How to end the global governance gridlock?

Here’s a checklist for increasing impact.

Picture taken in Lisbon © Cathleen Berger

Who, how, when, and where?

Global governance isn’t a singular confined entity that can be considered as a whole. Just like there can be disagreement (and varying allies) within a government, there are distinct stages within a policy-making process and each provides entry points and opportunities for various levels of engagement and influence. The key thing is to gain clarity about a) when to engage and how and b) which part of the process to change and for what reason.

Picture taken in Berlin © Cathleen Berger

Change happens through a process, not a one-off

There’s always going to be some degree of resistance to changing existing power and decision-making structures, whether from governments or other entities.

Creating your checklist for engaging with global governance

When I think about global governance and policy-making, I try to structure my engagement along five phases, each of which addresses a particular question, so that I can decide which one I want to contribute to. Each phase is structured along its own process and questions will be addressed by different sets of actors, along distinct formats, and generate specific outputs. If thinking through these five phases seems burdensome to you, think of it in terms of decreasing complexity because you don’t have to engage in all of them, instead you focus on what you know best. The most important thing to keep in mind: policy-making is an ongoing commitment and that includes checking for transparency, inclusion, and accountability not once but every single time.

Picture taken at Web We Want Festival in London © Cathleen Berger

A. What are we trying to tackle?

Each stage of the policy-making process has a specific purpose and even when it comes to something as theoretically simple as raising an issue and putting it on the agenda, you may find that many processes lack a straightforward way to do so.

  • How are these issues affected by digital developments?
  • Did everyone get a say?
  • Do you raise issues virtually or in person?
  • Who organises the meeting and how are invitations distributed?
  • Is the process clear, transparent and open to newcomers?
  • Which other issues are related to your topic and at which level does it need to be addressed?
  • Are you familiar with existing legislation or policies?
  • Could you raise your issue in simpler words?

1. Process:

The main purpose of identifying pressing and/or challenging issues is the ability to set an agenda. For a policy to take shape and an issue to enter the next phase of the policy-making process, the issue at hand — e.g. AI, hate speech, encryption, access, digital public goods, sustainability — needs to be a concern for a big enough number of actors involved in the initial exchange to allow for meaningful deliberation. At this stage, no decisions are taken or positions defined; an issue is simply identified as relevant. Relevant issues enter the next stage and will be discussed in more depth.

2. Actors:

There should be no limits on which actors get involved in this stage. Everyone is affected by digital developments and should, therefore, be in a position to raise concerns — either directly or through their chosen form of representation. But while the process should be as inclusive as possible, issues are more likely to be raised by stakeholders already invested in the respective policy discourse, which is why it is all the more important to check your outreach channels. (See G20 example above.)

3. Format:

Regarding the format of an issue identification process, the key priority is ensuring inclusiveness and transparency, while reaching the relevant audience/s. There are many ways you can organise this stage of the process. To take only a few examples, you could:

  • announce town hall meetings in newspaper advertisements and hold general assembly style discussions;
  • hold open, regular meet-ups in a fixed locations;
  • or you can use elements of direct democracy and allow attendees to add issues to the agenda through motions, petitions or open letters.

4. Outputs:

The obvious output of the issue identification stage is your agenda. Also, try to make sure you use a language that is understandable to the wider public. Remember: an agenda is not set for eternity. New issues will come up regularly. Once an issue is on the agenda, spread the information widely and keep it there until it is effectively taken up.

B. Which solutions may be appropriate?

Picture taken in Berlin © Cathleen Berger
  • Are there other perspectives or angles that should be discussed, think of minorities or adjacent fields?
  • How is the consultation organised, publicly, in writing or in person?
  • Does your meeting space provide a neutral platform?
  • Did you allow for enough time to provide meaningful input?
  • Are there means to facilitate input, such as providing thought papers or info sheets?
  • Are there incentives to encourage participation and active contributions?

