Interventions | Information Habitat

Innovative Ideas and Procedures for Interactions
Between NGOs and the UN

Statement of

Information Habitat - Where Information Lives

at the

NGO Consultation on increasing access to the UN General Assembly and its Committees and all areas of the work of the UN, 30 April 1997, organized by CONGO - the Conference of NGOs in Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council.

Thank you, Mr. Chairperson.

I'm Robert Pollard, representing Information Habitat: Where Information Lives. As in the previous interventions in these various fora that we have had on the participation of NGOs in the work of the United Nations, my focus will be on the practical arrangements for participation, and particularly on the effective and creative uses of information and communications technology and processes.

In ECOSOC Decision 1996/31, the document on the new procedures for consultation, the last-but-one paragraph called on the Secretary General to make greater use of modern information and communication technology,

"69. The Secretary-General is requested to make every effort to enhance and streamline as appropriate Secretariat support arrangements, and to improve practical arrangements on such matters as greater use of modern information and communication technology, the establishment of an integrated database of non-governmental organizations, wide and timely dissemination of information on meetings, distribution of documentation, provision of access and transparent, simple and streamlined procedures for the attendance of non-governmental organizations in United Nations meetings, and to facilitate their broad-based participation.

70. The Secretary-General is requested to make this resolution widely known, through proper channels, to facilitate the involvement of non-governmental organizations from all regions and areas of the world."

This is an area where there is truly an opportunity before us now, and it's an opportunity that we can take.

In the session of the Commission on Sustainable Development that just finished, the NGO CSD Steering Committee included a section on Information Ecology which elaborated a framework and concerns about how such an approach can be used - how this needs to be used - to strengthen participation. I won't repeat that position here, but it is available on-line.

Essentially, what we need is an integrative approach, an approach that is based on using the rapidly emerging powers of information technology in a way that's grounded in the social and the institutional context - in the networks and the communities that we in the NGO community represent.

We need to strengthen the NGO Resource Centre, with a very clear and strong commitment to inclusion of on-line information as a central focus. We need to provide support and facilitation for those NGOs in the New York community who need a helping hand here or there. There are quite a few of you - some I see right here - who do need a helping hand; some of you come for me for help, and I'm happy to do what I can, but we need to institutionalize that.

The NGO Resource Centre could also be a hub for online communication with NGOs and with regional and national networks throughout the world - along the lines of the proposal for a global NGO network that has been developed by the DPI/NGO Executive Committee.

We need to focus clearly on methodology, on how we use these tools. It's not simply a question of just plugging in to the Internet; we need to look carefully at how we can make best use of it, and follow the examples of some of the groups that have been successful in using the on-line communication. For example in Habitat II - the International Facilitating Group for Habitat - and the CSD NGO Steering Committee. There are many examples, and what we need to be able to do is to share those techniques.

One of the things, however, in doing this, we need to recognize that there may have a tremendous opportunity to join forces with Ambassador Kamal, not so much, frankly, in the Sub-Group of the Essy Working Group, but in his Working Group on Informatics, which is one of the most dynamic and important groups working in the U.N. I think it would be even more important, and even more dynamic, if it were to open its doors to the participation of NGOs.

Alternatively, perhaps the Working Group on Informatics could set up an Ad Hoc Open-ended Working Group that would be a partnership group with NGOs, where NGOs and governments could come together to share their common concerns, interests, problems and needs, in terms of using modern information and communication technologies.

After all, Government officials in national capitals throughout the world are often not in that much different a situation from NGOs in those countries. The need to be able to obtain information and documents, and to be in communication with others is there. Similarly, the information and communication needs of the NGO community here in New York parallel very closely the needs of the government delegates in the Permanent Missions.

Some very simple procedures could be in place. For example, listservs - simple electronic mailing lists - could be set up for every Committee, Commission and Working Group. It would be possible to set them up each with a list for governments, and a list for NGOs, and one for both, for example. Each list could be set up with a process for sending out information notices, press releases, and either sending out the documents directly on the list, or providing notification of the availability of documents. This would mean that NGOS and Government delegates would not have to keep looking at a Web site to see if something new is there.

We need to mobilize training and support resources to do this. We need to make sure as we do this - and this came out very strongly, in some very intensive negotiations among NGOs on the information ecology document at the CSD session - that we need to make sure that this is something that is an inclusive process.

We need to make every effort to reach out to NGOs here who don't have access, but particularly to NGOs in developing countries. And while there is unquestionably, an enormous disparity of access, between New York, for example, and many developing countries, nevertheless, the scale of resources needed to get on-line is not that enormous, even in many, many areas of the South. And once an NGO is on-line, you're almost as close to being here as you are by being across the street from the U.N.

So this represents an opportunity to really extend the participation, so it is not "We, the People in New York and Geneva", but "We, the People from all over the world". There is the possibility of really radically transforming, opening this up, in a way that goes far beyond what we have done before.

And we just need to do it. If we can do it with Ambassador Kamal's group, that would be wonderful; otherwise we need to do it on our own, and identify what are the processes that work. A lot of those we know, but we need to share them.

If there are two things that characterize information technology: one is that it's very responsive if you take initiative. It is not something where anything much happens if you sit and wait for it. But if you take initiative, there's an enormous amount that can be accomplished.

Secondly, it's the most conducive medium to cooperation that I've ever known. It's the kind of situation that if Jim Paul, of Global Policy Forum, for example has set up the wonderful web site that he's put up on NGO participation - once one NGO has done that, that information becomes available to all the NGOs, without any real additional cost to the one that has set it up.

So there are tremendous opportunities by which we can look at pooling our resources, to disseminate information, to organize it, to make it available. Once you have one NGO in Dakar, for example, who's on-line, it's relatively easy to make the connection to others in the same city or country.

So here is an opportunity, and we need to take it now, I think it's the greatest opportunity that we have. We need to be innovative, creative, and we need to mobilize the resources to make it happen.

We can ask governments, we can ask foundations, we can ask ourselves, to look at the ways we can support this, and make it a reality.

Thank you.



* Earlier interventions by Information Habitat - Where Information Lives on strengthening participation of NGOs in the work of the United Nations, and on applying information and communications technology in support of strengthened ngo participation, can be found on the world wide web at

** The section on Information Ecology of the "NGO Recommendations for Actions and Commitments at Earth Summit Two" compiled by the CSD/NGO Steering Committee can be found on the world wide web at

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