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Project reports

First report from a project for UNESCO, June 2017


This report describes a programme of work on Defining Internet Universality Indicators which is being undertaken to support implementation of UNESCO’s “Internet Universality” concept. This work is being undertaken for UNESCO, between May 2017 and April 2018, by a consortium led by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) and including ict Development Associates (ictDA), Diálogo Regional sobre Sociedad de la Información (DIRSI), LIRNEasia, and Research ICT Africa (RIA).

This preliminary report outlines the scope, methodology and timeline for the work, and provides an introduction to a programme of online and other consultation which will inform the development of Internet Universality indicators. The launch date for this programme of consultation, which is hosted at, is 14 June 2017.

The report is divided into three sections.

Section 1 outlines the Internet Universality concept and the indicators project.

Section 2 summarises UNESCO and consortium thinking to date and provides a context for the online consultation launched on 14 June 2017.

Section 3 outlines the timeline and methodology for the project between its inception in May 2017 and completion in April 2018.

Section 1 – The Internet Universality concept and indicators project

“Internet Universality”

In 2015, UNESCO’s General Conference adopted the concept of "Internet Universality" to highlight features of the internet which UNESCO believes are fundamental to fulfilling its potential for sustainable development.

The concept of "Internet Universality" was developed by UNESCO through an extensive programme of research, analysis and consultation with member states and with the internet stakeholder community. Preparatory work included an international multistakeholder conference, ‘Connecting the Dots’, held in Paris in March 2015, and an internet study, Keystones to foster inclusive Knowledge Societies, published in 2015.

The concept of Internet Universality recognises that the internet is much more than infrastructure and applications. It is a network of economic and social interactions and relationships, which has great potential to enable rights, empower individuals and communities, and facilitate sustainable development. Understanding the internet in this way helps to draw together the many different facets of internet development, concerned with technology and public policy, into a cohesive framework. Some of these facets are intimately linked to core aspects of UNESCO’s mandate, including education, science and culture, human rights and Knowledge Societies.

UNESCO summarises this concept of "Internet Universality" as follows:

“Internet Universality” as a concept captures what is important in the light of the growing pervasiveness of the Internet in human affairs. It highlights the behavioral norms and values underpinning this trend, and points to the need to strengthen these so as to have an Internet that helps realize the highest aspirations of humanity, which is ubiquitous and serves everyone, and which reflects general participation in its development and governance.

The ‘Internet Universality’ concept helps in particular to integrate UNESCO’s work to build Knowledge Societies with the work of United Nations and other stakeholders to fulfil the goals set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

‘Internet Universality’ embraces four principles which have been fundamental to the development of the internet:

R that the internet is based around human Rights
O that it is Open,
A that it should be Accessible to all, and
M that it is nurtured by Multistakeholder participation.

These principles, known as the R-O-A-M principles, and the relationships between them, are illustrated in Figure 1.


Internet Universality Indicators

UNESCO’s project Defining Internet Universality Indicators reflects the need to build a framework of indicators through which to assess levels of achievement, in individual countries and internationally, of the four fundamental principles included in the Internet Universality concept. The indicator framework and indicators that result from the project will support achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The indicators project draws on UNESCO’s positive experience of the development and application of Media Development Indicators (MDIs), which were adopted as part of the Organisation’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) in 2008. The MDIs have enabled a variety of stakeholders to undertake comprehensive assessments of national media environments against quantitative and qualitative indicators monitoring different aspects of media development.

The proposed Internet Universality indicators will, similarly, enable assessment of national internet environments against the Internet Universality framework, thereby fostering evidence-based dialogue around policy change and promoting the goals of Internet Universality both nationally and internationally. The indicator framework which emerges from the project will assist governments and other stakeholders in measuring progress to date and fostering Internet Universality within their territories and areas of responsibility.

UNESCO commissioned some initial work concerned with indicator design in 2014, which has informed the project terms of reference. The project will update and develop this earlier work and draw on a wide range of other sources, including established indicators concerned with information and communications technologies (ICTs) and the internet which have been adopted by UN and other international agencies and by non-governmental organisations including those concerned with rights, development and gender. There will also be an extensive programme of consultation with member states and other stakeholders, the themes for which are introduced in Section 2 of this report, and the structure for which is summarised in Section 3.