1. Process:

Identified, relevant issues are put on the agenda for deliberation. The deliberation process aims to lay out the whole range of different perspectives, concerns, related considerations and existing discourses on the topic, e.g. at the regional or international level. At this stage, input is sought widely, and no position is too extreme or too narrow to be heard. In order to solve a problem, you first need to know what’s out there.

2. Actors:

At this stage, it is crucial to get the right people at the table. Apart from civil society representatives, academia, technical experts and the private sector, it is important that all sections of government relevant to your agenda are involved — which could include law enforcement, security services, intelligence, and military. One clearly identified actor should be responsible to issue invitations. Depending on your system, the actor with the most convening power will differ; it could be the leading government agencies or a robust cross-sectoral network. It is also possible that the inviting actor could change depending on the issues put on the agenda. Either way, the process must be clear, and space for deliberation provided. Don’t shy away from ‘hard’ topics just because the actors involved seem daunting — listen to what they have to say.

3. Format:

The critical aspect of this stage in the process is public consultation. How this will be organised — as a public livestream, via written contributions, or as closed, in-person meetings following a broader invitation to stakeholders — there has to be a clear timeframe and ideally a neutral space, as well as a facilitator who oversees the agenda. It is important that you agree on rules of procedure to allow everyone to present their arguments. Ideally, minutes of the deliberation process will be published for transparency reasons.

4. Outputs:

It is likely that this stage of the process will take more than one meeting or a day of consultations. Presenting arguments and allowing for meaningful public consultation requires time. It might be necessary to keep an issue on the agenda for several sessions, depending on the frequency with which you meet. The aim of this stage is to produce a set of arguments, which are solutions-oriented and can be consolidated in the next drafting stage. One way to manage the process could be to establish dynamic working groups, where membership is not fixed but organised around particular issues. Each of the working groups could be tasked with drafting proposals, which are fed back for consultation with the broader community; as a general rule, it is easier to deliberate on the basis of text than merely in conversation.

C. Ready to write it down?

Picture taken at Transmediale, Berlin by iMAL
  • Does the solution still address the topic?
  • Is there room for in-depth, cross-sectoral exchange on the compromise text?
  • How exactly will the text be consolidated?
  • Which type of document is best suited to tackle the issue at hand — bill, strategy, positioning, etc.?
  • Did you allow for clarification and commentary on potentially controversial passages of the text?
  • Are decisions explained and justified?

1. Process:

The main purpose of the drafting stage is to make sense of and consolidate all the different viewpoints shared on a particular issue and come up with a balanced, comprehensive policy. With perspectives coming together into the form of a draft, the policy begins to take shape. At this stage, it is necessary to identify a facilitator or policy lead, who will either oversee or draft a consolidated document.

2. Actors:

The leading actors for the drafting stage will depend on your political system and regulatory context. In some systems you may identify an issue-specific facilitation lead which will produce the first textual compromise; in others a government body, administrative authority or parliamentary committee is required to produce the first draft; yet others allow for smaller collaborative, cross-sectoral drafting groups. At this stage, it is crucial that one actor takes the lead in producing a consolidated text that can be forwarded to the validation stage.

3. Format:

In most cases, the drafting stage won’t be a linear, one-off process, but will require several rounds with room for changes and clarifications on particular passages before an actual compromise text is produced. This can be done in the form of structural consultations, with the help of working group members (for instance, formed by the members of the successful proposal group of the prior stage) who jointly engage in the editing process, or simply by a leading actor who distributes revised versions of the text to selected participants.

4. Outputs:

The end of this stage will be marked by the production of a consolidated draft, which is then forwarded for validation. It should already outline the different stages of the implementation process that is to follow. Depending on the issue, the draft may take the form of a bill, a strategy or policy paper, a negotiation position, a framework for engagement, an action plan, or similar.

