By Alex Sotropa, alumnus of SEEDIG Youth School – Class of 2020 Internet governance has always been a vague but
SEEDIG annual report
Intersessional work (October 2019 – December 2020)
Dedicated to SEE+
Launched in 2015 as a regional Internet Governance Forum (IGF) initiative, SEEDIG has evolved into a one-of-a-kind initiative in South Eastern Europe and the neighouring area (SEE+), through sustained community work and valuable support from regional and international partners.
Vision and mission
At SEEDIG, we believe that digital technologies have an important role to play in the sustainable economic and social development of South Eastern Europe and the neighbouring area (SEE+). In line with this belief, our vision is that of a healthy, sustainable and inclusive digital advancement of the SEE+ region.
Our mission is to support such a digital advancement through facilitating multistakeholder dialogue and cooperation on addressing issues related to the use, evolution and governance of the Internet and other digital technologies across the region.
What we do
To fulfill our mission, we undertake several activities, from our flagship annual meeting to capacity development initiatives and intersessional projects.
Who does what
SEEDIG is a community-driven initiative.
SEEDIG 6 was originally planned to be held in Moldova, and the community was looking forward to visiting the famous Moldovan wineries after day-long debates on the region’s digital policy realities and challenges. But it wasn’t meant to be; like most meetings planned for 2020, SEEDIG 6 was eventually moved online.
When we started planning SEEDIG 6 as an online event, we knew one thing: as many of us were already tired of online meetings, we needed to bring something new. What followed were several months of planning work which culminated in an innovative and interactive meeting.
SEEDIG 6 as an online meeting
Creativity, innovation and interactivity were the key words for SEEDIG 6, which spanned a week (21–25 September 2020). Each day included several hours of main sessions and creative tracks, scheduled in such a way that participants were not expected to follow a usual 8-hour long programme. Networking and fun were also part of the event.
Main sessions & Messages
SEEDIG 6 featured nine main sessions grouped in four tracks: Internet infrastructure, digitalisation, trust and security, and advanced technologies. The discussions in these sessions were reflected in key messages, outlining main takeaways, possible goals, and proposals for future actions. The messages represent the main output of the meeting. Through wide distribution, at regional, European and international level, they are meant to help inform and influence decision-making processes within governmental entities, national parliaments, companies, and regional organisations.
Open and decentralised Internet: governance
The interplay between digitalisation and depopulation
Digital economy: the path towards innovation and sustainable development
Privacy and data protection in SEE+ during the COVID-19 pandemic
Environmental sustainability through the lenses of digital development
5G: hype soon to become reality?
Cybercrime and the security of critical infrastructures
SEE+’s readiness for artificial intelligence
Creative tracks & Networking opportunities
Because the online format offered us plenty of space to innovate, we introduced a series of creative tracks which put emphasis on interactivity and engagement. Networking and fun opportunities were also integrated into the programme.
Under the bonnet: Tech, visuals & engagement
Dedicated meeting website
For the first time, we built a dedicated meeting website – 2020.seedig.net – which included information on everything there was to know about SEEDIG 6. After the meeting, the website was updated with follow-up info (messages, recordings, etc.).
Interactive programme tool
To make it easier for participants to navigate the meeting programme, we used an interactive tool which offered multiple features: filtering of sessions and tracks, setting reminders, adding programme elements to participants’ calendars, etc.
Engaging visual materials
With the support of Diplo’s Creative Lab, we built engaging visual materials for before and during the meeting: web banners, GIFs and videos showcasing the programme; infographics to support the debates; virtual backgrounds; branding of virtual rooms.
Online participation platform
We chose Zoom as the platform to host the meeting. There we set up distinct halls for the main sessions, creative tracks, and social events. Access to the halls was enabled via passwords communicated to registered participants right before the start of the meeting and in daily programme overview emails.
While Zoom was the first choice for those who wanted to actively participate in the debates, the programme was also livestreamed on YouTube and Facebook. The only exceptions were the social events – we wanted those to be held in a more relaxed atmosphere, without the ‘pressure’ of being live.
Social media moderators
With interactivity being one of the key words for SEEDIG 6, we wanted to enable as much engagement into the debates as possible. Our social media moderators made sure that comments and questions shared by participants via YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter were fed into the discussions held in Zoom halls.
Guidelines for participants and contributors
In preparation for the meeting, we developed three sets of guidelines meant to (a) set expectations for contributors and moderators on how the sessions and creative tracks were going to be run (with focus on interactivity and dialogue); (b) guide participants through the technical arrangements for the meeting; and (c) set a code of conduct for the meeting.
Feedback from participants
Below is a summary of feedback received through our public evaluation survey:
- Many respondents praised SEEDIG 6 for being an innovative event. It was also noted that SEEDIG 6 proved that an online event can be more productive than an onsite one.
- Appreciation was expressed for the use of different formats and the fact that the meeting was spread throughout the week, giving participants a chance to tune in when possible.
- Positive comments were received with regard to the design, visuals, setting, moderation, line-up of speakers, discussions with the audience, and transition between sessions. The social events were also welcomed by participants as informal spaces to interact and have some fun.
- Organising SEEDIG 6 online showed us that there is space to innovate at SEEDIG and that we should be more open to bringing new elements into the programme of an annual meeting. We will certainly continue to innovate for the next SEEDIG meeting, be it online, onsite, or hybrid. And the creative tracks implemented at SEEDIG 6 are here to stay.