UNESCO has invited a consortium led by APC to assist it in implementing this programme of work and developing the indicator framework. A Multistakeholder Advisory Board, composed of experts from diverse regions and stakeholder groups, will provide additional support and guidance.

There will be two outcomes from the project, which will be finalised in April 2018:

  1. A policy paper of up to 100 pages, to be submitted for approval by UNESCO’s member states, including:

    • An introduction to the study and the guiding framework of Internet Universality
    • A summary of the methodology used for developing Internet Universality indicators, including a description of the multistakeholder consultation process and synthesis of inputs
    • A literature review including mapping of existing related indicators and analysis
    • A detailed description of the indicators that have been selected and their means of verification.
    1. An online platform to promote and support use of the indicators.

    Section 2 – An introduction to the online consultation

    This section of the report summarises the objectives of the Internet Universality indicators project and introduces the consultation process initiated by UNESCO in June 2017.


    UNESCO’s Internet Universality Indicators project is not intended address every aspect of the internet. It focuses on the R-O-A-M principles which reflect aspects of the internet that fall within UNESCO’s mandate. The indicator framework which emerges from the project will therefore complement other indicators and indices, including those which are concerned with technology and economic aspects of the internet that reach beyond the R-O-A-M framework and have been developed by other United Nations, intergovernmental and non-governmental entities.

    The indicators which emerge from the project will not be intended to facilitate direct comparisons between countries, but to elucidate approaches and practices that will advance the R-O-A-M principles, and assist governments and other stakeholders in fostering Internet Universality within their territories and areas of responsibility.

    The indicator framework and indicators resulting from the project are intended to have lasting value, not least in supporting the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals which have been adopted by the United Nations to guide international development activity up to 2030. The nternet has evolved very rapidly over the past decade and will evolve at least as rapidly in the next decade, with anticipated developments including the widespread deployment of the Internet of Things and big data, expansive growth in cloud computing, and more extensive algorithmic decision making. These rapid and continuing developments in the internet will affect the scope and range of issues that concern each of the R-O-A-M principles. If they are to have lasting value in this context, the indicator framework and indicators must be forward-looking and capable of responding/adapting to the rapid changes that characterise internet development.

    The indicators framework: Five broad categories

    An initial framework for indicators has been developed by UNESCO and was included in the project terms of reference. It includes five categories of indicators, derived from the R-O-A-M principles, as illustrated in Figure 2. This provides the starting point for consultation with stakeholders and is likely, subject to the outcomes of consultation and research, to provide the basis for the framework for indicators that will be adopted in the final outcome document. It will also allow stakeholders to focus on individual categories should they so wish.

    Figure 2 – Proposed indicator framework

    © UNESCO

    Category 1 (R) – Rights-based Indicators – will enable assessment of the extent to which internet governance respects and enables human rights and freedoms, including civil and political rights (such as freedom of expression and privacy). Press freedom and the capacity of journalistic actors to contribute to the internet as a democratic public space will be included in this context. Economic, social and cultural rights which are relevant to UNESCO’s mandate, including the right to education and cultural rights, will be included in this or other categories of the framework where they are most pertinent.

    Category 2 (O) – Openness indicators – will enable assessment of the extent to which internet environments are open to participation, including open standards, open-sourced innovation and software, open data, open educational resources and the openness of entry to internet and internet service markets.

    Category 3 (A) – Accessibility indicators – will enable assessment of the degree of economic and social inclusion in the internet, including issues of network availability and quality, affordability, content, capabilities and trust, with particular reference to gender, children and young people, and minority/vulnerable groups.

    Category 4 (M) – Indicators of multistakeholder participation – will enable assessment of the extent to which different stakeholder groups can and do participate in internet governance and development.

    Category 5 (X) – Cross-cutting indicators – will enable assessment of the extent to which the R-O-A-M principles interact and synergise within internet environments in order to facilitate the comprehensive development of Internet Universality and beneficial outcomes, including those related to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

    Special attention will be paid within the indicator framework to gender issues and to issues concerning children and young people.


    As in the Media Development Indicators, it is envisaged that a range of indicators, including both quantitative and qualitative indicators, will be selected in each of the categories described above. The overall number of indicators in the framework will need to be limited, however, in order to ensure that they can be realistically gathered and analysed by governments or other stakeholders in the majority of countries. This means that the final selection should be representative of the range of issues included in each category, but cannot be comprehensive.

