WSIS action line facilitators meeting

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Ilona Stadnik

This session provided a short overview from the UN WSIS Action Lines Facilitators on the significant priorities and challenges for their respective Action Lines towards the achievement of the SDGs, and, in particular, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Action line С1. The role of public governance authorities and all stakeholders in the promotion of ICT for development

Mr Deniz Susar (Governance and Public Administration Officer, UN DESA) noted that this year the focus was on promoting digital government technologies and assessing e-government. The goal of tools like the E-government Survey should be to set standards and to drive action; historical data since 2001 of surveys is a strength. Strong support from participants to build a digital government network was promoted. Public officials noted that digital ID systems helped governments to roll out vaccines quickly during the pandemic.

Action line С2. Information and communication infrastructure

Mr Istvan Bozsoki (Head of Division, ITU) noted an increased demand for broadband connectivity during the COVID-19 pandemic for education and remote work. He also noted rural areas lack of broadband connectivity, and the progress of the ITU Last Mile Connectivity project. Financial and investment issues for private and public sectors to meet infrastructure demand need to be explored. This year, different types of investment mechanisms that can develop local business capacities and bridge the digital divide were discussed within the action line. In order to complete the last mile project, the specific local market landscape must be taken into consideration.

Action line C3. Access to information and knowledge

Mr Joe Hironaka (Programme Specialist, Digital Innovation and Transformation, Communication and Information Sector, UNESCO) explained that in 2020, UNESCO focussed on the right to information in times of crisis—the provision of constitutional, statutory, and policy guarantees for public access to information. In 2021, UNESCO celebrated Global Media and Information Literacy week, in resisting the disinfodemic. Good resources were developed to combat disinformation—and a comprehensive, global study on disinformation that introduced a dedicated toolkit was produced. The Hashtag #DontGoViral campaign was also launched in 2021.

Action line C4. Capacity building

Ms Halima Letamo (Capacity and Skills Development Officer, ITU) explained that the ITU promoted the development of digital skills for leaders to enable them to reach marginalised groups and to provide benefits from AI and technology for better access to healthcare. She also reminded that the pandemic has allowed for digital learning platforms to become more accessible; sharing of information and remote diagnostics is now a reality ensuring greater access to healthcare. However, she cautioned that a significant part of the global population is still unconnected and cannot access critical health-related information and online healthcare services.

Action line C5. Building confidence and security in the use of ICT

Mr Preetam Maloor (Head Emerging Technologies Division, ITU) noted that the discussions focussed on forging meaningful partnerships; global platforms such as the WSIS Forum played a vital role here. The ITU has helped countries understand the level of readiness in terms of technologies; organised a detailed discussion on the importance of measurement for cybersecurity and the ITU global cybersecurity index. The ITU also released child online protection guidelines and updated the recent guidelines for parents, policymakers, and educators helping navigate child safety in times of remote learning.

Action line C6. Enabling environment

Ms Sofie Maddens (Head, Regulatory and Market Environment Division, ITU) informed that the ITU organised a platform to help countries and regulatory communities share Best Practices and Solutions during the pandemic. The ITU also established a COVID-19 interactive data dashboard, giving action to current and reliable country-specific information on ICT policy and regulatory initiatives. The organisation published country case studies and a detailed assessment study focussing on the plans prepared and adopted by countries for the postcrisis situation in terms of the enabling environment. The ITU published a new report, ‘Pandemic in the Internet Age’, which underlines the initiatives taken early in the pandemic, to examine the efficiency of efforts in the medium and long-term. It will be discussed at the Global symposium for regulators on June 21-25.

Action line C7. ICT Applications

  • E-commerce

Mr James Howe (Senior Adviser International Marketing, Branding and e-Commerce, International Trade Centre (ITC)) noted that the pandemic has not hit all businesses in the same way. Women-owned, youth-led firms have been the hardest hit. Encouraging the two groups to use digital technology is probably the best investment for sustainable economic growth. The ITC began the rollout of the global trade help desk platform, putting online a number of tools to support the learning materials and regular events. The ITC also promoted the first-ever e-commerce week to be held on 17-21 October in Abu Dhabi.