- It seems it was a wise decision to spread the meeting across a week, and not have sessions all day long. There is room for improvement when it comes to addressing topics from a more regional perspective. Some sessions could have benefited from more time and a little more engagement among all participants. Having professional tech support made the meeting run very smoothly (the only tech difficulties we had were caused by bad Internet connection for a few speakers); and the professional visual support took SEEDIG 6 to a new level.
- SEEDIG 6 brought the engagement of new actors, like UNDP offices from the region, UNFPA, the Regional Cooperation Council, etc. Follow-up discussions with these entities have created a framework for future SEEDIG intersessional work on various topics relevant for the region. SEEDIG should focus more on using annual meetings as the place to forge new partnerships and initiate new activities that could help the region advance on its path to sustainable digital development.
Capacity development programmes
SEEDIG Youth School
The SEEDIG Youth School is a capacity development initiative targeted at students originally from, or residing in a SEE+ country. The purpose of the programme is to offer regional youth a space to learn, network, exchange ideas, and prepare to actively participate in SEEDIG and other Internet governance and digital policy processes at national, regional and international level.
In 2020, the fourth edition of the Youth School was supported by the Internet Society and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which offered students access to some of their online courses.
Phase 1 | June–July 2020
► Online meetings
Phase 2 | August–September 2020
► Online meetings and assignments
► Debate on facial recognition technology
► Participation in SEEDIG 6
One of the final elements of the Youth School programme was a debate on facial recognition technologies (FRT).
Students were divided into three teams – civil society, governments, and private sector – and were asked to debate on whether tech companies should be allowed to sell FRT to law enforcement agencies (LEAs).
At the end of the debate, they agreed on a Memorandum of understanding between governments of SEE+ countries, civil society organisations, and private sector representatives on the application of FRT by LEAs.
Blogposts by our students
School on Internet Governance, Digital Policies and Innovation (SIDI)
SEEDIG was part of the organising team that planned and run the first edition of SIDI, which took place in Bucharest, Romania, in December 2019. The school was hosted by the National University of Political Studies and Public Administration and co-organised together with the Internet Society, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers and SEEDIG, with the support of several local, regional and international partners.
SIDI is a capacity development initiative designed for graduate and post-graduate students and professionals keen to learn more about digital innovation, the impact of the Internet and other digital technologies on our society and economy, as well as the multiple dimensions of digital policy and Internet governance. The School is focused on (but not limited to) South Eastern Europe and the neighbouring area (SEE+).
SEEDIG has been running the SEEsummary initiative since September 2016. The summary, published on a monthly basis, provides an overview of key Internet governance and digital policy developments and activities across the SEE+ region. Updates covered in the summary are structured around thematic blocks such as infrastructure, cybersecurity, human rights online, access, digital divide, and capacity development.
New elements added in the SEEDIG 2020 cycle
Intersessional project on COVID-19 tracking apps
As the COVID-19 pandemic was raging, governments worldwide, including in SEE+, have been rushing to build apps, services, and systems for contact tracing and monitoring the self-isolation regime’s observance. Such new tools raised many concerns regarding privacy and data protection. Still, at the onset of the world health crisis, SEEDIG decided to bring together the community’s expertise and experience, covering over 20 countries, to assess the level and state of deployment of tracking apps in SEE+ region and their human rights implications.
The intersessional project on COVID-19 tracking apps –which run between June and September 2020 – pursued two main goals:
- Sensitise stakeholders about the deployment of tracking apps in the SEE+ region and their human rights implications;
- Create a brainstorming space for the development of recommendations for the region.
► Creation of a dedicated working group
► Drafting and presentation of recommendations
After two months of research and deliberations, the working group has compiled a set of Recommendations addressed to governments/public health authorities and developers for careful consideration when developing policies and/or deploying COVID-19 mobile tracking apps. The Recommendations are aimed at mitigating negative human rights implications of the tracking apps. The final document contains an overview of country-specific practices of using COVID-19 tracking apps in SEE+, related challenges and concerns (as the working group identified them), and the recommendations. It has been shared with the SEE+ national authorities, media outlets, and IGF initiatives for further scrutiny and application.
Contribution to other IGF initiatives
SEEDIG has been inspired by the global IGF and EuroDIG and actively contributes to these two processes. Within the SEE+ region, SEEDIG is seeking to support national and youth IGF initiatives, to the extent possible.
Several activities were undertaken throughout the 2020 cycle that contributed to strengthening SEEDIG, from revising our partnerships approach to launching a new website.
Budget & expenses
SEEDIG is financed solely through voluntary contributions (both monetary and in-kind) from the technical community, international organisations, private companies and public entities. In 2020, the following entities supported SEEDIG.
Internet Society & Internet Society Foundation
Overview of expenses
Most SEEDIG activities were conducted on a voluntary basis, by the SEEDIG Executive Committee, interns, editors, webadmins and other community members. The financial contributions from our sponsors and donors were used to cover the costs below.
SEEDIG 6 costs (tech, visuals, etc.)
Online services (Canva, Mentimeter, Typeform, Flickr, etc)
Comms materials (design and print)
Website tools (used for creation of 2020.seedig.net and re-design of seedig.net)
► In addition to funds raised in 2020, the budget for the 2020 cycle also included available leftovers from the 2019 cycle (EUR3225).
► As SEEDIG did not have its own bank account, funds were collected and managed through the EuroDIG Support Association. Decisions related to expenditures were made by the SEEDIG Executive Committee and executed by this entity.
► Any surplus at the end of the 2020 cycle is to be used to cover SEEDIG-related costs such as communication and outreach (web presence, printing SEEDIG materials etc.), intersessional activities, and/or the planning of SEEDIG 7.