourage software developers, business executives and engineers to integrate values and principles in their work and use professional codes of conduct akin to the medical profession’s Hippocratic Oath. Businesses can integrate values into workflows, use values-based measures to assess risk and institute a suitable incentive structure for staff to follow shared values. Self-assessments and third-party audits can also help institutionalise a business culture based on shared values.

Next: 4.2 Three possible architectures for global digital cooperation

Source: https://comment.eurodig.org/digital-cooperation-report/4-1-challenges-and-gaps/