Data needs for knowledge societies: Defining data skills for international organisations

12 Jun 2017 14:30h - 16:15h

Event report

[Read more session reports from WSIS Forum 2017]

The session kicked off with introductions by moderator Dr Katharina Hoene (Project Manager at DiploFoundation). She opened the floor for panelists by mentioning the importance of multistakeholderism in reaching a comprehensive approach to all digital skills, including data-related skills. The panel reflected the multistakeholder approach with panelists from the private sector, academia, diplomacy, and government. Ms Doreen Bogdan-Martin (Chief of Strategic Planning and Membership in ITU) took the floor, talking about ITU’s mission and how it revolved around connectivity, collecting statistics, and making sense of the data collected. She mentioned the need to provide increased and democratised access to datasets while preserving anonymity. She stressed the opportunities data presents to increase inclusivity in respect of local culture, gender, diversity and closing the digital divide. Bogdan-Martin stated that ‘Data is not only statistics and programming, it is an interdisciplinary field where engineering, sociology, law, ethics and other fields merge’, while also touching on the issues of privacy and security when it comes to the data generated by Internet of Things (IoT).

Mr Ljupco Gjorgjinski (Charge d’Affaires, Permanent Mission of Macedonia to the UN) pointed out the new focus to interlink ICTs and diplomacy in order for the two fields to help each other. He stated that topics such as AI, big data, and IoT’s growth were exponential. The spread of IoT, especially after the rollout of IPv6, would mean everything around us will be connected to the Internet and will generate enormous amounts of data. He stated that the ability to interpret and contextualise data would become more crucial in the next decades, so it would be important to focus on potential issues now. He said as new technologies bring further internationalisation of data, governments are calling for localisation, and both are happening simultaneously, also bringing up questions of jurisdiction. Gjorgjinski also asked if states would have the ability to enforce their will on international technology giants, considering some countries’ annual GDP is equal to a day’s revenue of some corporations. Gjorgjinski said that open data is an important topic to consider, and touched upon data currently being held in separate silos, which reduces its potential use. This brought the conversation to the skills of individuals who can fulfill the potential of data only if they are willing to develop the necessary skills. The pressing need for collaboration – adopting the bazaar model of software development – to avoid a widening gap between states as well as individuals, was also addressed.

Mr Pierre Mirlesse (Vice-President of Hewlett Packard Enterprise EMEA) pointed to the fact that the world is now hyperconnected. Opportunities to create value, by collaborating and communicating, were more than ever. Nine out of ten top applications were communication applications, which means that the data produced by these communications is now richer. Hence, it is not only about making sense of data, but also about considering the type of infrastructures that are needed to carry, store, and transmit the data. Mirlesse emphasised the importance of creating an aim, a plan, and a roadmap, before analysing data.

Prof. Giovanna Di Marzo (University of Geneva) took the floor by highlighting how 25 years ago, European school curricula included programming, but somehow was removed in the last decades. She stressed the importance to bring it back. She reiterated that if we wanted to raise the next generation of data scientists, programming needed to be taught to children very early on, together with math and other subjects. She said that collaboration is crucial since all the needed skills cannot be collected into single individuals. Therefore, teams from various fields, such as international relations, history, geography, and statistics would become vital. The need for more ready-made and open source tools for the collection, analysis, processing, and exploitation of data was underlined. The benefits of issue-focused, shorter-term projects encouraging interdisciplinary approaches and short seminars, in place of long educational programmes, were also highlighted.

Among other topics addressed were the significance of political will in narrowing the digital gap between societies; the need to keep sovereignty and privacy for data in mind;  the need for investing in the individual’s skills more than equipment; and the need to increase youth’s potential with open data. Finally, the gender gap and its dampening effect on the digital divide, as well as new technologies both destroying and creating jobs, were discussed.


by Su Sonia Herring