Making your voice heard: how to win friends and influence policy

This talk proposal was inspired by a question from Morton Rand-Hendriksen to Matt Mullenweg during the 2016 State of the Word address.

WordPress powers 27% of the web. We at WordCamp Europe are the 1% of the 27%. Those of us together in Paris, whether we realise it or not, have an enormous position of influence over the web – a position of influence that we choose not to exercise. At a time of sudden and shifting political currents, many of which threaten the stability of our industry, the WordPress community takes no part in the processes that shape our craft. That lack of involvement will not protect us.

It is not our place to claim to speak for “what WordPress wants”, nor is it our place to say that WordPress should determine how the web works per se. It is our place, however, to say that the most talented, experienced, and committed members of our community can and should take a more active role in the bodies and policies that govern the web.

So how can the WordPress community put their experience to work to help develop the standards and regulations which shape our craft?

In my talk, I will provide a positive and inspirational introduction to how the WordPress community can be a force for good in the governance of the web. I will explain why attendees should get involved, what they can expect, and what, in turn, will be expected of them.

To do this, I will provide an overview of how internet governance works, whether that is the making of digital laws and policies or involvement in the bodies which create web standards.

I will outline the three ways that the rules which govern the web are made: self-regulation (e.g. the US approach to online privacy); government legislation (e.g. the European approach to online privacy); and co-regulation (e.g. the creation of accessibility standards.)

This will lead into a discussion of the practical mechanics of policymaking, including consultations, periodic reviews, and representation; the voice, tone, and positioning required for constructive involvement; and the long-term monitoring and vigilance required for successful advocacy.

It is important to approach internet governance from a position of pragmatism, not idealism. To achieve that, I will distinguish between the positive concept of digital responsibility (aka “work harder”) and the negative concept of digital solutionism (aka “nerd harder”). I will also caution against expecting open-source working styles from more traditional institutions. Politicians, after all, don’t do Slack.

Policymaking requires patience, commitment, and a little bit of sacrifice. To nudge that along, I will inspire attendees to overcome their own biases against getting involved in digital governance, citing specific objections I have heard from WordPress community members. Attendees will be encouraged to work respectfully and constructively with existing bodies and systems, and will be inspired to organise new bodies where none exist.

To demonstrate how advocacy works in practice, I will discuss specific examples of policy involvement which have resulted in positive change (e.g. the EU VAT Action campaign and the UK BASDA association), and will contrast those successes with advocacy attempts which neither won friends nor influenced people (e.g. the ongoing battle over European copyright.)

Finally, I will suggest specific policy issues affecting our community which attendees can apply their newly acquired knowledge to working on right away. These include new data protection and privacy regulations as well as the undercounting of digital professionals in economic statistics. I will also touch on the political developments of the past year which threaten the freedom of movement of data, the freedom of movement of digital professionals, and the safety of our community’s most vulnerable members.

Internet governance is ready and waiting for those of us at WordCamp Europe to contribute our voices. First, though, the community needs a toolkit. This talk will provide it.