Quoting from RFC 3935: A Mission Statement for the IETF:
the overall goal of the IETF is to make the Internet work better.
Its mission is to produce high quality, relevant technical and engineering documents that influence the way people design, use, and manage the Internet in such a way as to make the Internet work better. These documents include protocol standards, best current practices, and informational documents of various kinds.
The IETF pursues this mission in adherence to the following cardinal principles:
Open process Any interested person can participate in the work, know what is being decided, and make his or her voice heard on the issue. Part of this principle is our commitment to making our documents, our Working Group mailing lists, our attendance lists, and our meeting minutes publicly available on the Internet.
Technical competence The issues on which the IETF produces its documents are issues where the IETF has the competence needed to speak to them, and that the IETF is willing to listen to technically competent input from any source. Technical competence also means that we expect IETF output to be designed to sound network engineering principles - this is also often referred to as "engineering quality".
Volunteer Core Our participants and our leadership are people who come to the IETF because they want to do work that furthers the IETF's mission of "making the Internet work better."
Rough consensus and running code We make standards based on the combined engineering judgement of our participants and our real-world experience in implementing and deploying our specifications.
Protocol ownership When the IETF takes ownership of a protocol or function, it accepts the responsibility for all aspects of the protocol, even though some aspects may rarely or never be seen on the Internet. Conversely, when the IETF is not responsible for a protocol or function, it does not attempt to exert control over it, even though it may at times touch or affect the Internet.
The Mission Statement further states that the Internet isn't value-neutral, and neither is the IETF. The IETF wants the Internet to be useful for communities that share our commitment to openness and fairness. The IETF embraces technical concepts such as decentralized control, edge-user empowerment and sharing of resources, because those concepts resonate with the core values of the IETF community. These concepts have little to do with the technology that's possible, and much to do with the technology that the IETF chooses to create.
The IETF makes voluntary standards that are often adopted by Internet users, network operators, and equipment vendors, and it thus helps shape the trajectory of the development of the Internet. But in no way does the IETF control, or even patrol, the Internet.
There is no membership in the IETF. Anyone can participate by signing up to a mailing list, or registering for an IETF meeting. All IETF participants are considered volunteers and expected to participate as individuals, including those paid to participate.
The IETF welcomes all interested individuals and participants come from all over the world and from many different parts of the Internet industry. In any one year, over 7000 people actively participate in the IETF either by authoring a document, engaging in a mailing list discusson, or attending a meeting.
The only fee the IETF charges is for registering for an IETF meeting.
IETF participants are regularly shown the Note Well, a reminder of the policies and processes they are expected to comply with.
To ensure an environment in which people of many different backgrounds are treated with dignity, decency, and respect, these policies include a code of conduct, an anti-harassment policy, and the IETF has an Ombudsteam who are the point of escalation for any problems with conduct.
The IETF conducts its work solely in English.