Governance through Principles

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Pierre de Vries:

"The governance choice here is between principles and rules – that is, between general guidelines for action and detailed if-then instructions. Principles are not tacit: they are an expression of our shared insights about managing a resource. However, principles are silent about how they should be implemented in a specific situation. This delegates power to a local decision-maker to respond appropriately to conditions that a high-level policy maker could not foresee (or, indeed, cannot see). General principles can become more specific when they guide short-term actions. For example, someone setting high-level policy would implement the flexibility principle by focusing on broadly defined ends and not specifying means, while a regulator would devise specific, but still technology- and business-model-neutral, rules.

Why principles and not rules? Regulators have no choice but to make it up as they go along when coping with rapidly changing systems. Principles guide decisions without relying on rules that will be obsolete before their ink has dried. We should not expect perfection from principles – just better results than could be achieved with either fleetingly relevant rules, or giving regulators complete discretion.

Governance via principles applies not only to the internet, but to everything that it transforms. The Internet/web, in contrast to traditional media, is characterized by modularity rather than vertical integration; self-organization rather than rigid structures; and unpredictable metamorphosis rather than gradual evolution. It has transformed predictable, coordinated industries into highly fragmented, unpredictable ecosystems. A principles approach is therefore needed not only for the Internet/web, but for all parts of society that it transforms. The creative wildness of the Internet is spreading to many previously staid fields of policy making; soon the forest management metaphor will be helpful beyond the narrow confines of the web." (