This was the input delivered to a high-level roundtable on “Review of progress made in the implementation of World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) outcomes”, convened by the Commission on Science and Technology for Development on 8 May, in Geneva.
UNESCO’s contribution highlighted how the Organization was aligning its activity to advance information and knowledge societies under WSIS, to its role in advancing the 2030 Development Agenda.
“This alignment is very relevant to the question of unleashing innovative approaches that are essential if the SDGS are to be achieved”, said Guy Berger, director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development, UNESCO.
Without information, knowledge and communications, societies will struggle to find and assess the shortest route to the 2030 Development Agenda, he said.
Berger highlighted UNESCO’s role in monitoring SDG target 16.10.2, which counts the “number of countries that adopt and implement constitutional, statutory and/or policy guarantees for public access to information”.
UNESCO’s findings so far are that there is welcome progress, but still very much to be done, especially if guaranteed public access to information is to play an optimum part in fuelling innovation, he stated.
The Director also drew attention to 28 September, proclaimed in 2015 by Member States of UNESCO, as International Day for Universal Access to Information. “We encourage stakeholders worldwide to be creative in taking up this day as an excellent opportunity to focus attention – such as on innovative approaches in the interests of achieving the SDGs.”
Berger explained the relevance of the UNESCO concept of Internet Universality and the related principles of Rights, Openness, Accessibility and Multistakeholder participation (ROAM) for the Internet.
Referencing Human Rights, and specifically the right to freedom of expression, Berger stated that “controls over media which are neither necessary nor proportional in terms of international standards, constitute a significant barrier to the free flow of information and the absence of unessential constraints as are needed for innovation to flourish”.
He continued: “Freedom of connection – in contrast to the increasingly common phenomenon of Internet cut-offs – is a sine qua non if a society wishes to guarantee the most basic enabling condition for ICT innovation for development.”
Discussing Openness, Berger said that preconditions for continued innovation were inter-operability and a strong presence of open software, open knowledge resources, and open markets that enabled the entry of new players.
Accessibility is fundamental for innovation, said the Director. “Digital divides based on affordability, inequalities in gender and language, social exclusion and other factors, serve to cut off key constituencies from the opportunities to contribute to, and benefit from, innovative approaches to development.”
He added: “When the Internet is a space where women are harassed, when minorities experience hate speech, when fake news is shared in bulk by bots and users, then it is evident that media and information literacy is needed. This empowerment is about how to recognise and counter such anti-developmental phenomena, so that cyberspace can be experienced as a place of opportunity and inspiration and not of threat and insult.”
On Multi-stakeholderism, Berger noted that “even individual innovators benefit from multi-stakeholder co-operation”.
Summing up, the Director described the ROAM principles as foundations for a development environment characterised by a permanent practice of innovation. He invited participation in UNESCO’s consultations to develop indicators to assess ROAM and power evidence-based policy-making on SDGs, including on promoting innovative approaches.