Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Adventures in Multistakeholderism

Having recently attended the Internet Governance Forum in Bali thanks to a fellowship from InternetNZ I have a few personal observations. According to the website the purpose of the IGF is to:
"support the United Nations Secretary-General in carrying out the mandate from the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) with regard to convening a new forum for multi-stakeholder policy dialogue".

The IGF was worth attending in terms of getting a much better understanding of the international processes which we're working within. I do think events like this should be getting a lot more attention from the general internet-based business community given how likely it is that the seeds of various policies that will define the future of the infrastructure we rely on are likely to occur there.

Learning Curve

There was a reasonably steep learning curve to productively participating in the IGF for a number of reasons:
  • A distinct flavour of UN language such as questions being “interventions”. Diplo helpfully put together a glossary part way through the event.
  • A heavily politicised environment that limits the public commentary on more controversial issues.
  • Difficulties with limited time and approach in question taking occasionally leads to hijacking by parties with very specific interests.
  • Streams of related workshops have been identified but there isn’t a great deal of coordination between them although there is a suggestion that attending the workshops in a stream may help seed the focus sessions.

The event was significantly more enjoyable once I got better at identifying sessions that would be in the right balance between new information and areas that I knew enough about to contribute to.

Multistakeholderism and Breadth of Engagement

Multistakeholderism is a word that, when googled for, mostly links back to the the IGF. That is lovely since it means they can more or less try and make up what it means; unfortunately it means there ends up being multiple workshops at the IGF dedicated to trying to work out what multistakeholderism means.

Essentially the term has been broken down into private sector, civil society (which may as well be titled miscellaneous), technical community, government, and academia. I went into the event expecting there to be significant issues in the civil society space in terms of representation and a lack of diversity. While this is an issue there are a number of organisations (particularly APC) waving the diversity flag actively at the IGF, so it’s less missed than underrepresented.

The perspective I did find to be mostly absent was the private sector outside of a few multinationals. This worries me significantly as a number of the workshops on topics like developing economies and international payments are of huge relevance to the SME sector and a number of the discussion topics had huge direct implications to it, particularly for web based businesses.

For instance, the Brazilian response to data sovereignty issues in terms of moving data regarding its citizens inside the resident country is expensive for multi-nationals to implement. However, for smaller companies, particularly those not based in already large markets, a requirement like this would make it impossible to reach a suitable level of income to support the kind of infrastructure that multi-market localised deployment would need.

Having said that, the breadth of who is already attending the IGF is one of the great things about it and really something it should be commended for.


Panels are the major kind of session run at the IGF. While the organisers do reiterate that the focus of the workshop sessions should really be on discussion and gaining the value of bringing everyone together in a multistakeholder environment, they often use up the majority of the time getting through initial presentations by the panellists.

Some of this is due to the political nature of the event leading to excessively large organising groups and hence excessive panels. Most of the sessions seemed to have outsized organising committees due to organisers suggesting merging similar proposals together. Anecdotally it seemed as though this led to a mixture of organisers compromising by putting both their preferred panellists on on a panel or some of the organisers dropping out or not showing up to their panels.

In general it seems likely that taking a more direct approach to selecting workshops might lead to more targeted talks. A more focussed session is generally more likely to get through an introductory talk and into a discussion than a broader one that needs to outline a significant body of background material. There was also some commentary about the time between session submission and the event leading to issues having moved past the brief that had been submitted. Giving submitters more of an opportunity to update their topics closer to the time would hopefully avoid some of this and should need only moderate oversight for abuse.

While the overall event itself may not need to have outputs in the way of recommendations or conclusions, the structure of discussions will be significantly improved if the workshops have a clearer idea of which particular issues or controversies they think a discussion should revolve around.

The Whitespace

A good portion of the event is happening in the whitespace. There was a very steady stream of people wandering off in small groups to discuss policy and positions out of the way of cameras and streams. Some of this is a matter of it taking time for a new attendee to become recognised by the regulars and engaged with. On the other hand, it’s an interesting commentary on the surveillance issues that so many people were keeping their opinions out of the rooms that were recording.

I found I was only just starting to be well enough recognised by attendees to get into good conversations towards the end of the event. Which is probably another effect of the learning curve that’s present.

