New from Stefaan Verhulst: Toward WSIS 3.0: Adopting Next-Gen Governance Solutions for Tomorrow's Information Society

Andrew Young — January 03, 2016

Today at CircleID, Network chief of research Stefaan Verhulst and co-author Lea Kaspar of Global Partners Digital shared a number of practical recommendations for adopting next-gen governance solutions for tomorrow’s information society. The piece is a reaction to the recent United Nations’ ” World Summit on the Information Society” (WSIS) events in Geneva and Tunis and the WSIS+10 document, which “reflects on the progress made over the past decade and outlines a set of recommendations for shaping the information society in coming years. Among other things, it acknowledges the role of different stakeholders in achieving the WSIS vision, reaffirms the centrality of human rights, and calls for a number of measures to ensure effective follow-up.” The WSIS+10 document was unanimously adopted by member states of the United Nations.

Vehulst and Kaspar argue, however, that the WSIS “remains a 20th-century approach to 21st-century challenges.” With that in mind, they share three central recommendations for making WSIS: a) evidence-based in how to make decisions; b) collaborative in how to measure progress; and c) innovative in how to solve challenges:

“1. Adopt an evidence-based approach to WSIS policy making and implementation.

Since 2003, we have had massive experimentation in both developed and developing countries in a number of efforts to increase access to the Internet. We have seen some failures and some successes; above all, we have gained insight into what works, what doesn’t, and why. Unfortunately, much of the evidence remains scattered and ad-hoc, poorly translated into actionable guidance that would be effective across regions; nor is there any reflection on what we don’t know, and how we can galvanize the research and funding community to address information gaps. A few practical steps we could take to address this:

  • Create regional and nationals ‘ What Works’ centers tasked to collect, store and categorize evidence on how to further an inclusive information society — perhaps linked to the regional and national Internet Governance Forums (IGFs). Consider “ What Works” centers in the UK;
  • Develop a content platform  where existing research and evidence can be shared in a manner that answers particular questions, and shows relationships across the evidence gathered, like the Netmundial Solutions Map, a crowdsourced platform to collect and show data on issues, resources and actors in the Internet governance ecosystem in a connected manner.
  • Organise research-a-thons , or research sprints like hackathons, in different regions or at relevant global events (e.g. WSIS Forum) that seek to analyse and distill the evidence gained into decision trees and actionable tools for those developing access projects and initiatives. Consider the researchathon platform facilitated by Columbia University in New York City to promote collaboration among researchers.
  • Include a budget line  for evidence gathering and research in every national WSIS implementation plan or strategy;
  • Set up a network of experts  that are seeking to understand what works and what doesn’t as it relates to information society projects. The Network of Innovators, a project which seeks to connect expertise within government on how to innovate in governance, is an example of how this might look.

2. Measure progress towards WSIS goals in a more open, collaborative way, founded on metrics and data developed through a bottom-up approach

The current WSIS+10 document has many lofty goals, many of which will remain effectively meaningless unless we are able to measure progress in concrete and specific terms. This requires the development of clear metrics, a process which is inevitably subjective and value-laden. Metrics and indicators must therefore be chosen with great care, particularly as they become points of reference for important decisions and policies. Having legitimate, widely-accepted indicators is critical. The best way to do this is to develop a participatory process that engages those actors who will be affected by WSIS-related actions and decisions. Such a participatory process not only enhances the legitimacy of decisions; it also increases donor trust and could help unlock investment potential. While we acknowledge the work conducted by the International Telecommunication Union and the Partnership on Measuring ICT for Development, there are several possible pathways to creating more participatory metrics and indicators. These could include:

  • Developing a set of bottom-up processes to determine what outcomes and metrics should be measured to determine progress — potentially using game-like approaches. Consider, for instance,  @Stake which is a role-playing game that seeks to develop insight in metrics and how to navigate differences in interests.
  • Developing a crowd-sourced, citizen-science like, initiative to collect data that can document impact and inform the annual reports prepared by relevant UN agencies tasked with WSIS follow-up. Consider Open Seventeen which seeks to engage citizens in measuring progress against the 17 sustainable development goals.

3. Experiment with governance innovations to achieve WSIS objectives.

Over the last few years, we have seen a variety of innovations in governance that have provided new and often improved ways to solve problems and make decisions. They include, for instance:

  • The use of open and big data to generate new insights in both the problem and the solution space. We live in the age of abundant data — why aren’t we using it to inform our decision making? Data on the current landscape and the potential implications of policies could make our predictions and correlations more accurate.
  • The adoption of design thinking, agile development and user-focused research  in developing more targeted and effective interventions. A linear approach to policy making with a fixed set of objectives and milestones allows little room for dealing with unforeseen or changing circumstances, making it difficult to adapt and change course. Applying lessons from software engineering — including the importance of feedback loops, continuous learning, and agile approach to project design — would allow policies to become more flexible and solutions more robust.
  • The application of behavioral sciences  — for example, the concept of ‘nudging’ individuals to act in their own best interest or adopt behaviors that benefit society. How choices (e.g. to use new technologies) are presented and designed can be more powerful in informing adoption than laws, rules or technical standards.
  • The use of prizes and challenges  to tap into the wisdom of the crowd to solve complex problems and identify new ideas. Resource constraints can be addressed by creating avenues for people/volunteers to act as resource in creating solutions, rather than being only their passive benefactors.”

Read more here.