United Nations World Summit on the Information Society
From 2 to 6 May 2016, different stakeholders from government, international organizations, civil society and the private sector are meeting in Geneva to develop strategies to align the global connectivity targets set in Tunis at the UN World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), held in November 2005, with the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, with a view to harnessing the transformative power of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to accelerate global socio-economic development.
The WSIS Forum 2016 is co-organized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). This forum will provide structured opportunities to network, learn and participate in multi-stakeholder discussions and consultations on WSIS implementation. Ambassador Daniel A. Sepulveda, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the United States of America has been designated as Chairman of the WSIS 2016.
At the opening session of the WSIS held in Tunis in 2005, Mr. Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General stated that the information society also depends on networks. He added that “the Internet is the result of, and indeed functions as, a unique and grand collaboration. If its benefits are to spread around the world, we must promote the same cooperative spirit among governments, the private sector, civil society and international organizations”.
Additionally, Mr. Koichiro Matsuura, former Director-General of UNESCO, said that they have highlighted four key principles on this matter, namely: freedom of expression, quality education for all, universal access to information and knowledge and respect for cultural and linguistic diversity. According to him, these four principles are vital for understanding why UNESCO has advocated a shift from "information" to "knowledge" as the key dimension of emerging forms of society. For UNESCO, building knowledge societies is about building a better future for all nations and peoples.
In accordance with the Outcome of the WSIS held in Tunis in 2005, freedom of expression and the free flow of information, ideas, and knowledge, are essential for the information society and beneficial to development. This summit was conceived as an important stepping-stone in the world’s efforts to eradicate poverty and to attain the internationally agreed development goals and objectives. Participants concluded that the key principles for building an inclusive information society are, among others, the improvement of access to information and communication infrastructure and technologies as well as to information and knowledge, the increase of confidence and security in the use of information and communication Technologies (ICTs) and finally, the recognition of the role of the media, the ethical dimensions of the information and the international and regional cooperation.
In the Tunis Forum, participants underscored the strong linkage between the potential of ICTs and the promotion of peace and prevention of conflict which, inter alia, negatively affects achieving development goals. They outlined that ICTs can be used for identifying conflict situations through early-warning systems preventing conflicts, promoting their peaceful resolution, supporting humanitarian action, including protection of civilians in armed conflicts, facilitating peacekeeping missions, and assisting post conflict peace-building and reconstruction.
Every year since 2010 the WSIS Forums have been organized in Geneva. The 2015 Forum, held at the ITU Headquarters in Geneva, attracted more than 1800 WSIS Stakeholders from more than 140 countries. Several high-level representatives of the wider WSIS Stakeholder community graced the Forum with more than 60 ministers and deputies, several ambassadors and civil society organizations.
The WSIS Forum provides opportunities for developing multistakeholder and public-private partnerships to advance development goals. With the newly adopted 2030 Development Agenda, the WSIS Forum needs to evolve and adapt, with a view to strengthening the linkages between the WSIS Action Lines and the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as in light of the outcomes of the UN General Assembly Overall Review of the Implementation of WSIS Outcomes.
The resolution 70/125 of the UN General Assembly of 2015 recognized the necessity of holding the WSIS Forum on an annual basis and called for a close alignment between WSIS and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) processes. Reaffirming this, stakeholders stressed that the WSIS Forum is an excellent venue to connect the two processes, however it was highlighted that special attention should be given to develop frameworks for collaborative multistakeholder work towards the alignment of the two processes and communities.
Regarding alignment with the SDGs, there were suggestions from different stakeholders for the WSIS Forum 2016 to focus on SDGs and pay additional attention to specific SDGs such as SDG 9 (Infrastructure), SDG 4 (Education), SDG 16 (Institutions), among others. Also, there were suggestions for the WSIS Forum 2016 to produce a final document on annual WSIS contribution to SDGs and also for WSIS to compile proposals towards the High-Level Events for the reviews of outcomes of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development process.
In November 2015, an Open Consultation Process on thematic aspects and innovations on the format of the WSIS Forum 2016 was open at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in Geneva. The process was aimed at ensuring a participatory and inclusive spirit of the Forum. This process actively engaged governments, civil society, the private sector, academia, technical community and intergovernmental organizations in the preparatory process to ensure broad ownership and further improvements of the 2016 Forum.
The Open Consultation Process for the WSIS Forum 2016 was structured in five phases as follows: Phase I: online dialogues on the WSIS Knowledge Communities and official submissions to the WSIS Secretariat on the Thematic Aspects and Innovations on the Format (4 November 2015), Phase II: First Physical Meeting (20 January 2016), Phase III: Deadline for Submissions of Official Contributions and Binding Requests for Workshops (30 January 2016), Phase IV: Final Review Meeting of the Open Consultation Process (26 February 2016) and finally, Phase V: Final Brief on the WSIS Forum 2016 (1 April 2016).
All stakeholders were invited to contribute their formal inputs towards shaping the themes and format of the WSIS Forum 2016 through the online official submission form and physical meetings. The ITU-WSIS Secretariat received more than 115 submissions containing proposals on the thematic aspects and innovations on the format of the WSIS Forum 2016, including binding requests for partnerships, workshops and exhibition spaces.
WSIS stakeholders highlighted in these contributions that the WSIS Forum 2016 will be significant as it will bring together the WSIS multistakeholder community for the first time after the UNGA review. Some suggested that the Forum could elaborate a road- map for 2016 that could serve as a reference point/ guideline to be used for stakeholders to plan their respective activities and actions, while others suggested that it could also serve as a coordinating point for developing a 10-year action framework to guide WSIS Action Lines till 2025, thereby also identifying the opportunities and challenges.
The WSIS SDGs Matrix was widely appreciated by all stakeholders as an excellent tool and it was suggested that the WSIS –SDGs Matrix could be extended/enhanced with the WSIS +10outcome document. The Matrix could also be used to showcase concrete examples of implementation. One way suggested could be to explore cross cutting topics like women empowerment, inclusion of people with specific needs, persons with disability, accessibility, education and capacity- building.
Stakeholders strongly reiterated in these contributions that the WSIS Forum is an excellent opportunity to gather experiences, showcase success stories and to get input from multitude of stakeholders on the implementation of the WSIS Action Lines. WSIS Forum should strive to offer a platform that collects, strengthens and spreads information related to the Information Society for all stakeholders.
David Fernandez Puyana, PhD, LLM and MA