Information for All Programme (IFAP)
The Information for All Programme (IFAP) is a unique UNESCO intergovernmental programme established in 2001. Through IFAP, member and partner governments pledge to harness the new opportunities of the information age to create equitable societies through better access to information. The last decade has witnessed technological development at a scale and speed unprecedented in the history of humankind. One of the major challenges the world faces today is to ensure equitable access for all people, and to seize and benefit fully from these new opportunities. IFAP is UNESCO’s response to the expectations of its Member States to build inclusive and sustainable Knowledge Societies.
The Programme is guided in its planning and implementation by an Intergovernmental Council, comprising 26 UNESCO Member States that are elected by UNESCO’s General Conference. The functioning of the Council is financed by UNESCO’s regular budget. The Council guides the planning and implementation of the programme by considering relevant proposals, recommending broad lines of action, assessing achievements, encouraging the participation of Member States, and supporting fundraising efforts. The Intergovernmental Council elects a Bureau composed of eight members: a Chair, three Vice-Chairs, three members and a Rapporteur.
In order to achieve IFAP’s mandate, the Intergovernmental Council has decided that the Programme concentrates its efforts on the six Strategic Objectives:
- Mainstreaming knowledge society policies in national development plans for sustainable development
- Fostering information literate societies
- Promoting and widening access to knowledge and information in the public domain through the organization, digitization, dissemination and preservation of content and data
- Raising awareness of ethical issues related to information
- Enhancing opportunities for disadvantaged communities by providing access to information and knowledge
- Reinforcing promotion and use of Multilingualism in Cyberspace
The overall goal of IFAP is to help UNESCO Member States develop and implement national information policies and knowledge strategies in a world increasingly using information and communication technologies (ICT). In order to achieve this goal, the Programme concentrates its efforts on the six priority areas listed below.
Information for Development focuses on the value of information for addressing development issues.
One of the challenges facing IFAP is to explain to governments and communities the value of information in addressing development issues. The objectives in the UN Millennium Declaration link the development and eradication of poverty to good governance and transparency.
The costs of neglect and disorder of records in organizations are seriously underestimated and the benefits to be derived from good records management in respect of efficiency and accountability need to be recognised.
A UNESCO study has found that a free press is strongly associated with a good level of development and reduced poverty. Access to primary goods and better nutrition also coexist with strong freedom of the press. A free press is well associated with decent medical environment. It helps to show the government where its true responsibilities lie. As a development tool, the press is as effective as investment or education. The same is already true of digital media available through ICT and their importance will grow.
Information for development is a tool for empowerment, e.g. through making the planning figures of government budgets available to all, through transparent and competitive bidding processes, through increased accountability of government offices, etc. It is also a tool for increasing opportunities and livelihood security. The central underlying issue is the need to stress not only the importance of access to information, but also the relevance and usefulness of information.
The value of developing human capacity and in providing access to information and knowledge for development is well recognized, but more effort is required to explain and demonstrate the benefits of investing in these resources.
Information Literacy empowers people in all walks of life to seek, evaluate, use and create information effectively to achieve their personal, social, occupational and educational goal.
Information literacy and lifelong learning have been described as the beacons of the information society, illuminating the courses to development, prosperity and freedom.
Information literacy empowers people in all walks of life to seek, evaluate, use and create information effectively to achieve their personal, social, occupational and educational goals. Information-literate people are able to access information about their health, their environment, their education and work, and to make critical decisions about their lives.
In a digital world, information literacy requires users to have the skills to use information and communication technologies and their applications to access and create information. Closely linked are two other related literacies: computer literacy (ICT skills) and media literacy (understanding of various kinds of mediums and formats by which information is transmitted). For example, the ability to navigate in cyberspace and negotiate hypertext multimedia documents requires both the technical skills to use the Internet and the literacy skills to interpret the information.
IFAP is promoting actions aimed at raising awareness of the importance of information literacy and supporting projects that build the literacy skills of users.
Information Preservation will be predominantly executed by strengthening the underlying principles of the Memory of the World Programme, beyond its registers, which serve as catalysts to alert decision makers and the public at large.
Universal access to information is a prerequisite for building knowledge societies. Throughout history, libraries and archives have been the guardians of the documentary heritage of humankind.
But in a world increasingly being shaped by digital technologies, the traditional guardian institutions (libraries, archives and museums) are challenged to keep pace with the rapid growth in information.
They also face a new challenge: as technology advances the stability and lifespan of documents is considerably decreasing. If nothing is done, many important documents in electronic format will not survive or will become completely inaccessible within a very short time. The result will be a permanent loss to the collective memory of humankind. This challenge needs to be tackled urgently and the costs of preserving digital information should not be underestimated - these far exceed the preservation costs experienced to date with five millennia of traditional documents.
Digital preservation also contributes to at least two other IFAP priorities - information for development and information accessibility. Digital technologies open up access to information and knowledge in democratic dimensions that have never been experienced before.
This priority area will be predominantly executed by strengthening the underlying principles and concepts of the Memory of the World Programme, beyond its registers, which serve as catalysts to alert decision makers, and the public at large.
