This independent evaluation of the Freedom Online Coalition (FOC) was commissioned by the Coalition as it approaches its fifth anniversary. The FOC sought input into a wider strategic review they are carrying out to assess its effectiveness with a particular focus on four areas – membership, governance and structure, the Coalition’s efforts and activities, and funding.
Thirty interviews with government representatives, members of civil society, business representatives, and academics were conducted between September 2015 and January 2016, along with an in-person consultation with 14 stakeholders at the Internet Governance Forum in Brazil in November 2015. Desk research on five similar types of organizations was used for comparative purposes.
The findings of this research show that there is significant support for the existence of the Coalition and for it continuation as a government only coalition. However, there are a number of criticisms of the FOC, including the lack of transparency about its activities, inadequate consequences for countries not meeting their commitments, and frustration at the ambiguity of the aims and objectives of the Coalition, and the few tangible results that have been produced so far. A number of respondents also talked about the ways in which the Snowden revelations have complicated efforts to work on Internet freedom. There are specific recommendations in each of the four areas covered in the evaluation, but the highest priority suggestions for the Coalition moving forward are as follows:
- Clarify the aims and objectives of the Coalition;
- Increase the legitimacy of the Coalition by establishing a mechanism through which stakeholders can raise concerns about the actions of a member government;
- Institute a mechanism whereby members’ performance at meeting their commitments can be periodically reviewed;
- Establish more stable funding for the Coalition through the introduction of multi-year commitments and a tiered funding model;
- Create a formal link between the working groups and the FOC’s governance in order to ensure that outputs from the working groups are considered and responded to by the FOC;
- Improve the Coalition’s communication, clarifying membership criteria and rendering more transparent, to the extent possible, its diplomatic interventions.
The Coalition is still a young institution and some of the issues it faces are a reflection of this. However, there are areas that the FOC must address to increase its effectiveness. Ultimately, the question for the Coalition is whether it can rise to the challenge of leading the global conversations that will drive action and policy making on Internet freedom in an increasingly complex world.