Internet-Draft Policy experts are IETF stakeholders January 2024
Hoffmann & Blachut Expires 13 July 2024 [Page]
Intended Status:
S. Hoffmann
M. Blachut

Policy experts are IETF stakeholders


The IETF's work has significance for communities concerned with societal, economic, and political outcomes, though barriers to engagement with the IETF exist for non-technical experts from these communities. This informational document introduces a problem statement and gap analysis of existing initiatives related to policy expert engagement in the IETF. It aims to be a resource for anyone interested in working to enable policy expert engagement in IETF standardisation.

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This Internet-Draft will expire on 13 July 2024.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

The openness of processes is one of the defining characteristics of the IETF and its work to develop and improve the Internet. The success of IETF standards is underpinned by the ability of the community to bring together diverse individuals with a range of relevant expertise - including stakeholders from industry, academia, civil society, and government.

Across the IETF community, and over time, the challenge of putting this into practice has been noted, for example: in the IETF mission statement [RFC3935] and the openStand principles signed up to by the IETF and IAB [OPENSTAND]; the charter and work of the Education, and Outreach directorate[EODIR]; in the Tao of the IETF [TAO]; in [RFC8890]: The Internet is for the end user; by members of the community [I-D.draft-gont-diversity-analysis]; The Human Rights and Protocol Considerations Research Group in the IRTF[HRPC]; and in other groups that participate in and around the IETF, such as The Public Interest Technology Group[PITG].

These all recognise the wider context of standardisation, and the value in involving a diverse set of inputs as part of open processes.

The decisions made in the IETF have the potential to create ripple-effects across the globe. We are increasingly reliant on the Internet for virtually every facet of life, and many stakeholders are actively working to increase access to the Internet. The success of the Internet is built on open standards. Increasingly, the decisions we take when developing Internet standards are also policy decisions with trade-offs and implications that are inherently social rather than purely technical.

Multistakeholder approaches help to develop standards in ways that reflect a balance of various considerations, on the basis of relevant expertise. Alongside technical expertise in domains like routing, security, or operations, wider expertise and experience with regard to the societal, economic, and geopolitical impacts of standardisation can fruitfully contribute to the IETF's work.

Policy experts are individuals who have expertise in domains relevant to public policy, and engage in support of the public interest. They can come from a wide range of stakeholder groups. The best policy approaches to Internet issues are developed through multistakeholder processes that exemplify the diverse and unique contributions of policy and technical experts from civil society, academia, industry and governments.

The IETF already carries out work with great significance for policy, societal and economic outcomes, but there is still more to do in improving ways of working between policy experts and technical experts.

Policy communities bring a distinct, relevant, and useful perspective to the IETF's work, but face a unique set of challenges in contributing to standards development. On this basis, the IETF community should consider how to better draw on the expertise of, and engage, policy communities in standards development.

The aim of this draft is to document the problem space and identify potential ways forward to foster better technical and policy discussions within the IETF and strengthen ways of working in the process. We elaborate non-goals to help guide further discussions on the problem statement and way forward.

2. Problem statement

We start from the premise that the IETF benefits in two main ways from the incorporation of non-technical expertise, and that these benefits are sufficient to justify further work to enable constructive engagement between the IETF and policy communities.

The first benefit is to the IETF's contribution to the ecosystem of global Internet governance through the development of the Internet's open standards. There is a need to strengthen the IETF in this critical role as other standards bodies and actors look to use different fora to develop and influence Internet protocol standards, at the risk of undermining the Internet's openness and interoperability.

The second benefit is to the ability of IETF standards to take account of their various real-world impacts, and weigh these during the development process. Learning from other multistakeholder processes and better incorporating a wider range of expertise can help make IETF standards more robust, identify global deployment barriers, and raise the IETF's profile, making the IETF community better connected globally.

To ensure we are benefitting from the contributions of individuals with policy expertise in the IETF, a range of challenges need to be addressed, including:

2.1. Communication

The interaction between standards, regulation, policy, and other initiatives can create issues where stakeholders are not aware of proposals that may have significant impacts on their work. There are limited channels for early communication, or regular dialogue of affected stakeholders. This limits the ability for policy stakeholders to contribute early in the standards process, or likewise to raise awareness of policy initiatives that may have implications for standardisation.

Likewise, the interaction between different SDOs and global Internet governance fora can create duplication, tension, or fragmentation where there are not sufficient means for staying informed of developments in relevant areas, sharing technical and policy expertise, and aligning strategic plans. Communications and engagement from relevant bodies such as ICANN, other SDOs, UN agencies, or multistakeholder governance fora are important in this respect. These processes between the IETF and other bodies are, to an extent, currently reliant on individuals engaging across a range of fora.

Effective and timely communication into and projected out from the IETF, IAB and IRTF to the wider community can be strengthened and would help enable awareness of the importance of the IETF's work, earlier identification of issues and opportunities, as well as institutional relationships in and around IETF work.

2.2. Education

Not all interactions between standards and policy communities will require policy experts to engage directly in the IETF's standards process, but where this is necessary there are challenges for policy experts wishing to constructively contribute in the IETF. These include knowing when to engage in emerging standards work, difficulty in understanding ways of working, lack of technical knowledge and where and how to engage effectively.

