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World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)


The World Summit on the Information Society - WSIS is an UN summit held in 2003 and 2005. The Summit provided a forum in which multiple stakeholders including international organizations, governments, the private sector and civil society could discuss the opportunities of the new information and communication environment, and also address challenges such as the inequality in access to information and communication that is called the ‘digital divide’.

Priorities discussed at WSIS included the need for investment in infrastructure, the role of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in development, the relationship between these ICTs, human rights and culture, and the new challenges posed by ICTs and the Internet for international governance.  It established targets for ICT deployment to run alongside other internationally agreed development goals, and a frame of reference for continued work by international agencies and governments.

The World Summit was an important stage in international action to promote and take advantage of ICTs for advancing the global development agenda, and in UNESCO’s work to build Knowledge Societies.

UNESCO's Knowledge Societies concept

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UNESCO's Knowledge Societies concept - By Knowledge Societies, UNESCO means societies in which people have the capabilities not just to acquire information but also to transform it into knowledge and understanding, which empowers them to enhance their livelihoods and contribute to the social and economic development of their societies. 

The concept of Knowledge Societies was developed throughout the WSIS process. Whereas Information Society is linked to the idea of “technological innovations”, UNESCO’s position was that the growth of network and ICT applications would not capture the full potential of ICTs for development. 

It is rooted in the framework of human rights established by the Universal Declaration of 1948 and its implementing Covenants, and in the need for all to have the opportunity to access information and to express ideas and interests in an open and inclusive environment that fosters and benefits from diversity of opinion. 

Read the UNESCO World Report "Towards Knowledge Societies".


UNESCO's exhibition stand at the Tunis Phase.

UNESCO in WSIS - ICTs are not only about radios, computers, mobiles and connectivity, they are also about people creating, sharing and acquiring knowledge. WSIS offered UNESCO a great opportunity to develop its vision for inclusive Knowledge Societies in the digital era.

Throughout the WSIS process, UNESCO has succeeded in positioning itself as a catalyst of enabling ICTs for the content, policy, and capacity development, which are decisive for closing the existing knowledge divides.

UNESCO actively participated in the two phases of WSIS through participation in the negotiation process as observer and organization of high-level debates, workshops and exibition stand:

WSIS outcomes Implementation and its Follow-up

UNESCO and the post-WSIS - WSIS did much to bring the potential of information technology to the forefront of thinking and decision-making. The principles agreed at WSIS provide a basis for international action to make their achievement a reality. 

The United Nations Secretary-General invited UNESCO, along with two other UN bodies, ITU and UNDP, to take the lead in implementing WSIS outcomes.  UNESCO has accordingly played a central role in UNGIS, which it chairs in rotation with these other UN agencies.  UNESCO shares responsibility with ITU for organizing annual meetings of Action Lines in what is now called the WSIS Forum, and is itself responsible for facilitating six of these Action Lines. The UNESCO Institute of Statistics has led the work of the Partnership on Measuring ICTs for Development in the field of ICTs in education.  UNESCO has also played a significant part in the work of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF).

UN Group on the Information Society (UNGIS)


The UN Group on the Information Society - UNGIS was formally established by the United Nations’ Chief Executives’ Board (CEB), which brings together the heads of all UN agencies, in April 2006. 

The Group’s purpose is to facilitate implementation of WSIS outcomes by fostering consistency between the work of different UN bodies and organizations, facilitating synergies between them, and ensuring that all of the WSIS objectives are addressed within the UN system.  

It also aims to mainstream ICT issues in non-ICT development fields that are addressed by UN agencies.  It is intended, therefore, to complement and add value to the work which individual UN agencies are undertaking, but not to direct or oversee that work.  Issues concerning science and technology transfer were added to UNGIS’ mandate in 2009.

Twenty-nine UN agencies and other intergovernmental organizations  now take part in UNGIS, which has been chaired in annual rotation by UNESCO, UNDP, ITU and UNCTAD. UNDESA has been elected as a rotating vice-chair for 2011-12. 

UNESCO and Internet governance

UNESCO and Internet governance - UNESCO acknowledges the potential of the Internet for fostering sustainable human development and building more democratic societies, and also for enhancing the free flow of information and ideas throughout the world.

The Organization has consistently stressed that the mechanisms of Internet governance should be based on the principles of openness, privacy and diversity, encompassing universal access, interoperability, freedom of expression and measures to resist any attempt to censor content.

It should also respect cultural and linguistic diversity, which were echoed as well in the “Recommendation concerning the Promotion and Use of Multilingualism and Universal Access to Cyberspace”. All of these elements appeared essential for UNESCO to fulfill its mandate and mission entrusted by Member States.

Accordingly, UNESCO has actively contributed to the international debates on Internet governance in particular through its participation in the meetings of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). In addition, Member States have recently requested UNESCO to enhance its participation in international debate on Internet governance (General Conference, 35 C/Resolution 62) and also to deepen, in the context of UNESCO’s programmes, the reflection and analysis on the Internet, as decided at the 185th session of the Executive Board.

UNESCO in the Internet Governance Forum (IGF)


UNESCO in the IGF - The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) was established by the UN Secretary-General in 2006, as a part of an open and inclusive process, to provide a forum for multistakeholder policy dialogue.

The mandate of the Forum is to discuss the development of open, transparent and inclusive Internet policy by identifying emerging issues and bringing them to the attention of the relevant bodies and the general public. It is expected that necessary decisions would be made or actions would be taken by the relevant organizations as a result of debates during the IGF.

Since the beginning of the work of the Forum, UNESCO has organized seventeen high-level panels and workshops at the IGF meetings, in partnership with a variety of other stakeholders, on issues including freedom of expression and right to information, privacy and security, multilingualism, social networking and on the Internet’s importance for development.

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