IGF 2011: A practical guide

With 118 sessions running over four days, the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) can be a little overwhelming.

  • Which of the 10 sessions going on at any particular moment should you attend?
  • What is the difference between a workshop, feeder workshop, dynamic coalition, open forum or main session?
  • How and when do I interact and how do I get the most out of the IGF?

The main theme

The title of this IGF is: Internet as a catalyst for change: access, development, freedoms and innovation.

What that means in practical terms is far more sessions on things like the impact of social media in the light of the Arab Spring and more sessions focused on the needs of developing countries.

There are also several main themes carried over from previous IGFs:

  • IG4D / Internet governance for development (IG4D)
  • Emerging Issues
  • Managing critical Internet resources
  • Security, openness and privacy
  • Access and diversity
  • Taking stock and the way forward

Session explanation

There are a number of different types of sessions. In the bigger scheme of things, the differences don’t matter that much – an interesting or insightful discussions is just as likely to pop up in the smallest session as the largest, but it may be helpful to know what is what.

Workshop: A 90-minute session proposed and selected covering one of the main themes. Broadly it will be an open panel discussion on a relatively specific topic.

Feeder workshop: Same as a workshop but specifically selected to report in its theme’s main session as it is thought to have direct relevance or broader interest.

Dynamic Coalition: A 90-minute session in which one of the eight active groups that have self-formed during previous IGFs report on the work they have done and the work they are planning. The remaining coalitions (there were many more) tackle broad, almost philosophical issues, for example: Freedom of Expression; Gender and Internet Governance.

Open Forum: A session specifically run large organizations with a strong interest or connection with Internet governance, for example, ICANN, Council of Europe, OECD. In these, the organization will report on its work and take questions. 90 minutes.

Main session: A two-hour session covering one of the main themes of the conference e.g. Access and Diversity; Critical Internet Resources. A more formal structure sees a panel of experts on stage amid reports from feeder workshops, all pulled together by two moderators.

Others: the opening and closing sessions/ceremonies and a number of launches and other various meetings.


If you are in Nairobi there is plenty of opportunity to directly participate. Easiest, and least intimidating is in the workshops when the audience is asked for questions. When this happens and how frequently varies wildly but typically the sessions are very interactive.

You can also take the mic or, on occasion, send a question on a note during one of the main sessions, although this is a more formal setup and there is less time given to other speakers. It is also more intimidating.

If you are not in Nairobi you can participate either by finding one of the IGF remote hubs that is physically near to you (full list is here) or participate remotely as an individual using the IGF's Webex online tools.

Each workshop room will have its own separate Webex channel, the list of which will be published on this webpage. You then just have to figure at what time your time a session you want to follow is on, and follow and/or ask questions online.

What to attend and when

So here is our guide to the most interesting sessions on during the IGF. We tried to give just one recommendation per meeting slot, but occasionally there is a second.

You should of course go through the timetable yourself because everyone’s interests are different and we have reduced the sessions from 118 to 22, so a huge number of good sessions have been cut out.

Hopefully though this will prove useful.

Day and time
Room #
Workshop #
9:00-10:30 12 129 Media in mutation: what is the future of the news and media industry in a world of social networking? The impact of things like Twitter and Facebook have had on news, news gathering and how we access information. Panelists: journalists and UK minister.
  13 85 Free flow of information and social networks: a role for democracy and social participation Also about social networks but from a more high-level perspective and with a focus on human rights. Panelists: human rights specialists.
11:00-12:30 14 96 Economic Aspects of Local Content Creation and Local Internet Infrastructure Aims to analyze the connection between level of Internet infrastructure, prices of Internet access and production of local content. Unusual though in that big-name panelists unlikely to have depth of knowledge that would be useful.
  11 130 Protecting the most vulnerable users in society: The roles of different actors in helping the new user survive in an on-line world Following on from research that shows many new people getting online are fearful of the risks of the Internet, the session aims to identify what can be done to help old or vulnerable people surf safely. Panelists: academics, government reps.
14:30-17:30 2   Opening session Occasionally interesting but with far, far too many speakers (27 this time around), you'll need to bring snacks and stamina. Given all that is happening in the Internet governance world, speeches from Hamadoun Toure (ITU), Neelie Kroes (EC), Janis Karklins (UNESCO), Larry Strickling (US) and Vint Cerf (Google) should be worth listening to.
9:00-10:30 12 122 Putting your Trust in the Clouds: why Trust Matters to the Open Internet Cloud computing was a theme of last year's Emerging Issues session and continues to demonstrate enormous potential for Internet users. This session covers one of the biggest barrier in the way: rules and regulations in the way of allowing for data to be shared freely across borders. Panelists: US tech company reps.
11:00-12:30 13 124 Blocking content: issues, principles and paths forward

Policy-makers are increasingly looking at using the DNS itself to tackle problems like child pornography, violation of intellectual property and cybercriminals. This session looks at the implications of that to the Internet, whether the solutions proposed are the right ones and what can be done to improve online security. Panelists: broad, mostly Western, but far too many (11); session may suffer because of it.

