UNESCO convenes session to discuss openness and inclusive of access to information

Global solidarity and efforts coupled with the explosion of advanced technologies have allowed connecting knowledge pools and resources with those who can put the best use for it. It has redefined the context of “Access” and has also levelled the playing fields for everyone as never before.

While the contexts of “Openness” and “inclusiveness” have been appreciated as the two key pillars to improve access, their interplay within the broader realm of globalization, the rise in the mobility, the increasing demand for lifelong learning opportunities, the proliferation of open and inclusive governance systems; and the growing role of private sector still remain to be properly understood.

This session discussed WSIS Action Line C3 - Access to Information and Knowledge (A2K) - specifically the two key pillars that improve access to information and knowledge - “Openness” and “Inclusiveness”. The panel agreed that numerous global collaborative initiatives and consultations are helping to shape the Post-2015 and the WSIS +10 Development Agendas. These processes though in many ways separate, share common goals of world peace, human progress and the full realization of human potentials. Thus exploration on ways to support policies for access to information and knowledge takes on a heightened significance given its clear potential for contributing to and advancing development processes.

The panel highlighted that in the last 10 years, global landscape of knowledge has benefitted because of an improved connectivity, especially due to the availability of cheap mobile networks and inexpensive handheld devices. A very encouraging scenario was noted for Africa. The panel noted that the technology is not the ultimate accelerator for knowledge dissemination, as it does not fix everything! The panel noted the need to address the basics and not just regulatory issues but also the fundamental issues – such as power to charge phones in developing countries. The panel asserted a need to examine the available technological solutions from their affordability, sustainability, and practicality points of views. It was also highlighted that there is a need to understand that public policy instruments for these issues are already available, but their judicious use is still lacking.

Thus, good governance was noted as absolutely essential to access, and particularly human rights and the rule of law were noted as the key enablers of A2K.  The panel also noted continuing importance of community based spaces such as libraries to encourage accessing information and knowledge, and providing such access to all forms of digital and traditional media.

Both the panellists and audience highlighted the importance of synching SDG and WSIS+10 processes and alluded to the imperative for maintaining transparency in the processes so that the outcomes received multi-stakeholder approval. 

The panel noted the need to consider the speed of innovation, economic and social change and the challenges these pose to existing institutions, governance models and “ways of doing things”.  Panellists highlighted decreasing control of individuals over their data and the challenge this poses for identity, privacy and security – a challenge that will only increase in all economies, developed and developing.

In order to address these, the panel noted the critical role that empowerment could play.  Especially there is a need for getting beyond the talk of “people-cantered, inclusive development oriented information societies” and actually achieving the “people-cantered and inclusive” dimension of the knowledge societies, which cannot be solved by ICTs alone. The panel asserted that although much progress has been made in instilling “inclusion” in A2K, there remains so much to do be done to empower all persons by addressing issues related to human rights, environmental concerns, gender, disabilities. The panel also noted that there is a need for locally relevant content development to fuel the demand for access, in which multilingualism must also play a key role.

Concerns were expressed that the efficiency and adequacy of the processes while synching SDG and WSIS+10 goals are of absolute importance.  It was hoped that the SDG and WSIS+10 processes would strengthen provisions to examine the sustainability of projects initiated to improve access to information and knowledge, thus developing a set of key indicators is essential to monitor progress.  The panel noted the need for an enhanced inclusion of Open solutions, open standards, and understanding the needs of the people with disability as important features in addressing A2K.

The panel consisted of Prof. Roni Aviram, Vice-Chairperson of the Bureau of the Intergovernmental Council for the Information for All Programme (IFAP) of UNESCO; Mr Makane Faye, Chief of Knowledge Services Section at United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UN-ECA); Mrs Janice Richardson, Representative of African Child Online Protection, Education, Awareness; Mr Nigel Hickson, Vice President IGO Engagement, ICANN; Mr Matthew Shears, Representative and Director, Global Internet Policy and Human Rights Project, Center for Democracy and Technology; and Mr Ephraim Percy Kenyanito, Policy Fellow at AccessNow.Org. The panel was moderated by Mr  Bhanu R. Neupane of UNESCO's Knowledge Societies Division.