With the increasing international focus on the future of the ITU and its role (or lack thereof) in Internet governance, there is greater attention being paid to the fact that much of the 'governance' of the Internet is in fact carried out by so-called 'multistakeholder ('MSH') organizations.' Over the last two decades, these entities have largely established the norms and standards for the global Internet, but they are little known to the general public and even to most regulators and legislators. Indeed, most governments do not understand the essential role of MSH organizations. Consequently, to develop an effective Internet governance strategy, the origin, role, and operation of MSH organizations must be better understood, as must the limits of such organizations for 'governing' an ever more complex Internet ecosystem.
This essay, which builds on a roundtable conference on this topic, addresses the rising importance of MSH organizations and sets forth the framework for a research agenda on the topic. Notably, it explains that, for them to become broadly accepted, a new wave of research is needed to better understand how MSH organizations engage in Internet governance, where they operate effectively, and where they fall short of the mark. It also discusses when MSH organization may, or may not, be the right tool for particular Internet policy challenges and how they can best work in conjunction with governmental bodies.
For some thoughts on these topics, see my Models of Internet Governance.