Access to Scientific Knowledge (A2SK): Lessons learned and the way forward for SDG2030

5 May 2016 15:00h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the WSIS Forum 2016.]

This combined session (115 and 190) was proposed as a mix of implemented e-science and access to knowledge (A2K).

Moderator Mr Bhanu Neupane (KSD, UNESCO) opened the session with a short history of the action line process, noting that the millennium development goals (MDGs) have not been achieved as hoped, and that achieving 10 of these 17 goals requires scientific knowledge.

Mr  Indrajeet Banerjee  (Director,  KSD,  UNESCO) began the first intervention by disagreeing with Shakespeare (Ignorance is the curse of God; knowledge is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven), stating rather that ignorance is not a choice, and thereby setting the tone for the session. He continued that the real issues for this panel were addressing whether we have succeeded in breaking knowledge monopolies, and dealing with the belief that the information society has broken the barrier to knowledge, which is not true. He asked, while it is a key component of empowerment, why have we not yet succeeded? Banerjee commented on open access, which should mean everything from text, data, software, video, and multimedia; maintaining financial accountability and sustainability as a challenge for access to information; big data for science as important data; the virtual environmental observatory developed by UNESCO, to test alternatives to replacing the existing environmental monitoring systems and other topics.

Mr Barkumunkuzi (HE Minister of IT, Post and Media, Burundi) particularly noted the need to enable all communities to fully enjoy the benefits and opportunities offered by the information society, and the limits imposed by lack of access to ICTs. Barkumunkuzi gave examples of overcoming challenges in Burundi, describing a project aimed at connecting 50 public institutions to promote e-gov services; another at connecting all academic institutions in the country, and other projects as well, while noting that funding is a challenge.

 Ms Yolanda Martinez (Ministry of Public Administration, Mexico) reiterated that the knowledge economy is a challenge for many countries, but knowledge is the only tool we have to advance development. Martinez highlighted advances in Mexico: a 20% increase in Internet penetration achieved, due to legislative reform recognising access to the Internet as a human right; a presidential decree mandating that all public/government data be made available to citizens in open standards, making more than 80 000 data sets now available; and reform in the law for science and technology in 2015 promoting and recognising open access to scientific and academic work, using a national platform.

Mr Jens Vigen (Head Librarian, CERN) explained that CERN considers open access to be an important value. Vigen noted that at least seven of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) are addressed by CERN, through various activities including educational activities and developing infrastructures (the www, the technology behind smartphones, and another behind touch-screens, were developed at CERN). He emphasised that open hardware and access are priorities for CERN, using the example of 300 terabytes of data recently released through the CERN open data portal. The portal also gives access to virtual machines for analysing the data. He explained CERN’s support for global library projects, as libraries remain key to knowledge.

Prof.  Pradeep Mujumdar (IISc Bangalore) stressed global climate change as a challenge for all countries, including developing ones, using the shortage of water as a consequence of climate change as an example to ask how ICT and science can contribute to addressing such challenges. He explained the importance of access to scientific knowledge, technologies, sharing of data and knowledge, and the use of ICTs in science and education to combat climate change and its impacts. Mujumdar also explained the importance of ensuring access to affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy sources, and the need for accessible tools, developed for addressing climate change.

Mr Simon Hudson (Executive director, CODATA) noted the importance of building capacity at the international level, to respond to and enhance the data revolution, by explaining CODATA’s work on data policies, principles, and practices. He highlighted the need for capacity building and research, and the requirement that data be open in order to be efficiently and effectively used in scientific activities, illustrating the concepts with detailed examples of CODATA’s projects, including plans for the African Open Data Forum.

Dr Medha Dewari (Data and Knowledge Manager, Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR)) described an urgent need to network across disciplines and domains and to foster linkages between different, already available, datasets. She argued that farmers in developing countries miss access to crucial information related to their farming practices. The technology to provide this access exists but datasets need to be integrated and resources need to be made available for them to gain access. She also outlined a vision for a new data management paradigm, which focuses on making datasets that are reusable, that can be re-purposed, and to which value through linkage can be added.

Prof. Dev Niyogi (Indiana State Climatologist, Purdue University), speaking in the context of climate science and growing cities, argued that, first, the science and models are available but that the data to go from global to city-scale is missing and, second, that the science needs to be translated into actionable toolkits and tasks in communities. He stressed the importance of linking data using networks and complex systems approaches.

In his concluding remarks, Banerjee reminded everyone that ‘real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance’. He outlined challenges ahead, which included lack of strategy and cooperation in dealing with vast amounts of data, technological, financial, and capacity building gaps and challenges.

Questions from the floor and from remote participants stressed the need to make scientific data available and to create incentives to accomplish this. The value and  limits of citizen science, the importance of not equating data with information or knowledge, and the regulatory and policy challenges involved in creating broader access to scientific data were noted as important points to be addressed.

by Katharina Hoene and Virginia (Ginger) Paque