Policy guidelines for the development and promotion of governmental public domain information

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I.5. Grand challenges and opportunities

I.5.1. Bridging the digital divide

Much has been written about the broad and, in many cases, widening gap between the information-rich and information-poor, both at the national and international levels. Despite the great advances that have been made in ICT and in information management techniques, well-documented and serious global imbalances persist.23
There are many factors and approaches that can help to bridge that gap that are beyond the scope of these Policy Guidelines. However, the development and promotion of access to governmental public domain information can help in two significant ways. First, at the national and sub-national levels, every country has a great deal of information, important for both the general public and economic actors, that is produced by the public sector, either by government agencies themselves or with government funding. In developing countries, where the production of information by the private sector may not be as active as that by the government, the information in the public sector typically constitutes a very large portion of the information produced within and about the country. The broad and open availability of such public information is an important part of building participatory democracy, fostering open debate, and promoting effective government processes. It also provides all citizens with a means to learn about their country, their fellow citizens, and their government that in many cases will not be available from any other source. Moreover, easy access to public information supports the growth of the private sector, especially small businesses, for which information costs can represent a real difficulty.
Secondly, at the international level, because the Internet is an international network of networks that transcends all political boundaries, all public sector information that is placed online immediately becomes a part of the global information commons. This, too, has important implications for economic and social development and for bridging the digital divide. In particular, it means that all of the world’s public domain materials become a shared or common resource and constitute a global heritage for the benefit of all people. To the extent that the more economically developed, “knowledge-based” societies produce and make available a much larger amount of information in the public domain, they contribute a larger proportion of the openly pooled information that potentially can be exploited beneficially by all developing countries and their citizens t. Although a lot of information may be location-specific and not of broad interest or useful application, much of it is nonetheless relevant beyond the immediate institutional or community borders where it was produced.
In both these cases, one of the greatest barriers to the use of available information is likely to be linguistic. Language, of course, constitutes the foundation of communication between people and is also part of their cultural heritage and tradition. For this reason, a user’s language should not constitute an obstacle to accessing the multicultural human heritage available through the Internet and other communication media. Harmonious development of knowledge societies and economies is thus promoted by the availability of multilingual and multicultural information. Many countries have two, and in some cases many more, official as well as unofficial languages used within their jurisdiction. The diversity of the population in terms of different languages and traditions raises substantial public information management challenges.

I.5.2. Promoting the production, dissemination, and preservation of digital information in the public domain

Governments have a critical leadership role in expanding access to and use of public domain information. A major challenge is attitudinal. Policy makers must have a willingness to consider the benefits of making public information available.24 This requires an appreciation of the implications of access to information for good governance, for the development of social capital, and for economic welfare. To serve these goals, governments need to develop an integrated and comprehensive national information policy that commits to a coordinated plan of action in each of the key areas of legislation and regulation; technical, human, and institutional infrastructure development; information management; and research. While some governments already have a comprehensive national information policy in place, many still do not or are only now beginning to develop one.
Although improving access to ICT and to all types of information is a crucial goal in the quest for social, cultural and economic development, it is also important not to oversell the concept. Universal access to such information resources is a necessary, but insufficient, condition for development. ICT and the information it delivers will not bring instantaneous literacy, cure diseases, feed the hungry, or eliminate poverty. They do, however, provide key resources needed to effectively and sustainably promote the economic and social benefits described above, and can eventually lead to the evolution of a knowledge-based societies based on good governance values. Attention given to these issues now will be rewarded many times over in the future.
Part II focuses on important issues identified as priority areas by UNESCO as part of any comprehensive Information Policy Framework at the national level. Specifically, it identifies principles and policies that can: help guide the development of infrastructure and services for provision of governmental information to the public; assist in fostering the production, archiving and dissemination of an electronic public domain of information, with emphasis on ensuring multicultural, multilingual content; and promote access of all citizens, and especially disadvantaged communities, to information required for individual and social development. Because each country has its own particular development situation and requirements, these principles and policies provide only general guidance to be adapted and implemented in the context of specific national systems of governance and culture.


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