  • E-learning

Mr Valtencir Mendes (Senior Programme Lead, UNESCO Education Sector) explained that UNESCO defined three main actions: 1) to support the more than 1.5 billion students affected; 2) to generate a needs assessment through different consultations with governments and ministries of education; and 3) to create concrete actions to respond to the crisis and build back better. As well, UNESCO created the Global Education Coalition, which now has more than 175 members, to give a coordinated response to the crisis in which e-learning and hybrid learning (and different modalities of this combination of face-to-face and 100% online learning) have faced.

  • E-health

Dr Jotheeswaran A Thiyagarajan (Epidemiologist, Ageing and Health Unit, WHO) noted that WHO granted healthy aging innovation prizes by selecting good technology that fits the expectations of WHO and countries in which it is utilised. The organisation also granted separate independent prizes for work on various diseases and for technological solutions for financial planning and longevity; and granted a prize for mobility and transportation solutions. Germany set up an ecosystem centre to predict future outbreaks of disease. This will come into place in the next six months.

  • E-environment

Ms Maritza Delgado (Program Officer of the Environment and Emergency Telecommunications Division, ITU) reminded that 3.7 billion people have no access to the internet. Billions more suffer because access is not sufficiently meaningful to change their lives because of low bandwidth, high prices, and lack of digital skills. Multistakeholder partnerships and effective cross-sectoral collaboration including communities is essential to make full use of technology to accelerate change, increase resilience to disasters, and better to adapt to the changing environment.

  • E-agriculture

Ms Meng Zeng (Information Technology Officer, FAO) explained that the FAO has issued a COVID-19 response and recovery program, which is designed to proactively and sustainably address the consequences of the pandemic. The FAO has also implemented an array of policy tools to analyse and assess the effects of COVID-19 on food and agriculture, including policymakers, policy response, food policy warnings and policy briefs This year, the FAO co-organised the Action Lines C7 to address e-commerce for agriculture and rural developments based on a digital agriculture report.

  • E-science

Hironaka reminded that scientists sequenced the COVID-19 DNA and posted the information online in January last year, enabling others to develop a screening test. This was shared by WHO with governments throughout the world. UNESCO organised a flagship project, the Youth Mobile Coding week, with Google and other partners. Two former laureates of the UNESCO Women in Science prize were awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in chemistry.

Action line C8. Cultural diversity and identity, linguistic diversity and local content

Ms Rochelle Roca-Hachem (Programme Specialist, Communications, Cities and Events Unit, UNESCO Culture Sector) noted that in 2020, an online meeting of 130 ministers of culture was convened to discuss how the pandemic has affected the culture sector and what can be done in response. UNESCO also established a movement called the Resilient Arts. The cultural, creative industry, artists, film, and music industries have not had the usual in-person platforms to reach audiences. A platform to come together and share data and experiences was created. In partnership with Google arts and culture, UNESCO established an online virtual way to visit world heritage sites and hear from world heritage site managers who put up their videos.

Action line C9. Media

Hironaka stated that World Press Freedom Day, 3 May, and the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, 2 February, were commemorated as flagship UN events, providing participation for governments, civil society, academia and other UN agencies. UNESCO and the Netherlands also organised an event in strengthening investigation and prosecutions to end impunity from crimes against journalism. UNESCO also provided guidelines in prosecuting crimes against journalists.

Action line C10. Ethical dimensions of the Information Society

Mr Maksim Karliuk (Programme Specialist Section for Bioethics and Ethics of Science and Technology, UNESCO) spoke about organising an ad-hoc Group on Ethics and AI with regional and subregional consultations and multistakeholder and citizen workshops to produce public comments. He noted that the UNESCO recommendations on AI are in the intergovernmental negotiation stage and that their adoption is expected in November 2021. This will be the first-ever global normative instrument. For the coming year, in terms of the ethics of AI, specific tools will be proposed, such as the assessment of the effects of AI systems on society and how to address them; or a readiness benchmarking methodology will be produced to help identify the status of countries in terms of preparedness to implement technology in an ethical way.

Action line C11. International and regional cooperation

Mr Deniz Susar (Governance and Public Administration Officer, UN DESA) highlighted the United Nations E-Government Survey 2022. Concerning challenges in measuring e-government, it was noted that measuring government in the background is difficult via the assessment of portals, because the UN DESA is looking at the front end of portals and some services are personalised and automatically handled by government systems. These are hard to capture by the survey methodology, so there is room for improvement.