Governing a Distributed Network: Common Goods and Emergence

Draft Working Paper for The Hague Institute for Global Justice, Conference on the Future of Cyber Governance, Forthcoming

17 Pages Posted: 28 Apr 2014

See all articles by Paul Rosenzweig

Paul Rosenzweig

George Washington University School of Law; The Heritage Foundation

Date Written: April 27, 2014


The trend in the development of international internet governance is to focus on structures that foster greater centralized control of the domain. Issues for discussion typically revolve around how strongly new governance structures should enable the engagement of governmental institutions (both individual nations and multilateral organizations) and whether and the extent to which non-governmental stakeholders should have influence.

The thesis of this Paper is that the focus on centralization reflects an unfortunate misapprehension of the nature of the cyber domain – a misapprehension that, if acted upon can only lead to a cyber domain that is less open, less accessible, less transparent, and less transformative.

A better instinct is to develop a governance architecture that is adapted to the distributed and dynamic nature of the network that we seek to govern. In architecture, form follows function. Likewise, in governance, the structures of control ought to mirror the institutions subject to that control. Thus, this paper will examine the types of global cyber governance arrangements that are capable of providing effective guidance and standard setting within the context of a network that is inherently decentralized. Only these sorts of structures will enable cyberspace as a domain of global innovation and opportunity.

The examination of this issue will proceed in three parts:

• Part I of this paper will examine the nature of the cyber domain, demonstrating its fundamentally internationalized and decentralized nature.

• Part II examine relevant existing economic and social theoretical structures that deal with distributed networks. Drawing principally from theories of common pool resources and emergence we develop a better understanding of exactly what guidance and standards (if any) are appropriate for the cyber domain. The working hypothesis for this examination is that the domain is systematically fostering disintermediation – the degrading of traditional intermediary institutions that served as soft mechanisms for controlling human interactions. The result is an erosion of centralized authority and an empowerment of individual independence and capacity.

• Part III of this paper derives from this analysis concrete recommendations for improving internet governance. Again, the working hypothesis is that these recommendations will focus on enhancing non-regulatory frameworks, mostly outside the existing structures of sovereign state control. Mechanisms for distributed decision-making and control will be considered as a means of increasing the openness of the network to information, increasing human access to the network, sustaining transparency of governance (both of the network itself and of non-network institutions), and enhancing economic development through increased innovation and technological evolution. The critical characteristics of successful network governance will be structures that foster serendipity and change.

Suggested Citation

Rosenzweig, Paul, Governing a Distributed Network: Common Goods and Emergence (April 27, 2014). Draft Working Paper for The Hague Institute for Global Justice, Conference on the Future of Cyber Governance, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: or

Paul Rosenzweig (Contact Author)

George Washington University School of Law ( email )

2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States

The Heritage Foundation ( email )

214 Massachusetts Ave NE
Washington, DC 20002-4999
United States


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