ICT policy work at global level sparks local action and collaboration, as civil society-driven policy websites are set up in ten
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA, 08 June 2004
APC has spent the last two years advocating for civil society involvement in international ICT (information and communications technologies) policy-making processes. Now 10 APC members have created national ICT policy portal websites in their own countries in a joint initiative. The portals which are all uniquely adapted to address each country's particular situation all use free software that allows content-sharing in different languages and between multiple information databases hosted in different parts of the world.
The portals have been set up by APC members -organisations who work with ICTs for sustainable development, and social and environmental justice- locally in Argentina, Australia, Bulgaria, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo*, Italy, Mexico, the Philippines, South Africa, Spain, the UK and Uruguay.
Using APC's free software content management system -the APC ActionApps- APC built a sample portal based on an existing national policy portal from the UK. The model was then refined in online consultation with APC members around the world. Then each member received a copy and adapted it to their own local needs. Trouble-shooting happened online in an international workspace.
The shared resources, expertise, information, and the use of free and open source software allowed sites to be set up swiftly. Members sharing a common language, e.g. Latin American members working in Spanish, also helped each other by sharing translation.
"Being part of an international networking initiative was one of the crucial arguments for our decision to participate," Elina Racholova of BlueLink, Bulgaria, told APC. "The creative spirit of collaboration among the APC members enhances common efforts and makes our joint work significant worldwide." The APC ActionApps software allows information gathered on one portal -using ActionApps' unique cross-server pooling- to be fed to other sites and also to APC's central 'ICT Policy and Internet Rights' website.
"The methodology of developing a network of inter-linked sites based on common templates which can be easily adapted, modified and translated, has proved a very powerful one for spread-out community content development," said project coordinator, Karen Banks. "It has encouraged and inspired over-burdened groups to collaborate quickly and efficiently as the bulk of the site planning and production has been managed centrally. We hope we can use this methodology again and again because it allows activists to focus their energies on the advocacy and not on the tools".
How the new sites will be used
The sites will be used in a variety of ways. In Colombia, the national site will act as a facilitation and documentation point for discussion on three issues including ICT policy and community media. The expected result is the generation of three concrete public policy proposals to present to the government.
In Italy the new site provides a dynamic online home for a two-year old national platform which brings together diverse civil society actors involved in media and ICT.
In Mexico, little has been done nationwide to involve citizens in the policy debate, and much less in actual decision-making. "There's very little information available in the traditional media regarding Mexico's national ICT policy," said LaNeta site coordinator, Olinca Marino, who has been following regional ICT policy developments closely through her participation in the Latin American caucus at last year's World Summit on the Information Society. "In general citizens receive very little official information from the state, and we hope the new Mexican Information and Communication Policy Portal will act as an invitation to the government to pay attention to the general public's needs and not just to business' needs". LaNeta hopes that Mexican civil society organisations will use the site to keep themselves informed of ICT policies being planned nationally and also to improve the self-organisation of policy advocates.
How this initiative came about
Last year's United Nations' World Summit on the Information Society was a watershed in public participation in ICT policy as ICT policy made a shift from the world of obscure jargon and elites to a new context. ICT policy became social policy not technical policy. Through WSIS new voices - people living with disabilities, the education and research sectors, the free software movement, children's rights advocates, campaigners for the global information commons and more- were heard in the ICT policy arena for the first time.
"APC had campaigned actively regionally and globally during the first phase of the World Summit and we felt this change was a huge break-through and wanted to see how we could take it forward at national level. With some financial support provided by the Canadian International Development Agency we were able to provide seed funding for a small number of national ICT policy sites set up by our members - all of whom are 'social techies' in their own right," said APC executive director, Anriette Esterhuysen. "We are extremely pleased with the positive response which indicates that civil society organisations at national level are increasingly taking active responsibility for trying to influence the policy and regulatory environments that impact on their use of ICTs".
* The initiative participants confront radically different national contexts as was regrettably demonstrated by late news from the Congolese portal coordinators. APC was informed on June 7 that "Bukavu was re-taken by rebels last Thursday and there have been strong demonstrations all over the country after that. The situation remains unclear at this time and we might not be in a position to organise [their part in the launch]". APC will post updates.