What a pleasant surprise to learn that some people at the United Nations – specifically, its Inter-Parliamentary Union – want to know more about how commons might be relevant to the “multilateral system” of international governance and assistance.
I was happy to oblige by participating on a conference panel last Friday, February 22, called “The Multilateral System in the Public Eye: The Impact of Mass Communications.” (The conference itself was entitled “Emerging Challenges to Multilateralism: A Parliamentary Response.”)
This panel focused on the ways in which new communications media, especially the Internet, are affecting the effectiveness, credibility, and reputation of multilateral institutions such as the UN. The clear takeaway that I took from the conference is that certain players within UN are openly worried about the ability of multilateral institutions to solve the urgent problems of our time.
That’s a legitimate concern. As countless problems pummel the world order – climate change, inequality, cyber-warfare, data surveillance, the list goes on – the UN is an obvious forum in which to discuss issues. But with limited authority to solve problems and unwieldy internal governance structures and processes, no one expects bold, timely action. Yet the rise of participatory online media is showcasing the limits of the UN. Hence the open hand-wringing.