D. How do we make it happen?

Picture taken at Tate Modern, London © Cathleen Berger
  • Are there better ways you could be explaining and communicating decisions?
  • Are affected parties in a position to negotiate timeframe, reach, implementation steps and criteria for compliance?
  • Did you specify timeline and action points?
  • Are there rules of procedure to decide on roles and responsibilities for the implementation plan?

1. Process:

A consolidated document outlining a compromise has to be cross-checked against legal and technical considerations and assessed for its feasibility, the resources needed, and the follow-up mechanisms to be put in place. Once a policy (document) is validated, its (approved) implementation plan marks the final decision. In other words, the impact assessment forms the basis for the implementation. At this stage, decision-makers and implementing parties play a key role. While they lead on the process of this policy stage, they need to ensure their decisions are well explained and communicated. Generally, assessments from affected parties, such as private sector or civil society, should also be taken into account.

2. Actors:

Depending on the type of document produced and the issue at hand, different actors will take centre stage during the validation and implementation stage. A bill is likely to undergo the regular parliamentary process, a strategy or policy paper will need to be endorsed by the whole of government, and an action plan will need to be shared with and taken up by the affected parties — including private sector, technical experts, civil society, government and others.

3. Format:

To start with, the final draft of a consolidated text should be shared with all the initial drafting group and/or contributing members for another round of deliberation. Feedback can be collected virtually, in writing or in an open discussion. Before a text enters the formal adoption process, the option of another round of public consultation and consolidation should be considered, not least to explain and justify decisions and ensure that no major concerns persist. Afterwards, a draft bill will be forwarded into the standard legislation process and given a general impact assessment, including an outline of resources needed. Other texts will need to follow regular internal sign-off processes and should allow for an exchange on next steps, timing, feasibility and criteria for evaluation.

4. Outputs:

As a result of this policy stage, a consolidated compromise text will be specified in terms of feasibility, resources, timing and action points for the implementation. It should also outline the indicators against which the policy can be assessed and/or reviewed after a defined period of time.

E. What did we learn?

Picture taken in Berlin © Cathleen Berger
  • Which steps of the implementation plan still need to be taken?
  • Who is in a position to support an evaluation?
  • Which is the most suitable mechanism to adjust, correct, and challenge identified failure points?
  • Are there incentives for compliance, and which mechanisms ensure enforcement?
  • Was the process inclusive and participatory enough to build understanding and trust?
  • Are there possibilities for an exchange across different mandates and lines of authority?

1. Process:

This stage of the process depends on several factors: the timeframe for review of a policy set out in the implementation plan; the openness and transparency of the overall policy-making process; and the potential legal, technical, and economic consequences of a decision. Each policy should be subject to a review to assess whether it was effective, adequate, whether it is still relevant, and which steps still need to be taken. However, the evaluation stage also serves as a means to increase accountability and correct potential failure points — procedural, technical, legal.

2. Actors:

The evaluation stage should pay attention to the widest possible range of actors, particularly those affected by the policy. The effects, efficiency, appropriateness, and consequences of a policy should be closely observed by civil society, technical experts, academia, the private sector, lawyers and judges.

3. Format:

The main premise of the evaluation stage is legitimacy. Legitimacy can be achieved in two ways: through input into the process (policy stages 1–4) and examining the output of a policy (evaluation). At this stage it is possible to initiate another policy-making process in order to revise (parts of) a policy, which fails to address the identified issues. However, litigation can also be a means of challenging inadequate regulations.

4. Outputs:

The output of this stage could take the form of a review, an updated version of the policy, an addendum, or a judgement. In some cases, the evaluation might call for yet another round of deliberation on the issue; i.e. the initiation of a new policy-making process on the same or a similar issue.

And if you want to dig deeper, here is some suggested reading:

Democracy and Democratic Processes:

Strategy expert, focusing in intersection of technology, human rights, global governance, and sustianability

Strategy expert, focusing in intersection of technology, human rights, global governance, and sustianability