Information ethics cover the ethical, legal and societal aspects of the applications of ICT and are derived from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
One of the most challenging ethical issues is the inequity of access to ICT between countries, and between urban and rural communities within countries. Along with the benefits of a digitally connected world come the threats of misuse and abuse. Countries are already building mechanisms to protect their people against these risks, for example to ensure the safety of children on the internet, but clearly a lot more needs to be done to address the ethical implications of the information society. In collaboration with its partner institutions, IFAP seeks to do so.
In 2015, within the framework of IFAP, UNESCO led the first-ever international conference on ‘Youth and the Internet: Fighting Radicalization and Extremism’, which brought together experts and decision-makers to share policy intervention experiences, projects and processes for reducing the use of the internet as a tool for attracting young people to extremist ideologies and radicalism. The conference sensitized Member States and partners about the risks of this threat, and indicated the urgent need for sustained international attention and global action in support of Member States. At this conference, UNESCO also launched its cross-sectoral initiative ‘A New Integrated Framework of Action - Empowering Youth to Build Peace: Youth 2.0 – Building Skills, Bolstering Peace’.
This was followed in 2016 by the international conference ‘Internet and the Radicalization of Youth: Preventing, Acting and Living Together’, co-organized by UNESCO, IFAP and the Government of Quebec, with the support of the Canadian Government. The resulting ‘Quebec’s Call for Action’ (Appel de Québec) called upon the international community to take multidimensional action to combat violent extremism. In this respect, Canada has provided support for the UNESCO intersectoral project ‘Preventing Violent Extremism through Youth Empowerment in Jordan, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia’.
As a part of continuous efforts to confront this problem, the international conference on ‘Youth and Information and Communication Technologies: Preventing Violent Extremism in Cyberspace’, was organized by UNESCO, IFAP and the authorities of Lebanon in May 2017 in Beirut. The Final Statement of the Conference calls for effective measures to prevent and combat the online propagation of violence, as well as for using the internet to promote a culture of peace.
New societal, technological and ethical challenges of the DarkNet were discussed at an expert meeting in Paris on 14 September 2017. Organized by IFAP, the meeting provided an opportunity for representatives of Permanent Delegations to UNESCO, as well as external participants, to discuss the challenges of cyber threats and ways to improve national strategies through innovative and global solutions.
Information Accessibility encompasses the many issues surrounding availability, accessibility and affordability of information, as well as the special needs of people with disabilities.
Information accessibility encompasses the many issues surrounding availability, accessibility and affordability of information, such as multilingualism, metadata, interoperability, open source software, open content, Creative Commons licences as well as addressing the special needs of people with disabilities.
The new economic and technological environment raises concerns about the erosion of access to certain information and knowledge that has been freely shared in the past, for example to facilitate scientific research and education.
At the same time, developments such as the Internet create an unprecedented opportunity for sharing information as well as promoting linguistic diversity and preserving languages that would otherwise become extinct. While many thousands of the world’s languages are still absent from Internet content, the provision of digital connectivity to all people will allow communities to create their own content in their own languages.
In 2003, UNESCO adopted a, promoting multilingualism and an equitable balance between the interests of information rights holders and the public interest.
Subsequently, UNESCO has endorsed global efforts related to Free and Open source Software (FOSS), Open Educational Resources (OER), and has responded with several projects to promote multilingualism in cyberspace, as well as the use of ICT for more equitable access to information, including for people with disabilities.
Language is a primary means for communicating information and knowledge, thus the ability to access content on the Internet in a language which one can use is a key determinant for the extent to which one can participate in the knowledge societies.
IFAP as an Intergovernmental Programme is mainly working with Governments of Member States. It largely benefited from their expertise and contributions to many IFAP projects and activities. Notable among them are those of China, the Russian Federation, Canada, Bulgaria, Lebanon and Egypt. It also developed bilateral intergovernmental partnerships that have been valuable in addressing development issues. These are referred to as public-public partnerships, North-South partnerships or, as even South-South partnerships. Partnerships between developing countries can sometimes deliver more positive results than the more traditional northsouth development aid model. In a digitally connected world, the opportunities for stimulating and enhancing partnerships between governments is greatly increased.
IFAP also recognizes that the path towards information and knowledge societies can only be shaped in a multi-stakeholder collaborative environment. IFAP has therefore a long history of working closely with civil society and more recently with the private sector.
Key Partners that supported IFAP since the creation of the Programme
No Programme can be successful without adequate financial support. IFAP needs complementary funding if it is to achieve the objectives that have been set. Much needs to be done to raise additional extra-budgetary funds.
While the functioning of the IFAP Council is supported by UNESCO's regular budget, all programme work, including pilot projects, relies on funds from voluntary contributions by donor countries.
These contributions are held in the IFAP Special Account, which is administered in accordance with the financial regulations of UNESCO, with the Director-General regularly reporting on its functioning to the Executive Board.IFAP also administers a Funds-in-Trust (FIT) scheme, whereby donors can nominate specific projects, countries or regions they wish to support.
A key focus for the work of the Council is to secure ongoing funding for its programmes and projects. Up until the end of 2005, the Council has been able to fund some 37 pilot projects. These play a critically important role in raising awareness within countries of the benefits of Knowledge Societies. The Council encourages Governments to expand their financial support so that IFAP can continue to support this extremely important activity.
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