Improving Evidence-Based Internet Policies: UNESCO's Call for Support - National Assessments using R.O.A.M.-X Indicator

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The national assessments of UNESCO R.O.A.M.-X Indicators offer a comprehensive tool for analysis which helps digitally developed and developing countries alike. It helps countries to create benchmarks which can be compared with each other, but can also be used to gain access to crucial information for i.e. global advocacy initiatives. The indicators can also be used to create a network of good practices which can help increase the level of universal Internet indicators.

As highlighted by Ms Xianhong Hu (UNESCO), the Internet Universality Indicators were endorsed on 21 November 2018 by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) Council and were spearheaded by pilot projects in Brazil, Senegal, and Thailand. Their aim is to develop a clear and substantive understanding of the national Internet environment and policies, to assess that environment and policies are in conformity to UNESCO’s R.O.A.M. principles, and to develop policy recommendations and practical initiatives that will enable the country to meet their goals and to align to with UNESCO principles as the Internet evolves. The process of national assessments foresees eight action steps which range from the establishment of a Multistakeholder Advisory Board, to data gathering and analysis, and to an ongoing impact assessment and monitoring mechanism.

The speakers presented the progress of their respective countries regarding the implementation of the assessment frameworks. The framework was well received by all participants as a good way to keep everyone informed about local situations, make more informed policy-decisions, and identify key areas where improvements are still needed. All participants recognised the importance of tackling digital issues in a multistakeholder fashion, and all country representatives were able to present panels and advisory committees that work or will work on their respective national assessments. Mr Miguel Martín (Vice-Minister of Technologies, Paraguay) recognised that the government needs to improve the adoption of multistakeholder standards in the elaboration of new policies.

Ms Mira Milosevic (Director of Global Forum for Media Development) underlined the importance of not only focusing policies on infrastructure development and increasing connectivity, but also on addressing the content layers of the Internet. She noted that this layer is often discussed between governments and the private sector, thus excluding civil society.

Speakers from African countries who made assessments of their countries highlighted the challenges emanating from a lack of access to data or regarding the quality of it. Ms Grace Githaiga (Kictanet, Kenya) found that bringing in people for focus group discussions significantly increased the responsiveness of participants and allowed them to gain access to important data. According to her, this practice also provides a good solution to decrease the digital divide between rural and urban populations if researchers are able to collect data in situ.

Another common challenge for most countries is the enforcement of regulatory provisions. While many countries have adopted a number of cyber-related policies, there are very few ways to ensure that they are respected. While improving data collection to pinpoint these gaps was seen as a helpful mechanism, solutions to increase the enforcement of laws in cyberspace remains a challenge. Ms Karima Mahmoudi (INTT) and Ms Wafa Ben-Hassine (UNESCO Consultant) also highlighted the difficulty of evaluating the effectiveness of certain laws and regulatory measures that were still being discussed by the government or that had been adopted very recently. Other countries are faced with the issue that the legal provisions do not foresee the application of laws in the online space.

By Cedric Amon

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