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Information for Social Change

Information for Social Change

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ISC 18. The Big ISsues

Part Two : International Issues

4. WSISues

by John Lindsay

The World Summit on the Information Society, part one, will be held in Geneva in December 2003. The second part will be held in Tunis in 2004. This summit is convened by the ITU (International Telecommunications Union) with support from UNESCO.

It follows a series of summits including that on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg last year and is intended to set a framework for a range of policy issues which include bridging the digital, divide.

The Department for International Development in Britain, (DfID), prepared a white paper several years ago on Globalisation and Development in which was proposed support for pro poor policies, for international public goods, where it was suggested that Britain's contribution to international development was through knowledge and research, and where the Minister argued that the enemies of international development were negativism and cynicism, and that people of moral conscience had a obligation to oppose these.

The British Computer Society Developing Countries Specialist Group (BCSDCSG) through the Information for Development Forum (IDF) was involved in the consultation process of producing the White Paper. We were also involved in the Global Knowledge Partnership process initiated by the World Bank, and organised in Britain by the British Council.

When the UK national commission on UNESCO convened a work programme in preparation for the World Summit, we participated in that, and were represented in Paris at the initial meeting convened by UNESCO. When its strategy paper for the Summit was produced, we argued for, and gained acceptance, that the interoperability of metadata standards should be recognised as an international public good.

During the Creating Sparks Millennium Festival organised by the British Association for the Advancement of Science we organised a meeting of sixteen core professional societies, chaired by the President of the BCS at that time, at which we produced a manifesto for the role of information and communication technologies and the design of information systems in the development of the information society.

Recognising that the section of the UNESCO strategy paper's recognition of the role of information literacy was possibly the area where we had the most to contribute as a professional institution, we organised a working party on the topic to pull together what we understood to be the current understanding of the issues on the topic. The report of that work is available on

One of the issues which has predominated at recent world summits, is the participation of civil society. In Seattle and Genoa this took the form of very large demonstrations outside, on issues of fair trade, sustainable environments, treatment of third world debt, and the globalisation and privatisation of intellectual property rights.

The response of the UN system was to set up a mechanism whereby the representatives of civil society may be involved in the process of formulation and decision taking, rather than the summit being simply ministers of governments. This partnership process was lead in Britain by the British Council.

As the British Computer Society, the national representative of IFIP and as IFIP is the international body in consultation with UNESCO we also should have a direct role into UNESCO and into the British Government, as well as participation through the established channels.

Still the British Government has not decided which minister will lead at the Summit, or who will go, according to the Foreign Office at the last meeting of preparation of civil society. It is now certainly too late to influence any further the process of the Geneva summit. We must wait for the declaration. Once we see the declaration we may then decide it fully supports the policies we have argued for, that it supports in part, or that there are issues which we feel contravene our obligations to public good outlined in our Charter.

We will organise a meeting, in collaboration with the Information for Development Forum to form an opinion, which will be published on the group list, bcs-develat In parallel we will organise a meeting in collaboration with the Learning and Teaching Support Network in Information and Computing Sciences (LTSN-ICS) on metadata, continuing the work already started, LTSN-ICS-METADATAat symbolJISCMAIL.AC.UK. Should it be necessary we will also reconvene the workshop on information literacy.

On the basis of the results of these meeting we will then decide whether there is a necessary work programme in preparation for the summit in Tunis in 2005. It seems likely that the core issues of the declaration will include solutions to the digital divide, positions on intellectual property rights, perhaps including reference to the EU proposed law on computer patents, and possibly on the liberalisation of telecommunications markets. All these are likely to be contentious, so it might be that we are completely wrong and all that emerges is something anodyne with which no one can disagree. However the collapse of the Cancun round of the World Trade Organisation discussion, following Doha, indicates that international development is in choppy water.


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