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A very brief introduction to the WSIS process

Overview of Civil Society Elements and how to get involved.
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>> A very brief introduction to the WSIS process

The following overview is extracted from the APC/CRIS publication:
Involving Civil Society in ICT Policy: The World Summit on the Information Society

It reflects the perspective of APC through it's involvement in the WSIS Process and is not intended to represent the views of the Civil Society plenary. It is shared in the interests of providing very basic information about the process, actors and issues.

Other background information about the WSIS process can be found on the Website Link menu

What is the WSIS?

The World Summit on the Information Society (sometimes referred to as 'the Summit') is a United Nations Conference, led by the International Telecommunications Union, a UN agency older than the United Nations itself.

The goal of the WSIS is to develop a global framework to deal with the challenges posed by the information society.

In some ways, it is similar to other UN World Conferences in that it:

- Aims to bring together Heads of State, Executive Heads of United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations in a single high-level event - or 'world summit', which has a series of regional conferences, international preparatory committee meetings and intermittent 'informal' sessions

- Aims to develop and foster a clear statement of political will (a political 'Declaration') and a concrete Plan of Action for achieving goals and objectives which reflect the perspectives and interests of all stakeholders

Is it different from other UN World Conferences?

The WSIS process is different from most other UN Conferences in that it:

- Is a two phase process, culminating in 'World' summits in Geneva (Dec 10-12, 2003) and Tunis (Nov 16-18, 2005)
- Includes the private sector as a stakeholder
- Aims to incorporate a multi-stakeholder, consensual approach (reflecting the interests of governments, the private sector and civil society) in all deliberations

Who are the 'stakeholders'?

Stakeholders' refer to the three main actors within the WSIS process: governments, the private sector and civil society.' In addition, there are many UN agencies and intergovernmental bodies participating in the process.

Governments

One hundred and ninety-one governments are represented through 'delegations'. These representatives tend to come from communications, trade, e-commerce and industry ministries and departments. In some cases, governments may include representatives from other sectors (such as development, education) and can include non-governmental and private sector representation.

The Private Sector

The private sector is represented through the 'The Coordinating Committee of Business Interlocutors (CCBI)' in the Summit. The CCBI is a 'vehicle through which to mobilize and coordinate the involvement of the worldwide business community in the processes leading to and culminating in the Summit. The CCBI is made up of - and open to all - representatives of individual business firms, as well as of associations and other organizations that represent business interests' . However, the interests of private sector from developing countries are not strongly represented in CCBI.

Many feel that the interests of the private sector are overstated, considering existing bi-lateral agreements with nation states, representation through membership of the ITU and even representation through some elements of civil society.

Civil Society

There is no unanimously agreed definition of Civil Society but however it is defined, it is a diverse gathering of groups, networks and movements with a myriad of views and positions on almost every issue on the WSIS agenda.

It includes representatives from 'professional' and grassroots NGOs, the trade union movement, community media activists, mainstream and traditional media interest groups, parliamentarians and local government officials, the scientific and academic community, educators, librarians, volunteers, the disability movement, youth activists, indigenous people's, 'think-tanks', philanthropic institutions, gender advocates and human and communication rights advocates.

What is the process?

All stakeholders are making contributions to development of the Declaration and Action Plan through a range of means including:

Developing positions and lobbying at the national level to feed into regional processes
Participating in regional conferences to develop regional consensus positions
Participating in international preparatory committee meetings to develop global consensus positions
Making electronic submissions to draft documents between on-site events

More information about the various meetings that have made up the WSIS process can be found on the main ITU WSIS website here

How does Civil Society fit within this process?

Civil society works in a range of formations in developing its inputs to the Summit outcomes.

An overview of the basic structures can be found here

What are the issues?

At the time of writing (just prior to PrepCom III), all stakeholders have been tasked with negotiating a final version of the Declaration and Action Plan, which will be approved by Governments at the Summit in Geneva, December 10-12, 2003.

Many civil society organisations are concerned at the lack of political will to address fundamental issues within the WSIS agenda. These issues are reflected in the Civil Society Content and Themes priorities document and include:

Human rights and communication rights
Sustainable democratic development
Erosion of the global knowledge commons
Literacy, education and research
Cultural and linguistic diversity
Gender equality and women's empowerment
Privacy and security; access and infrastructure
Lack of affirmation, monitoring and enforcement of existing UN agreements

More information about the content work of Civil Society can be found on the website link.

More information about the content work of the caucuses and working groups of Civil Society can be found here: wsis-cs.org/caucuses.html