“What makes UNESCO’s Internet Universality Indicators a tool that is relevant to assess Internet development in all countries – including Poland?”
This was the question posed to researchers at a meeting in Warsaw recently. The answer given was:
“It is their uniqueness and comprehensiveness. The Indicators look at the ‘big picture’ of any national Internet environment – from human rights, openness, inclusivity and quality of access to Internet, to the dimension of multi-stakeholder participation to Internet governance.”
The relevance of research assessment using the UNESCO Indicators is key when there are many digital laws, regulations and policies being put in place, was the message highlighted by Xianhong Hu on 21 September 2019, during an Open Lecture delivered at the 5th Congress of the Polish Communication Association of Warsaw University.
She pointed out that the Indicators enable stakeholders to identify gaps, and make evidence-based recommendations for improving the Internet in the national space.
Her presentation elaborated on the ROAM-X Indicators – Rights, Openness, Accessible to all, and Multistakeholder governance. She explained the value of the research framework as an instrument to advance the Internet’s value to sustainable development.
Tomasz Komorowski, representing the Polish National Commission for UNESCO, emphasized that the Indicators are “a tool for developing policies and cooperation based on not only diagnosing the situation of Internet and its societal aspects at local or country levels, but also sharing good practices internationally when a large number of reports from different regions of the world are elaborated”.
He further suggested, “it depends on each country and interested stakeholders to reflect upon what aspects of the ROAM-X indicators are the most important in their individual circumstances and contexts.”
Bissera Zankova, from the Bulgarian Media 21 Foundation, echoed these remarks, pointing out: "Technology is developing fast, but we have to follow it and its impacts. It is important to know whether the Internet is supporting sustainable development and whether it is respectful of human rights, thus enabling all users to participate.
“UNESCO’s Internet Universality Indicators help answer these questions through a multi-stakeholder national procedure,” she added.
The speaker elaborated that knowing whether a society’s environment develops in a way that is conducive to human rights, especially the right freedom of expression, is a central issue for any society – and not an easy one, given the manifold challenges stemming from the proliferation of technology.
Following the interventions, questions and comments focused on the complex challenges of promoting human rights on the Internet and on how the UNESCO Indicators could offer a holistic approach to assessing possible chilling effects on free expression of policies designed to counter cybersecurity threats and speech. .
Evoking the Indicator’s implementation process, Xianhong Hu stressed that “in order for the assessment to have an impact on policy improvement, the national assessment must be guided by a Multistakeholder Advisory Board” and that “the assessment results are to be finalized through a validation workshop in which interested actors can consider any policy options arising from the research”.
Concluding the session, Professor Alicja Jaskiernia from University of Warsaw expressed strong interest and support to the implementation of the Internet Universality indicators assessment at national level on behalf of the academic community.
During the same Congress, at the COMPACT & EC Horizon 2020 project session titled “Connecting and unconnecting power of the digital technologies: is there a need for new human rights frameworks?”, UNESCO’s research on artificial intelligence was also showcased by Xianhong Hu, who presented Steering AI and Advanced ICTs for Knowledge Societies: A ROAM Perspective. This report explores the multiple implications of AI development through the ROAM lens, and provides policy options to enable alignment of digital development with the principles of human Rights, Openness, Accessibility and Multi-stakeholder participation.
The Internet Universality ROAM-X Indicators framework is a set of 303 indicators that aims to assess how well national stakeholders including governments, companies and civil society perform in adhering to the ROAM standards – or to what extent human Rights are enforced on the Internet in the country, whether it is Open, equally Accessible to all and governed through Multi-stakeholder participation.
The Indicators were developed over a three-year process of global and inclusive consultations with stakeholders. In November 2018, the 31st Council of the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) “endorsed the use of this tool on a voluntary basis as a useful resource available for Member States”; and “encouraged interested Member States and all stakeholders, on a voluntary basis, to support and conduct national assessments of Internet development with the Internet Universality Indicators”.
Since this key decision, UNESCO has been working with stakeholders from more than 25 countries to implement national assessments of Internet development using the Indicators. A total of 11 countries are expected to complete the assessment in 2019-2020, with the assessment report to be published in a newly-created UNESCO publication series called “Internet Universality Indicators National Assessments”.