Toward WSIS 3.0: Adopting Next-Gen Governance Solutions for Tomorrow’s Information Society

Lea Kaspar  & Stefaan G. Verhulst at CircleID: “… Collectively, this process has been known as the “World Summit on the Information Society” (WSIS). During December 2015 in New York, twelve years after that first meeting in Geneva and with more than 3 billion people now online, member states of the United Nations unanimously adopted the final outcome document of the WSIS ten-year Review process.

The document (known as the WSIS+10 document) 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.

For many, these represent significant achievements, leading observers to proclaim the outcome a diplomatic victory. However, as is the case with most non-binding international agreements, the WSIS+10 document will remain little more than a hollow guidepost until it is translated into practice. Ultimately, it is up to the national policy-makers, relevant international agencies, and the WSIS community as a whole to deliver meaningful progress towards achieving the WSIS vision.

Unfortunately, the WSIS+10 document provides little actual guidance for practitioners. What is even more striking, it reveals little progress in its understanding of emerging governance trends and methods since Geneva and Tunis, or how these could be leveraged in our efforts to harness the benefits of information and communication technologies (ICT).

As such, the WSIS remains a 20th-century approach to 21st-century challenges. In particular, the document fails to seek ways to make WSIS post 2015:

  • evidence-based in how to make decisions;
  • collaborative in how to measure progress; and
  • innovative in how to solve challenges.

Three approaches toward WSIS 3.0

Drawing on lessons in the field of governance innovation, we suggest in what follows three approaches, accompanied by practical recommendations, that could allow the WSIS to address the challenges raised by the information society in a more evidence-based, innovative and participatory way:

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:….

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. …These could include:…

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….(More)