Ongoing Value

Bringing the right people together and the discussion that does happen at the IGF is valuable, but there is room for improvement. Relationships are generally considered to be better if partners communicate actively with each other and confront issues directly. Of course, relationships are also generally considered healthier when they don’t include a jealous partner tapping your phone.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Goals for 2013

  • Continue growing Rabid - I've got some targets in mind for this, I think we should see some pretty strong growth but I'm not absolutely sure what that will look like. It's also going to be the time that some of our hires are in more varied roles than we have so far, some of which I have less knowledge of how to hire for. 
  • Have at least one 20% time project properly see the light of day. Really want to get one of the 20% time projects out into the wild and generating revenue. Doesn't need to be a huge amount, just enough prove that we can develop end to end products in our own right.
  • Read 80 books - Less than I set myself last year but probably closer to a good number to balance reading and working.
  • Get IMDB top 250 movies remaining under 25 - I'm making good progress through this list, but starting to get to the point where churn in the list is making it difficult to finish. At some point I'll have to watch everything that remains in one big run to stop more stuff popping up. Probably still a year off that though.
  • Visit at least 1 new country - This will be here every year from now on.
  • Take some circus classes - They look ridiculously fun and like an interesting change of pace. Probably be suitable as my random extra-curricular for some of the year.
  • Be Less Sick - I've lost far too much time in the last year to various relatively minor illnesses. Avoiding that will free up quite a bit of time that I can put to better use.
  • Generally Improve Fitness - Follows from the previous point. In general my fitness level needs to increase. By the end of the year I shouldn't end up completely exhausted by a pickup game of soccer.
  • Grow attendance at Railscamp NZ - Sales are going well. We should have a bigger turnout this year. I shall be disappointed if we don't.
  • Speak at a larger event than I have previously spoken at. This means something with more than 300 people in attendance. I suspect this goal will require travelling.
  • Hire some female developers - I'm disappointed in our failure to achieve this so far, but I'm sure we will eventually.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Achievements and Failures 2012


  • Rabid - At the beginning of the year I was intending to do a mix of working on product startups and consulting again to follow on from what seemed like a good base of that kind of work in the previous year. Instead March found a number of opportunities sliding into place to start growing Rabid as a slightly more traditional consulting company with an eye towards releasing products in the longer term. 
  • Employing people and Building a culture - Employing people turns out to be far more terrifying than a realised, particularly for the first few people where each person is a huge increase in fixed outgoings each month. We have the beginnings an excellent team at Rabid which will be the seed that allows an amazing culture to blossom.
  • 75 books read - I good mixture of classic fiction, reputable business books, interesting non-fiction  and trashy fun reads. Some of the highlights included: finally getting around to reading a bunch of very good sci-fi like Vonnegut and Haldeman, thinking fast and slow, and the essential Drucker.
  • Study - I enrolled in a couple of post grad papers in February before I ended up with Rabid requiring large quantities of time and energy. I managed to make it through them with decent marks but it added a lot of stress that I probably didn't need.
  • Mostly maintained a steady but manageable stream of work - We only had one piece of work that ended up running to overtime for a few days this year. While I'd prefer to manage projects well enough for there to be no overtime I do think it's a pretty good result in comparison to what the norm seems to be elsewhere.
  • 3 new countries visited  - Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. I like both the weather and the affordability of South-East Asia and could easily spend extended periods of time here. 
  • Improv - I did a decent amount of improv training and some public performance. I think it was hugely helpful both in improving my presentation ability but also with helping create safe spaces for risk free innovation. One of the first things you do in any Improv group is learn to fail happily  in front of each other. I suspect that will also be key for developing an appropriate culture of innovation at Rabid.


  • Illness - I was sick far too much this year. Mostly relatively minor but recurring issues, with one hospital stay towards the end of the year. It made the year significantly more stressful than it needed to me. A lot of my goals for the coming year relate to avoiding a repeat performance.
  • Speaking - I only did a little speaking this year. Mostly on the topic of negotiation tactics. I intended to do more but it was never quite high enough up the priority list.
  • Writing - I failed at blogging regularly and didn't complete nanowrimo for the first time since 2007. Admittedly I did have a reasonable amount of morphine in my system at the time when I should have been finishing it.
  • 59 movies remaining on the IMDB list - I said I'd get this down to under 50 but I underestimated the amount of movement towards the end of the list. I suspect I'll probably have to watch another 90 movies to actually have the list properly conquered.