  10 205

Freedom of Expression on the Net: Current Threats to the Internet’s Architecture That Undermine Citizens’ Rights and the Free Flow of Information

Effectively the same as the Blocking Content session going on at the same time (see directly above), but with a focus more on freedom of expression and with fewer, and more lively speakers.
14:30-16:00 9 162 The I* organizations and their contribution to development This is the group of organization that do most of the technical work of the Internet, and this session will look at what they are doing with respect to assisting development of the Internet in developing countries and whether it's enough.
  13 115 Cybercrime Strategies A look at the different ways that countries are trying to deal with cybercrime and what policies and approaches work best.
16:30-18:00 9 203 Internet Governance Principles: initiatives toward the improvement of a global Internet Governance The past six months has seen a range of organizations produce "governance principles" as a way of introducing soft law approaches to the Internet. These session brings together several of those groups, presumably to see if they can reduced in number. [See a .Nxt article all about this phenomenon]
9:00-10:30 2 160 Global Trends to Watch: The Erosion of Privacy and Anonymity and The Need of Transparency of Government Access Requests A look at existing and proposed laws as well as best and worst practices when it comes to storing information about people's actions online. Panelists: range from blogger to academic to rights defender to cybercrime specialist.
    67 E-participation Principles Remote participation is becoming increasingly important in the Internet field but it remains far from effective participation. This session looks at what can be done to improve remote participation and discuss what lessons have been learnt up until now. Panelists: different groups that use remote participation.
10:30-12:30 2   Access and Diversity One the main sessions, its main premise is: 'Internet access as a basic human right: what challenges and opportunities does this pose for policy makers and the broader Internet community?' It also has six feeder workshops so you get an opportunity to hear summaries of some of the sessions you have missed.
14:30-16:00 14 69 IDNs and new gTLDs: why local languages are the answer to a truly global Internet Top-level domains have just started appearing in different languages and will increase massively over the next few years. This session will review what has happened so far, what has been learned and what the future holds. Panelists: IDN providers and IDN and language specialists.
14:30-16:30 2   Security, Openness and Privacy Another main session, covering some of the hottest topics in Internet governance at the moment, including seizure of domain names, proposals for blocking and filtering, cybersecurity plans, and efforts made to cut people off from Internet access e.g. during the Arab Spring revolutions.
16:30-18:00 3 93 Multistakeholder Internet Public Policy Dialogue:Lessons Learned and Best Practice examples of local to global policy dialogue Probably the biggest single issue with Internet governance is finding a way to develop policies that work both at the global and the local level. This session looks as the efforts that have been to do that and where they have and have not worked. Panelists: a broad range of policy wonks.
09:00-10:30 11 70 On the outside, looking in: real-world solutions to effective participation in ICANN, IGF and ITU A look at the barriers that exist to effective participation in Internet organization, and ways to overcome them. Panelists: decision-makers in ICANN, IGF and ITU.
  12   OECD Open Forum
Global principles for an open Internet
A look at Internet policy principles approved in June this year by the OECD.
10:30-12:30 2   Critical Internet Resources Traditionally the most controversial main session, it will cover seven feeder workshops and look at how and who manages the Internet's infrastructure, as well as capacity building and the move to the IPv6 protocol.
14:30-16:00 2   Taking Stock and the Way Forward Less a summary of what has come out across the whole meeting and more a look at the IGF itself. Facing an uncertain future, the session will first look at what this year's IGF has achieved with respect to development and capacity building, and what it can do next time to improve; plus reflect on the ongoing (and painful) process of IGF reform. May be interesting; may be self-absorbed.
16:00-17.30 2   Closing Session Like the opening session, the closing session has grown longer and less interesting over time. Occasional insights are more often lost amid dull reflections and political speeches. Usually the final summing up contains an interesting nugget or truth, wisdom and humor.