TOWARD A GLOBAL INTERNET & SOCIETY COMMUNITY OF SCHOLARS
ROADMAP 2015 / 2016
The impact of the Internet in virtually every sphere of activity of individuals, organizations, and societies is a multifaceted topic that has reached global attention. In the academic context, a wide set of issues that have specific implications in the digital domain – including privacy, intellectual property, markets and business models, patterns for content sharing, security, and many others – are being addressed by scholars from different disciplines, making new research questions emerge. Internet & Society topics share at least one common point. That is, the evolution of the Internet and its impact on society are not a deterministic fact of nature or an immutable technological law. Instead, they are the consequence of specific choices, both private and public, that could – at least in principle – very well change over time. Therefore, in order to serve the public interest, studying Internet & Society topics calls for a deep analysis of ongoing trends of national, regional, and global importance, including policy, regulation and governance. Cross-disciplinary dialogues and, more in general, an advanced coordination of worldwide research endeavors on Internet & Society can help to neutrally inform global debates, so to achieve a clearer understanding of complex and distributed phenomena that pertain to the Internet, its impact, and its evolution. For instance, as noted by Berkman Center's executive director Urs Gasser in the 2014 Internet Monitor, “it is not only opportunity, but also increased and pressing need that calls for a renewed commitment of academia based on a broader vision and strategy concerning its future role in the global debates about the future of Internet governance.”
Acknowledging a lack of internationally coordinated research and engagement activities in Internet & Society areas, a group of academic centers launched the Global Network of Internet and Society Research Centers (in the following referred to as ‘NoC’ or ‘the Network’) in 2012, in the context of a Symposium on Internet-Driven Developments held at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. The NoC is a collaborative initiative among academic institutions with a focus on cross-disciplinary research on the development, social impact, policy implications, and legal issues concerning the Internet. This collective aims to increase interoperability between participating centers in order to stimulate the creation of new cross-national, cross-disciplinary conversation, debate, teaching, learning, and engagement regarding the most pressing questions around new technologies, social change, and related policy and regulatory developments.
Since its inception, the NoC has undertaken several joint research activities, has organized a series of public events, and has continued increasing the number – and improving the geographic coverage – of its participants that reached 51 (over 26 countries) as of June 2015. Continuity of the internal organization of the NoC has been ensured by its founding members, with a primary role, as first NoC coordinator from December 2012 to September 2014, of the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society (HIIG) at the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, which passed the baton to the Nexa Center for Internet & Society at Politecnico di Torino (October 2014 - October 2016), consistently with the original principle of a two years rotation in the role of NoC coordinator.
Roadmap 2015 – 2016
The 2014 Roadmap outlined steps regarding the next phase of collaboration among the participants in the Network. It built upon the aforementioned seminal symposium in 2012, further developed in the subsequent Network conversations and meetings that took place in 2013 and 2014. Consistently with the foreseen evolution, the Network identifies two main goals for 2015 - 2016:
- continue increasing the relevance and impact of its joint research projects in key policy debates that call for cross-disciplinary and cross-national approaches;
- making the NoC the most relevant worldwide open community of Internet & Society scholars, enabling knowledge sharing, mobility, and collaboration.
- In addition, the NoC will continue organizing periodical regional events, and a global annual meeting.
NoC Mission and Values
All activities of the Network shall adhere to the NoC Mission and Values. The Network seeks to promote internationally coordinated, interdisciplinary research on the development, social impact, policy implications, and legal issues concerning the Internet and aims to increase interoperability between participating centers in order to collectively confront transnational issues on a global level. In doing so, the Network strives to be as inclusive as possible while preserving its effectiveness as well as the quality of its output. The Network continues to follow a set of Guiding Principles (Annex I).
Joint Research Activities
Multistakeholder as Governance Groups
Labeled with the working name “Joint Research Project on Multistakeholder Internet Governance” in the 2014 Roadmap, the project has reached its first outcome as a globally-coordinated academic research effort among NoC participants, and consists of twelve geographically and topically diverse case studies of governance structures, and a synthesis paper that summarizes key findings across these cases, all released January 2015. The research examines multistakeholder governance groups with the goal of informing the future evolution of the Internet governance ecosystem. Further dissemination, and related discussion of the results of the project is expected during 2015.