    Indicators which are selected for the framework need to be realistic and appropriate for most, ideally all, countries. Quantitative indicators therefore need to be derived from data sets which are or can be gathered regularly and reliably in a high proportion of geographic territories, at reasonable cost. As in the Media Development Indicators, quantitative indicators will be complemented by qualitative indicators which can be assessed using research and analytical approaches appropriate for each national context.

    Particular attention will be paid to the inclusion of indicators which can be disaggregated according to population groups, including by gender and age, in order to facilitate analysis of the inclusiveness of rights, openness, accessibility and participation, issues of cultural identity, and the extent to which internet environments are open to women and to children and young people. Three options will be considered for inclusion of indicators concerned with gender during the consultation process. One approach would be to include gender as an issue within each of the R-O-A-M categories. An alternative would be to include gender as a broad sub-category in the cross-cutting issues category. A third option would be to include gender both as a cross-cutting issue and as an issue within each of the R-O-A-M categories. Similar considerations apply to the inclusion of children and young people in the framework.

    The indicator framework and indicators will need to be appropriate for and susceptible to implementation by governments and other stakeholders with varying resources and capabilities, with different levels of expertise and experience of the internet, and in different development categories. Attention will be paid to ensuring that they are appropriate to the circumstances of all UNESCO’s member states, and responsive to the perceived requirements of their governments and other stakeholders.

    The final report of the project will include information concerning verification of indicators and available sources. Unless consultation suggests otherwise, this is likely to be presented along the lines of the Media Development Indicators, as illustrated in Figure 3.

    Figure 3 – Provisional indicator structure

    © UNESCO


    The initial phase of desk research for the project includes preparation of an annotated list of existing internet indicators which have relevance to the R-O-A-M-X framework. Some of the indicators identified through this work are listed and can be accessed through the resources section of the project website This annotated list is a work in progress, to which additional resources will be added following further desk research and contributions to the project’s multistakeholder consultation process.

    Table 1 lists some of the issues that previous UNESCO research, desk research for the present project and initial face-to-face consultation meetings suggest will need to be considered in each indicator category. This table is purely indicative and intended merely as an aid to reflection. The inclusion of any issue in it does not mean that it will feature in the final indicator framework, nor does the absence of any issue from it mean that it will not do so.

    R – Rights-based indicators
      Legal and regulatory framework for rights and rights online
      Freedom of expression, including online content regulation and press freedom
      Rights to information
      Rights of privacy, including data protection
      Security and surveillance
      Economic, social and cultural rights, including education and cultural expression
      Gender rights
      Rights of children and young people
    O – Openness indicators
      Legal and regulatory framework
      Open standards and scope for technological innovation
      Open software and applications
      Open markets for infrastructure, services and applications
      Open data
      Open access to information, including educational resources
      Participation of women in Internet technology, policy and business
      National sovereignty and cross-border jurisdication
    A – Accessibility indicators
      Legal and regulatory framework
      Universal access policies / broadband strategies
      Quality of infrastructure / bandwidth
      Digital literacy / capabilities
      Trust and digital security
      Content and language
      Gender inclusion / gender digital divide
      Access issues relating to children and young people
    M – Multistakeholder participation indicators
      Legal and regulatory framework for consultation and participation
      Participation in policy development
      The extent to which there is public debate on Internet governance
      Consumer rights
      Gender diversity
    X – Cross-cutting indicators  
      Inclusion of Internet in strategic national policies
      Relation to Sustainable Development Goals
      Adaptiveness of legal and regulatory framework / foresight planning
      Gender as a cross-cutting factor
      Children and young people


    Recommendations for implementation of the indicator framework will be made by UNESCO alongside publication of the final report. The structure of the final report, and the Internet Universality website that will continue after project completion, will be designed to facilitate those recommendations.

    Section 3 - Project design and methodology

    The project will be divided into two phases, with a degree of overlap:

    • The first phase, from May to October 2017, is concerned with establishing the broad framework and operational modalities for Internet Universality indicators.
    • The second phase, from November 2017 to April 2018, will be concerned with drafting and validating specific indicators for inclusion in the framework.

