8 May 1995

Second Session
8-12 May 1995
Item 2 of the provisional agenda

Utilization of information and communication technology
in support of broad-based participation and access to information

Statement by the International Synergy Institute
(now Information Habitat: Where Information Lives)

Mr. Chairman,

Thank you for the opportunity to make a statement to this Working Group.

1. The International Synergy Institute is a non-governmental organization on the Roster of ECOSOC; our principal work at the United Nations has been in the application of information and communication technology in support of broad-based participation in, and access to information concerning, international proceedings.

2. During each of the two previous meetings of this Working Group, the International Synergy Institute has made interventions that have drawn attention to the need to upgrade provisions for practical arrangements for consultation -- specifically in ensuring that systematic provisions are made for electronic dissemination of documents, and that efforts within the United Nations system be made to strengthen electronic access to United Nations information by NGOs, and governments, in developing countries and in countries in transition.

3. Several governments and NGOS had expressed recognition of the importance of electronic communications as a means of enabling the fuller and more broad-based participation of NGOs, however E/AC.70/1995/CRP.1 does not reflect these concerns.

4. The International Synergy Institute therefore proposes that Part IX of Resolution 1296 be amended to recognize the importance of this new means of communication, and to express a commitment that the capacity of the NGO Unit be strengthened to utilize the technology in support of more effective -- and less expensive -- access to information.

5. In support of the value of this Working Group recognizing the need for this technology in any amended resolution, I would like to underscore the speed at which the new technologies are advancing, and to describe briefly just a few of the developments that are taking place to use information technology to support NGO participation in United Nations proceedings.

6. Even if the arrangements for NGO Consultation are reviewed again as soon as 5 to 10 years from now -- let alone in the more than 25 years that have passed since Resolution 1296 was agreed to -- this Working Group will have lost a very important opportunity if it fails to recommend the use of electronic communications as a means to facilitate consultation with NGOs and to disseminate United Nations information.

7. In preparation for the World Summit for Social Development, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) had set up what is known technically as a "listserv" -- essentially an electronic mailing list -- to facilitate broad-based dialogue among NGOs and within the academic community; I was informed today that a report on the result of this initiative will be forthcoming very shortly and that plans are underway to continue that process for the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.

8. The Sustainable Development Network initiative of UNDP -- an outgrowth of recommendations during the Rio process -- has been very successful to date in demonstrating how information and communication technology can be used to enable communication and access to information in developing countries and in countries in transition. The Sustainable Development Network is being embraced as an invaluable took by NGOs, Governments, and the business and academic community as a means of obtaining access to information, as well, incidentally, as enabling social and economic development.

9. The International Telecommunication Union, following its 1994 World Telecommunication Development Conference in Buenos Aires, has recently proposed a Global Telecommunication University -- to be part of the United Nations University as a vehicle to support capacity-building in developing countries and in countries in transition for effective access to the evolving global information infrastructure.

10. In particular, I would like to draw the attention of this Working Group to an experiment that is taking place last week and this week in a national open electronic meeting on the theme of "People and their Governments in the Information Age" that has been organized by several agencies within the United States Government.

11. While this experimental electronic meeting is not without a number of technical, logistical and procedural problems, it is a clear indication of the kind of process that could be used within the very near future to support dialogue among NGOs -- or between NGOs and Governments -- in relationship to the United Nations. Incidentally, one of the advantages of an "electronic meeting" of this nature is that everything that has been said remains as a record that can be accessible both for review by participants as well as to those who are unable to participate.

Mr. Chairman,

12. It may be premature to prescribe specific details as to exactly how electronic communications should be used in ECOSOC's process of consultation with NGOs; however, it would be very unfortunate if this Working Group does not take advantage of this present opportunity to recognize the importance of making systematic and creative use of information and communication technology along with recognition of the need to strengthen access by NGOs -- and by governments -- in developing countries and in countries in transition.

13. The International Synergy Institute will be proposing some specific language to add to Part IX of Resolution 1296, or to Section 10 of E/AC.70/1995/CRP.1, to address these issues.

Mr. Chairman,

14. I would also like to add one brief comment about this process, and the magnitude of the task this Working Group faces in reaching agreement on new or revised procedures for consultation with NGOs. In particular, based on experiences observing other negotiations here at the United Nations, when a body such as this is faced with an arduous task of negotiating there is frequently a tendency to revert to the status quo and to avoid making changes, simply because there is not enough time to work through adequately the complex differences that have been aired in the course of this Working Group's proceedings.

15. Therefore the International Synergy Institute urges that the Working Group give serious consideration to requesting an extension of its mandate -- if necessary for another year -- so that it can do justice to the task before it.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

This document has been posted on the un.reform electronic conference on the Association for Progressive Communications electronic networks, and on the World Wide Web at http://habitat.igc.org/interven/

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