Internet-Draft Policy experts are IETF stakeholders July 2023
Hoffmann & Blachut Expires 11 January 2024 [Page]
Intended Status:
S. Hoffmann
UK Dept. for Science, Innovation & Technology
M. Blachut
UK Dept. for Science, Innovation & Technology

Policy experts are IETF stakeholders


The IETF’s work has significance for wider societal, economic, and political communities, though gaps and barriers to engagement with the IETF exist for policy experts. This informational draft introduces a problem statement and gap analysis of existing initiatives related to policy expert engagement in the IETF. It also poses questions we hope to work through with others in the IETF community regarding how to better enable policy expert engagement in IETF standardisation, and on how we can build a culture which better supports technical and policy experts working together to develop more robust standards.

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This Internet-Draft will expire on 11 January 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 various parts of 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.

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 actively engage in support of the public interest. “Policy communities” include a wide range of stakeholder groups and experts, such as industry, academia, civil society and government. The best policy approaches to Internet issues are developed through multistakeholder processes, such as the Internet Governance Forum. Multistakeholder processes exemplify the diverse and unique contribution 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 solutions or ways forward to foster better technical and policy discussions within the IETF and potentially strengthen ways of working in the process. The exact shape of those ways forward are yet to be determined. We elaborate non-goals to help guide further discussions on the problem statement and ways forward.

2. Context in the IETF

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

The Internet Society runs a Policymaker Program which started in 2012 and upskills policymakers on topics such as how the Internet works, how the technical standards underpinning the Internet are developed, and how these standards have been implemented. After a brief hiatus, the Program was reinstated at IETF 116.

Regulators are also regular participants at IETF. As bodies tasked with upholding regulation with an interest in the efficient and safe working of technologies, they hold useful insights into legal and regulatory environments, and the practical development and deployment of technical standards.

HRPC brings together a range of stakeholders from the policy community, and importantly gives a research-focused space for civil society, academia, and others to discuss human rights issues related to IETF standards. The work of participants resulted in RFC 8280. Ongoing rechartering discussions [HRPCCHARTER] could see this group incorporate other areas of policy and public interest, which would be a beneficial development towards engaging a wider range of policy experts and discussion of relevant policy research issues for the IETF community.

IETF leadership and other participants also engage in policy and technical fora outside of IETF meetings, such as ICANN, the Internet Governance Forum, and other standards development organisations (SDOs). This type of engagement is critical to ensuring joined-up policy and technical conversations across a number of relevant fora, recognising the specific remit, roles and responsibilities of each.

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. 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 example the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights recently published a report and recommendations [OHCHR] on the relationship between human rights and technical standards-setting processes, which the IAB and others within the community responded to. OHCHR is initiating a project to contribute to the implementation of the recommendations. Given the relevance of these discussions and potential impact on the IETF and its standards development, there is a need to be able to leverage policy expertise within the IETF to efficiently identify and respond to public discourse on the intersection of policy and standards.

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. The session discussed the rationale behind policymaker engagement in the IETF, including the societal, economic, and geopolitical implications of IETF standards and of the importance of the multistakeholder evolution of the Internet built on open standards. Incorporating policy expertise into the standardisation process helps create more robust standards for the benefit of all. While the session focused primarily on the perspective of policymakers in governments, the conversation affirmed the valuable role of policy expertise across other stakeholder groups. Other side meetings were held at IETF 115 which focused on wider connections between policy issues and IETF standardisation [CDT-A19].

Ensuring these technical and policy discussions and outputs are coherent and complementary requires concerted effort by the involved experts. More can be done to better coordinate and leverage the distributed policy-related discussions and expertise across the IETF.

3. Problem statement

We start from the premise that the IETF benefits in two main ways from the incorporation of non-technical expertise. One is the IETF’s important 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.

Another is the need to better understand the real-world impact of those standards. 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.

How do we ensure we are benefitting from the contributions of individuals with policy expertise in the IETF? There are a range of challenges to be addressed, including: (1) improving communication between the IETF and policy communities outside the IETF, (2) education and upskilling of policy experts to meaningfully engage in the IETF, (3) building community and a culture that enables policy and technical experts to work together, and (4) the bringing together of a number of separate but related initiatives within the IETF, IRTF, and IAB in support of these aims.

Together these aspects of this problem statement aim to highlight the need and potential approaches to address a number of related issues, including:

3.1. Communication and engagement

The interaction between standards, regulation, policy, and other initiatives can sometimes create issues where stakeholders are not aware of proposals that may have significant impacts on their work. This can be addressed through early communication and regular channels for dialogue. Likewise, the broader ecosystem of SDOs and global Internet governance fora only functions effectively if initiatives and work are coordinated and aligned, avoiding duplication and staying informed of developments in relevant areas. Communications and engagement from relevant bodies such as ICANN, other SDOs, UN agencies, or multistakeholder governance fora are other important sources of coordination and collaboration. Communication and engagement mechanisms vary, but formal liaison process remain an important tool for join-up of policy and technical discussions. These processes with bodies such as ICANN, the Internet Governance Forum, and UN agencies are, to an extent, currently reliant on individuals engaging across a range of fora, rather than ingrained as business as usual. Effective and timely communication into and projected out from the IETF, IRTF and IAB to the wider community can be strengthened and would help reinforce the important role of the IETF.