    Four principal methodologies will be included in this work:

    1. Desk research
    2. Multistakeholder consultation
    3. Collaborative analysis and indicator development
    4. Validation and pre-testing

    Desk research (May to October 2017)

    The first phase of work, which began in May 2017, includes a desk-based literature review of existing indicators and indicator frameworks. This will identify and map existing indicators and measurement tools, both quantitative and qualitative, concerning ICTs, the Internet and aspects of Internet Universality, which have been developed by UN agencies and other international, business and non-governmental organisations. Discussions will be held with these organisations as required. As well as options for inclusion in the indicator framework it will identify gaps where alternative or additional indicators may be required.

    Multistakeholder consultation

    There will be two phases of consultation during the project. The first phase (from June to October 2017) will focus on broad principles for Internet indicators. The second phase (from November 2017 to March 2018) will focus on options for specific indicators.

    Consultation (Phase One)

    A multilingual website and online consultation for the project are to be launched on 14 June 2017 during the WSIS Forum. The website includes the following materials which are available in four of the official UN languages (Arabic, English, French and Spanish):

    1. this report, summarising the project and work to date;
    2. a list of relevant resources, including existing indicators identified in desk research; and
    3. a questionnaire, inviting contributions from all stakeholders concerned with the future of the Internet.

    Contributions received will be published online in their language of origin, unless contributors request that they should not be published

    Alongside this website, UNESCO will formally invite Member States, United Nations entities and other international organisations to contribute to the consultation.

    UNESCO and the APC-led consortium will publicise the consultation through their own and other networks concerned with the internet and aspects of the R-O-A-M framework. UNESCO and the consortium will seek to ensure that contributions received, so far as possible, reflect the interests, views, priorities and varying perspectives of stakeholders in all world regions, and the gender, social, economic, linguistic and cultural diversity of different communities.

    UNESCO intends to organise a number of consultation sessions at relevant international meetings and in selected member states. Four focus group sessions addressing each of the R-O-A-M principles were held during the Stockholm Internet Forum in May 2017, and panel sessions are planned for the European Dialogue on Internet Governance (EuroDIG) and the WSIS Forum in June 2017. Other consultation sessions will be announced on the project website as and when they are scheduled.

    UNESCO member states in the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) will be briefed on project progress during the IPDC meeting to be held in Paris on 29 September 2017.

    Consultation (Phase Two)

    A first indicators document will be published, in English, on the project website in November 2017, with a summary in Arabic, English, French and Spanish. This will be the outcome of desk research and analysis of consultation inputs from Phase One, and will set out options for indicators which might be included in the final indicator framework. The second phase of consultation will seek views on the options set out in this document.

    The project website for the second phase will include a second questionnaire inviting contributions from stakeholders. As in Phase One, contributions will be published online in their language of origin, unless contributors request that they should not be published.

    Also as in Phase One, UNESCO will formally invite Member-States, United Nations entities and other international organisations, to contribute to the consultation. UNESCO and the APC-led consortium will publicise the consultation through their own and other networks concerned with the Internet and aspects of the R-O-A-M framework. UNESCO and the consortium will seek to ensure that contributions received so far as possible reflect the interests, views, priorities and varying perspectives of stakeholders in all world regions, and the gender, social, economic, linguistic and cultural diversity of different communities. UNESCO intends to organise a number of consultation sessions at relevant international meetings and in selected Member States, including the global Internet Governance Forum which is to be held in Geneva in December 2017.

    Detailed discussions will be held during this phase with the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), other agencies within the Partnership on Measuring ICT for Development and private sector and non-governmental organisations responsible for established data sets and indicators/indices. These will help to ensure that selected indicators are fit for purpose, and facilitate preparation of the ‘means of verification’ and ‘data sources’ sections of the final report.

    Validation and final report

    The final phase of preparation of the report will consist of the validation of proposed indicators, including assessment of the viability of collecting and analysing data/evidence in diverse national contexts, particularly those where the availability of quantitative data sets is limited. Proposed indicators will be reviewed by regional consortium partners through consultations with stakeholders in three selected countries, one each in Africa, the Asia/Pacific region and Latin America, as well as with the international statistics partners identified above.

    The final report of the project will be published in April 2018, before submission for approval by UNESCO Member States.

    Further information

    Questions concerning this report and the project should be addressed to (both) Xianhong Hu on behalf of UNESCO ( and David Souter on behalf of the consortium (