RightsCon 2019: UNESCO’s Internet Universality Indicators showcased as a tool for evidence-based policy making


During the 2019 session of RightsCon, held this year in Tunis, UNESCO participated by convening a session on the potential of its newly-launched tool, the Internet Universality ROAM-X Indicators, for the advancement of evidence-based policy-making on digital development, on June 12th at Laico Hotel.

“Through the collection of quantitative, qualitative and institutional data, UNESCO’s Internet Universality ROAM-X Indicators are a unique and holistic tool to measure respect for human rights, openness, access and multistakeholderism online – providing a critical reference to guide national policy reforms. The key to a successful assessment is the use of a genuine multistakeholder approach”.

This was the key message put forward by Ms. Xianhong Hu, focal point of the project at UNESCO headquarters.

After Mr. Najib Mokni, UNESCO representative in Tunis, welcomed the participants, the session opened with a presentation of the Indicators project. The set includes 303 indicators meant to assess the state of Internet development nationally, with regard to the ROAM principles of human Rights, Openness, Accessibility, Multi-stakeholder participation.

Their use for national assessments aims to better understand the national Internet environment and Internet policies in their contribution to sustainable development. The assessment, ultimately, can lead to the elaboration of policy recommendations to help improve Internet development in the country.

Ms Hu noted that these indicators are not designed in a “ranking” or comparison spirit – a point which was further highlighted by Anriette Esterhuysen, from the Association for Progressive Communications, who suggested that the indicators offer a comprehensive tool for self-assessment.

The eight major steps of an assessment were evoked, including three key deliverables: the establishment of a Multistakeholder advisory board (MAB) composed of key actors from different stakeholder groups, to oversee the research process; the national assessment report; and the convening of a national validation workshop.

Mr Khaled Sellami, Director of E-government Unit of Tunisia, stated that Tunisia welcomes the UNESCO ROAM-X Indicators, and is ready to conduct an assessment as way to enhance rights, openness, access and a multistakeholder approach in the national policies. He further stressed the meaning of a multi-stakeholder process in Tunisia which, far from being “cosmetic”, means a truly participatory policy-making process.

The Instance Nationale des Télécommunications de Tunisie (INTT) was also represented at the session by its Central Director, Ms Karima Mahmoudi. “As the independent regulator for telecommunications,” Ms. Mahmoudi said, “the INTT is committed to a multistakeholder approach and has the research capacity and sufficient data to support the assessment of ROAM-X indicators”.

Representing the Ranking Digital Rights project, Ms Rebecca MacKinnon shared the useful reference brought by the project as being complementary to UNESCO’s ROAM-X Indicators. Her project assesses 24 companies’ protection of human rights through 35 indicators on freedom of expression and privacy.

Mr Mark Stephens, representing the Global Network Initiative (GNI), recognized UNESCO’s indicators as “a granular framework that contributes to conducting human rights risk assessments, as GNI advocates.”

The multi-stakeholder approach and how to operationalize it was a focus of discussions. Ms. Hu stressed that this approach is fundamental to the success of the development of the indicators as well as to the assessment processes.

Ms Esterhuysen from APC, in turn suggested the framework should allow for different stakeholders to use and assess the indicators in a flexible manner.

Ms Dima Samaro, MENA Policy Associate at AccessNow, pointed to the significance of sticking to the multi-stakeholder approach in Internet policy not only as a means to enhance the open dialogue between governments and civil society, but also to benefit the regional and global community. Mr. Stephens called for collaboration especially between government and the private sector, within the framework of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

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