Realizing SDG16 through peaceful and inclusive Knowledge Societies

On the afternoon of 4th May 2016, the WSIS Action Line Facilitators covering cultural diversity (C8), media (C9) and ethics (10) joined forces at the 2016 WSIS Forum in Geneva to explore how these diverse perspectives could contribute to addressing the challenges and targets under Sustainable Development Goal 16 (SDG16).

SDG16 is focused on “promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, providing access to justice for all and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”. The targets under this goal include issues ranging from prevention of violence, child trafficking and torture, to ensuring access to information and protecting fundamental freedoms to building institutions for effective governance. This makes SDG16 an especially complex goal and one where multi-disciplinary lenses are essential to finding durable solutions.

The event used an innovative structure built around 4 sessions. The first session featured Dr Indrajit Banerjee, Director of UNESCO’s Knowledge Societies Division and Dr Tomasz Janowski, Head and Founder of the United Nations University’s Special Operating Unit on Policy-driven Electronic Governance. This high-level session served to set the stage and underscored the contribution of UNESCO’s knowledge societies concept and Next Generation Digital Government to the realization of SDG16.

The two sessions that followed the opening took the form of an interactive roundtable debate between expert panelists and the audience.

The first roundtable which focused on fighting youth radicalization and preventing violent extremism on the Internet, was moderated by Dr Boyan Radoykov, Chief of UNESCO’s Section for Universal Access and Preservation.  According to Dr Radoykov, “both the exchange of global experiences and focused research is urgently needed to better understand the role of digital technologies in the process of radicalization and the prevention of violent extremism. Only with this knowledge can effective policies and strategies be designed and implemented”.

Session panelists Ms. Darice Rusagara, Adviser to the Pan-African Youth Network on the Culture of Peace (PAYNCoP), Mr Tim Francis, Associate Programme Specialist, in UNESCO’s section for Media and Society, and Dr. John Crowley, Chief of Section for Research, Policy and Foresight in UNESCO's Sector for Social and Human Sciences drew attention to ongoing youth-focused and youth-led regional and international initiatives in the areas of digital arts, social media and policy which were providing new insights and lessons. 

The second roundtable chaired by Dr Janowski focused on how the protection of fundamental freedoms and the promotion of a diversity of cultural expressions could enable peaceful and inclusive knowledge societies. In opening the session, Dr Janowski invited panelist to reflect on how “social media could include the excluded and overcome the challenges facing marginalized communities”. The lively panel debate revealed the interdependent roles of infrastructure, user awareness and empowerment, as well as relevant content, in overcoming exclusion.

Mr. Francois Marien, speaking from the perspective of persons with disabilities, pointed to the lack of awareness amongst small and medium enterprises (SMEs) of ICT-based solutions and various government assistance programmes.  These SMEs though willing to hire persons with disabilities were under the mistaken impression that accommodations would be too costly. Nicolas Seidler, Policy Director for the Internet Society, pointed to countries where despite over 90% coverage by Internet, uptake of this service was low due to the lack of relevant local content. Ms. Dragana Korljan, Human Rights Officer in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) shed light on the how ICTs as a channel for wider artistic freedom and expression could enhance access to and the enjoyment of culture, and also foster intercultural dialogue. Mr. Paul Blaker, Head of International Information and Communication Technology (ICT) at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in the United Kingdom recognized the important role of ICT in realizing people’s aspirations and creating new opportunities for participation and interaction between local government and citizens and the prospect of supporting debates on global governance. However, he also underscored the need to reflect on and address emerging challenges such as machine to machine interactions and the broader use of ICT in newly emerging fields.

The final session focused on matchmaking – stimulating collaboration between the experts and institutions – with various UNESCO programmes and activities. Initiatives highlighted included the international conference “Internet and the radicalization of youth: preventing, acting and living together”, that will be held on 31 October and 1 November 2016, in Québec City, Canada; the intergovernmental Information for All Programme (IFAP); as well as various youth in heritage volunteer programmes led by UNESCO’s World Heritage Programme. This led to more than 10 institutions (including governmental, intergovernmental, research, academic, thinks-tanks, and civil society organizations) expressing interest in cooperation with UNESCO to advance the objectives of the WSIS Action Lines and the SDGs.