Opportunities for policy and technical communities around the IETF to mutually build a better understanding of the intersection between technology and policy have also been noted as an area to strengthen.

2.3. Community

Standards organisations, like most other types of groups, each have their own specific ways of working and unique culture. The IETF as an organisation and a community has a strong shared identity, rooted in its history, culture, axioms, and even language. Traditionally, elements of this culture have made it difficult for various groups, including newcomers or policy experts, to share their views, including on topics deemed to be non-technical or political.

In this environment, and without spaces to bring relevant policy-related discussions to the interlinked communities that make up the IETF, there is added complexity for those looking to contribute their expertise to the IETF's work from non-traditional or non-technical perspectives, and strengthen communities of technical and policy experts and enable meaningful collaboration in the IETF context.

2.4. Coordination

There are a number of related initiatives and groups within the IETF which have remits relevant to upskilling policy experts, improving insights and knowledge on policy issues, and incorporating this knowledge into the IETF standards process. However, if these efforts are not effectively coordinated it will be hard for the IETF to make progress towards addressing the challenges of incorporating policy expertise.

For productive engagement to happen, experts need to know that relevant work is going on; for them to contribute at the IETF they need to be equipped with the right skills and understanding of appropriate processes; for them to have a constructive impact their contributions need to be considered by a culture that respects diverse perspectives.

Because responsibilities for addressing different aspects of these challenges are currently split across various groups and initiatives, it is difficult for there to be a coherent pull-through path for experts, from education and outreach and external communications to meaningful engagement in standards development.

3. Identifying solutions and ways forward

Consideration of ways forward to address these challenges should importantly also recognise what is already working as well as other constraints:

The participation of policy communities is not new, and there are instructive examples of positive engagement and contribution over the history of the IETF.

[I-D.draft-cooper-policy-interactions] lists a range of examples where there have been interactions between IETF work and policy initiatives. While it is a non-exhaustive and selective list, it nonetheless evidences a range and diversity of interactions, including those where outcomes haven't found compromise and have created significant issues.

On the other hand, there are more positive examples of interaction. Regulators have participated directly at the IETF. As bodies tasked with enforcing national regulations relating to competition, privacy, cybersecurity resilience, online safety or other objectives, they hold insights into legal and regulatory environments that determine the practical deployment of standards, which make uniquely valuable contributions.

More recently, there have been an increasing number of explicit discussions about public interest and policy topics and how they are dealt with in the work of the IETF.

At IETF 115 the Internet Society and the UK Government held a side meeting on policymaker engagement with the IETF, in discussion with chairs of the IETF, IRTF, and IAB along with other members of the community. Other side meetings were held at IETF 115 which focused on wider connections between policy issues and IETF standardisation [CDT-A19]. Coinciding with IETF 118, the Internet Society and Internet Architecture Board convened a roundtable with participation from policymakers as well as IETF participants.

There is also increased discussion in fora such as the United Nations and the Internet Governance Forum on the intersection of policy, human rights, and technical standards for the Internet [OHCHR]. In these contexts, engagement from the IETF community is vital for informing policy debates on the basis of technical realities, as well as raising awareness of the important contribution played by the multistakeholder technical community in upholding an open global Internet.

There are a range of initiatives within and around the IETF that are addressing particular aspects of the above points. Some of these are venues for considering the intersection of policy and technology, some of these are mechanisms for improving communication, or bringing together relevant stakeholders. Below is a non-exhaustive list of groups and initiatives which could help address this problem space in the long-term:

Sharing information to identify further initiatives, and collaborating to better understand the overlaps and gaps between this collection of work will be key to addressing the identified problem statement.

4. Security Considerations

This document has no security considerations.

5. IANA Considerations

This document has no IANA actions.

6. Informative References

"Center for Democracy & Technology and Article 19, Connecting Internet protocols and standards with policy", , <>.
"Education and Outreach Directorate", , <>.
"Human Rights and Protocol Considerations Research Group", , <>.
"Human Rights Protocol Considerations", , <>.
Nottingham, M. and A. Cooper, "IETF Policy Interactions", Work in Progress, Internet-Draft, draft-cooper-policy-interactions-00, , <>.
Gont, F. and K. Moore, "Diversity and Inclusiveness in the IETF", Work in Progress, Internet-Draft, draft-gont-diversity-analysis-01, , <>.
"IAB-ISOC coordination group", , <>.
"Internet Society Policymakers Program", , <>.
"Relationship between human rights and technical standard-setting processes for new and emerging digital technologies and the practical application of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights", , <>.
"OpenStand principles", , <>.
"Public Interest Technology Group", n.d., <>.
"Research and Analysis of Standard-Setting Processes Proposed Research Group", , <>.
Carpenter, B., "Charter of the Internet Architecture Board (IAB)", RFC 2850, DOI 10.17487/RFC2850, , <>.
Alvestrand, H., "A Mission Statement for the IETF", BCP 95, RFC 3935, DOI 10.17487/RFC3935, , <>.
Nottingham, M., "The Internet is for End Users", RFC 8890, DOI 10.17487/RFC8890, , <>.
"Tao of the IETF", , <>.

Authors' Addresses

Stacie Hoffmann
UK Dept. for Science, Innovation & Technology
Marek Blachut
UK Dept. for Science, Innovation & Technology