Governance of Online Intermediaries
Initially described in the 2014 Roadmap (including preliminary descriptions of case studies, and learning calls), the Network’s Online Intermediaries project is a policy-oriented research initiative aimed at examining the rapidly changing landscape of online intermediary governance at the intersection of law, technology, norms, and markets. In concert with other research projects, it seeks to develop criteria, comparative methods, and a shared data repository, and to compile insights and lessons learned across diverse communities of knowledge aimed at informing and improving Internet policy-making globally. The first output, released February 2015, consists of a case study series exploring online intermediary liability frameworks and issues in several countries, with a synthesis paper distilling key observations.
Publication in the field of Internet & Society
In 2014, an internal NoC mailing-list was created to facilitate information exchange to mapping the field of Internet & society publications, and, if appropriate, give organizational support in close cooperation with center liaisons at the working level. In the medium run, a wider NoC strategy for publication is to be foreseen, e.g., using existing platforms such as Publixphere and SSRN (through which the outputs of the aforementioned joint research projects were released).
New interdisciplinary research topics that have both have an impact on the global debate and regional specificities to be studies will be addressed by the Network of Centers.
Toward an Internet & Society community of scholars
The NoC is meant to connect not only research institutions, but also – crucially – persons, with the objective of building a community of researchers that address Internet & Society topics from different angles, and contributing to an indirect and emerging definition of “Internet & Society” research. In this vein, two lines of activities are to be fostered: knowledge sharing, and researcher exchange.
Building a corpus of shared knowledge
Learning calls around specific content-related issues shall continue to be a central part of the Network’s efforts in facilitating increased knowledge exchange of topics relevant at global or even regional level. These calls are led by an individual researcher or a small team of collaborators and treat a specific set of thematic issues. Learning calls can take place in context of other related Network activities such as events or in preparation of shared research activities. Similarly, reading groups on selected reading material shall be activated to increase mutual understanding of Internet issues as seen in different parts of the world. Open discussions should also be reflected by the periodical publication (via Publixhpere) of an editorial authored by one of the leading researchers belonging to the NoC or – upon invitation – by an external expert.
More systematically, in case the necessary resources are retrieved, the NoC should act as a gateway to gather, classify, and enable searches on the materials – including datasets – produced by the NoC participants, as a contribution to an emerging, open access corpus of Internet & Society shared knowledge. In the same vein, the NoC should find resources to acknowledge the best research efforts on Internet & Society topics, e.g., granting an annual award to the best Internet & Society-related book, article, or research project.
The mapping of researcher exchange opportunities has been identified as a major future contribution of the NoC to the academic Internet and society landscape. Exchange of researchers at all levels shall be facilitated through a concerted effort to map opportunities for fellowships, internships, summer schools, etc. that are available at different Network centers. Should the necessary resources be available, mobility of younger researchers from the Global South to spend research periods in more established Internet & Society centers as “NoC Fellows” will be supported by the NoC.
The NoC activities will continue to include a range of events such as conferences and – formal and informal – meetings. Continuing with the successful model explored in 2013 and 2014, the hosts of Network events are asked to consider an adaptable threepart approach in terms of format.
Part 1: Thematic lead by the host institution – regional or thematic focus
The hosting institution takes the lead over the substantive part of the event, with the goal of demonstrating research activities in a particular region or within a thematic focus. This not only allows the hosting institution to present its own work to a wide audience, but also provides Network partners with unique insights into the work of a specific Center or within a specific geographic region. The output of this aspect of the meeting could ideally flow into the Network’s research mapping activities and could potentially contribute to its efforts towards finding a joint vocabulary, undertaking joint teaching efforts and working towards a shared curriculum among the Network participants.
Part 2: Network contribution – focus on questions of relevance to mapping the field of global Internet and society research
The second part of the event should build on findings from Part 1, yet have a more specific Network focus. It could be organized either as a formal aspect of the program or more informally, as the focus of a dinner, working breakfast meeting or the like. The Network’s involvement in this second Part of the respective event would be stronger, yet with a clear focus on facilitating open and substantial discussions amongst Network participants.