3.2. Education

There are clear barriers to productive contribution of policy expertise in the IETF. Challenges for policy experts wishing to engage in the IETF have been identified through various work including in HRPC and the IETF 115 policymaker engagement side meeting. Such difficulties include knowing when to engage in emerging standards work and how to identify issues with significance for policy, as well as wider barriers to engagement in the IETF. These can include 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. This included clear opportunities to collaborate directly with stakeholders such as the Internet Society and the IAB in their respective roles.

3.3. Community

Each SDO or fora has its own specific ways of working and culture. In practical terms the IETF has a number of interlinked communities to understand and work within. This includes: the IETF, IRTF, IAB, IESG, and other organisations such as ISOC and IANA. Without a clear inroad to bring relevant policy-related discussions to the interlinked communities, and ultimately standards development, this creates added complexity for those looking to strengthen communities of technical and policy experts and enable meaningful engagement. With related but separate work ongoing to build a stronger culture of collaborative working between technical and policy experts, it would be beneficial to pull these efforts together to be more coordinated and improve policy input into standards development.

3.4. Coordination

There are a number of related initiatives, as outlined in the next section, which are working towards similar if not mutually agreeable aims. This includes upskilling policy experts, improving insights and knowledge on policy issues, and incorporating this knowledge into the IETF standards process. There is an opportunity to raise the profile of policy-related engagement outside the IETF, drawing on the wide range of policy expertise within the IETF. However, if these efforts are not effectively coordinated there is a risk that we will not see the return on our collective efforts. These separate but related initiatives could be better coordinated and more effective. Doing so would create a clearer pull-through path for experts, from education and outreach and external communications to research insights and meaningful engagement in standards development. Work can be done to better understand the boundaries and linkages and would be beneficial to understanding how to leverage the different work.

4. Identifying solutions and ways forward

With these challenges in mind, it is also important to recognise what is currently working. These aspects guide our non-goals:

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 identified workstreams relevant to this problem space, as a starting point for identifying remaining gaps.

We have identified the following groups and initiatives:

(1) HRPC RG: The Human Rights and Protocol Considerations research group in IRTF has served as a venue to consider a range of policy-relevant topics related to human rights, and has brought valuable expertise into the IETF. The group is discussing rechartering as “Human Rights and Policy Considerations” [HRPCCHARTER].

(2) ISOC Policymaker Program [ISOC]: The educational program, co-located at IETF meetings, serves to train and introduce government policymakers to Internet standards.

(3) IAB-ISOC coordination group: A new coordination group has been set up to better facilitate liaison between the IAB and ISOC [IAB-ISOC]. This is in the context of a longer standing practice of collaboration.

(4) RASP RG: A new research group in the IRTF has been chartered to look at Research and Analysis of the Standards Process, including diversity of participation and engagement, and interaction with external communities [RASPRG].

(5) EODIR Directorate: The Education and Outreach directorate is chartered to increase the diversity and inclusiveness of the IETF, and oversees a variety of relevant initiatives [EODIR].

(6) IAB Liaisons: Overseen by the IAB are a set of liaison relationships with other SDOs and fora facilitated by individuals within the community. The IAB also responds to various consultations and external initiatives.

Building off of what exists, how can we best support this activity: (1) Are there other relevant initiatives not listed here that could address aspects of the problem statement? (3) Are there ways to use existing initiatives in new ways that could offer high returns?

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.

Addressing this problem space over the long-term will require a range of activities and contributions from the wider IETF community. It is expected that part of this work will support existing initiatives, but new initiatives or ideas may also be needed. For example, it is not clear that any of the existing initiatives will help create a clear touchpoint for those with policy expertise and it is unclear how they bridge the gap between technology and policy experts working on IETF standardisation.

From an initial review of the landscape, a few gaps have been identified. For instance, improved liaisons/communications, written contributions from policy experts, identification of key stages in the standardisation process for policy engagement, a touchpoint for policy experts within the IETF, and better join-up between policy experts, technical experts and standardisation, and coordination of related IETF initiatives. There are opportunities to learn from existing initiatives in IRTF and other organisations in the wider Internet governance ecosystem that bring together policy and technical expertise.

Moving forward, a new venue could serve to bring together policy stakeholders and other interested individuals within the IETF community to refine this problem statement and progress potential solutions.

5. Security Considerations

This document has no security considerations.

6. IANA Considerations

This document has no IANA actions.

7. 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", , <>.
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", , <>.
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", , <>.

Appendix A. Acknowledgments

We are grateful for the many discussions that have influenced this draft, including with the participants of the IETF 115 side meeting, the gendispatch working group at IETF 116, and others.

Authors' Addresses

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