Part 3: Network lead – organizational issues relevant to the Network of Centers
Whenever possible, Part 3 of any Network event should focus on organizational aspects regarding the NoC, such as discussing practical aspects of mapping efforts, organizing joint teaching efforts or the like. As such, it would be the part where direct Network involvement is strongest.
Within its possibilities and as appropriate, the Steering Committee will strive to support events as they are initiated and planned by Network participants and contribute to the NoC.
As an important and foreseeable objective, the Network will seek to enhance participation by actors in the field of Internet & Society from developing countries and/or institutions with extremely constrained resources. Network participants are encouraged to consider ways in which they can work together to provide, as appropriate, financial support or other support to their peers, for instance in the form of travel stipends to NoC-wide events or other meetings. This could be a valuable and truly practical contribution of the Network to capacity building in the Internet and society space, particularly with regard to fostering the cultural and geographical diversity of the network.
As reflected in the Centers page, the Network encompasses two types of participants: “Participating Centers”, i.e., academic research centers whose agenda is primarily focused on Internet & Society topics; and “Affiliated Participants”, i.e., other types of institutions, still with Internet & Society-related open threads, carried out, e.g., as non-academic research centers, policy-support entities, or think tanks. This categorization is intended, on the one hand, to preserve the original participation principles, and, on the other hand, to facilitate collaborations with other types of institutions beyond academic research centers. During 2015-2016, the NoC will prioritize affiliations from the so-called Global South.
Where deemed feasible and appropriate, the NoC will also consider creating working groups within the Steering Committee to manage “meta” issues (some permanent, some temporary, depending on the nature of their objectives). E.g., one working group shall aim at linking research endeavors and related fundraising models; another working group is to be devoted to further formalize templates for the NoC events.
NoC online presence and communication
The Network aims at gaining a richer online presence, particularly with more personal information about key NoC people and about the skills and focus of each center, in principle using the NoC website for general information and announcements, and the NoC Publixphere page for active discussion on the NoC research outputs. To facilitate community building, in December 2014 the NoC launched Netsociety, a public discussion list (with public archives) on Internet & Society topics. The NoC also plans to strengthen its presence in the major social media.
GLOBAL NETWORK OF INTERDISCIPLINARY INTERNET & SOCIETY RESEARCH CENTERS (NOC)
The global Network of Internet and Society Centers is a collaborative initiative among academic institutions with focus on interdisciplinary research on the development, social impact, policy implications, and legal issues concerning the Internet. It aims to increase interoperability between participating centers in order to collectively confront transnational issues on a global level.
2. Core Values
The Network participants are committed to the principles of openness, collaboration, and diversity. The Network operates independent from governments, political parties and economic interests and does not take formal positions on policy issues.
The Network is peerbased, collaborative, and entrepreneurial, with all participants invited to contribute to and engage in proposed activities and discussions. It is currently guided by a Steering Committee, which consists of directorlevel liaisons of the initial participating centers. Decisionmaking is based on “rough consensus” and occurs in close consultation with all Network participants. Participants will assess the model periodically to determine how adjustments should be made. The administrative lead will alternate among the centers to underscore and embody the value of collaboration and diversity. Differences in material resources shall be taken into account.
Through facilitation, periodic consultation, and collaboration, the Network seeks to create meaningful synergies among the research activities of the participating centers, which remain exclusively in charge with determining their respective research agendas. The Network’s envisioned activities include learning calls, meetings, conferences, researcher exchanges, collaborative project work, coteaching, and related academic activities.
The Network is incubated from the bottomup and will expand over time, building upon existing and future collaborations with the initial participating centers and collectively evolving its structure and practices.
The participating centers of the network can individually and collectively engage in fundraising efforts on issues relevant to the Network. The activities are governed by the respective rules applicable to each participating center (e.g. University’s fundraising and conflict of interest policies). The Steering Committee is responsible that any funding directed towards the activities of the network will respect and bolster the values of the Network.