ITU, ICTs and transparency

Transparency is often considered a prerequisite for democratic accountability, and can be conceptualized as the extent to which individuals affected by a decision have the capacity to learn about the decision-making process, including subject matter, structure and current status.[1] Therefore we understand transparency as access to information and capacity building. This post will analyze the impact of ICTs on access to information and capacity building offered by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to its members.

In terms of providing access to information, ITU offers a broad access to information for their members and interested stakeholders. This means that marginalized actors have access to five types of information: (1) information about the organization, its governance structure, mission, and main activities; (2) a newsroom with various levels of complexity and media proposed; (3) a publication section with various search functionalities; (4) information to prepare and attend future meetings; and (5) information on the latest decisions and outcomes (meeting decisions, standards, grant decisions for instance). Some parts of ITU’s complex governance process offer more in depth, detailed information than others.

ITU offers five active newsletters in English, counts a total of 234’435 followers over 24 social media channels (without YouTube, Weibo). It offers a wide number of photos on Flickr with 597 followers, and of videos on YouTube[2] with 1,465,071 views (as of March 23rd 2017).  In terms of audio, ITU does not offer a global page only with podcasts. However, some pages dedicated to conferences offer audio records of past meetings. Also, ITU has developed some apps for mobile phones dedicated to the organization (ITU app) and some specific activities, including ITU-R, ITU-D, ITU Telecom, ITU’s 150th anniversary. ITU’s website is responsive, meaning its design and format adapts to various sizes of screens (from TV to mobile).

Information on the organization’s history is in six languages: one section and nine subsections with content in English and 1 section in Spanish, French, Russian, Chinese and Arabic.[3] This language pattern is similar for most content on ITU’s website: a general page in all six UN official languages, and then further detailed content in English only. For instance, it is the case for information about the mission (entitled “who we are”[4] and “our vision”[5]); information about activities (entitled “what does ITU do?”[6] and “key areas of action” [7]); information about the governance structure (entitled “Regional Presence” [8], “Regional Telecommunication Organizations” [9], “ITU Plenipotentiary Conference” [10], “ITU Council”[11], and “Types of Membership” [12].

ITU counts 117 RSS feeds[13] in English and Chinese, among which 37 about news and the rest about publications, activities and conference information. Its newsroom[14] offers the possibility to consult press releases, communiqués, media advisories and statements in six languages (although the quantity of content differs greatly from one language to the next, English being the language with most news content). It also offers the contact details of three communication officers.[15]

In terms of events, ITU shows the latest information about all events ITU organizes globally [16] including a Calendar of Past Events, Today’s events, Geneva Daily Schedule, Daily schedule (mobile friendly), Calendar of Events, What’s On this Month and about ITU Events. For each event, Group Information

Online Registration is provided, and a wide array of related preparatory documents (Circulars related to SG20, Collective letters, All contributions, Reports, Liaison statements database, By meeting – All​ View documents in Directory Tree Mode, Search ITU documents), tools (TIES account, ITU-T SG20 SharePoint collaboration site, Informal FTP area, mailing lists archives, Delegate resources, Electronic Working Methods, Document sync tool, ITU-T Recommendation number allocation list, ITU-T Recommendation series structure​​, Standards Q&A) and news. [17] ITU offers a very comprehensive online package for participants to meetings in general.

In terms of publications, ITU has a wide range of documents (4000+ titles), including publications, handbooks, reports, software and databases, available in a range of formats and languages[18]. Some of these publications are possible to buy online via ITU’s online bookstore.[19] In terms of data, it offers a dedicated section to statistics and data, that can be downloaded for free online. This sub-website entitled “ICT eye”, is a one stop-shop for telecommunication and ICT indicators, statistics, regulatory and policy information, national tariff policies and costing practices, among others. [20]

Since ITU works on technical issues, the organization has developed an online glossary to help stakeholders better participate in ITU’s internal and technical governance structures. The Prototype of the integrated Database ITU Terms and Definitions is provides access to all the abbreviations and acronyms, terms and definitions contained in the ITU Publications. This database provides the correspondence between the six languages of a term, definition of a term or abbreviation, and reference to all ITU Publications. [21] Furthermore, ITU offers a wide range of tutorials and guidelines for delegates[22], rapporteurs, editors[23], recommendation authors[24] among others. These documents help newcomers understand how ITU and ITU-T is organized and works. Also, more experienced participants will use these guide to pinpoint source material, guide many aspects of their work. ITU offers as well a series of tutorials on how to use online remote contribution resources ( virtual meetings). [25]

Finally, at its 2016 session, ITU Council adopted the first ITU Information/document access policy.[26] ITU’s information/document access policy determines the extent to which documentation should be made publicly accessible and ensures access by the public to information held, managed or generated by ITU. The following general categories of information are covered by this policy:

  • General information about the mandate, activities and history of ITU;
  • Information of ITU treaty-making conferences, including input and output documents from Plenipotentiary Conferences (PP), World and Regional Radiocommunication Conferences (WRC and RRC), and World Conferences on International Telecommunications (WCIT).;
  • Information related to the governance and management of ITU (Official communication with membership, Council sessions, Council Working Group meetings, Radiocommunication Assemblies (RA), World Telecommunication Standardization Assemblies (WTSA), World Telecommunication Development Conferences (WTDC), Sector Advisory Groups’ meetings, Strategy and planning, Financial and human resources management, Oversight and Procurement;
  • Information on ITU’s operational activities (Developing standards, manuals and guidelines, Managing allocation and use of the radio frequency spectrum and satellite orbits, Providing registrar functions, Coordinating and implementing telecommunication development activities and projects, Organizing forums, symposia, workshops and exhibitions, and Monitoring and analysing the telecommunication/ICT markets and trends).

Capacity building

According to the OECD, capacity development is the process whereby people, organizations and society as a whole unleash, strengthen, create, adapt and maintain capacity over time.[27] Access to information without capacity building remains unsatisfactory, since stakeholders need to develop adequate capacity in order to find, understand and use the information they have gained access to. Capacity building needs to be distinguished from access to information. On one hand, guideline, handouts and documentation is considered access to information. On the other hand, capacity building is understood here in a restrictive definition as online training courses.

Since 2012, ITU Academy brings together a wide range of training courses on ICT-related topics. It currently offers 25 online courses in cooperation with public and private sector partners throughout the world. ITU academy offers both online and face-to-face training courses ranging from general programs, professional business-focused courses, to specialized technical and operational programs. It also offers an online Master in Communication management in partnership with the United Kingdom Telecommunications Academy (UKTA) and the University of Rwanda.[28] ITU Academy delivers a wide array of ICT-related courses aimed at a wide range of participants, including policy makers and regulators, telecommunications/ICT business managers and practitioners, government officials, diplomats and representatives, and university students and teachers. [29]

As discussed in this post, ICTs allow ITU to provide a broad access to information and offer access to five types of information. In addition, the new Information/document access policy shows how committed the organization is in terms of transparency and access to information. The impact of ICTs is clear and substantial. ICTs enable all ITU-T members to gain access to information (that was once restricted to western diplomacies and most powerful states) and acquire the necessary competences to participate fully in ITU-T governance mechanisms.

[1] Dingwerth, K. (2014). Global democracy and the democratic minimum: Why a procedural account alone is insufficient. European Journal of International Relations, 20(4), 1124–1147. https://doi.org/10.1177/1354066113509116, p.10

[2] YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/itutelecommunication

[3] ITU website: https://www.itu.int/en/history/Pages/ITUsHistory.aspx

[4] ITU website: https://www.itu.int/en/about/Pages/default.aspx

[5] ITU website: https://www.itu.int/en/about/Pages/vision.aspx

[6] ITU website: https://www.itu.int/en/about/Pages/whatwedo.aspx

[7] ITU website: https://www.itu.int/en/action/Pages/default.aspx

[8] ITU website: https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Pages/Regional-Presence.aspx

[9] ITU website: https://www.itu.int/en/council/Pages/rto.aspx

[10] ITU website: https://www.itu.int/en/plenipotentiary/2014/Pages/default.aspx

[11] ITU website: https://www.itu.int/en/council/2017/Pages/default.aspx

[12] ITU website: https://www.itu.int/en/join/Pages/benefits.aspx

[13] ITU website: https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-T/info/Pages/rss.aspx

[14] ITU website: https://www.itu.int/en/mediacentre/Pages/default.aspx

[15] ITU website: https://www.itu.int/en/mediacentre/Pages/Contact.aspx

[16] ITU website: http://www.itu.int/en/events/Pages/default.aspx

[17] ITU website: http://www.itu.int/en/ITU-T/studygroups/2013-2016/20/Pages/default.aspx

[18] ITU website: https://www.itu.int/en/publications/Pages/default.aspx

[19] ITU website: https://www.itu.int/itu_mt_main/catalog/home.jsf?wec-appid=EBOOKSHOP_B2B&wec-locale=en_US

[20] ITU website: https://www.itu.int/net4/itu-d/icteye/

[21] ITU website: https://www.itu.int/net/ITU-R/index.asp?redirect=true&category=information&rlink=terminology-database&lang=en&adsearch=&SearchTerminology=&collection=&sector=&language=all&part=abbreviationterm&kind=anywhere&StartRecord=1&NumberRecords=50

[22] ITU-T delegate guide: https://www.itu.int/dms_pub/itu-t/oth/0A/0F/T0A0F0000020004PDFE.pdf

[23] ITU-T rapporteur and editor tutorials: http://www.itu.int/ITU-T/studygroups/tutorials/201111/programme.html

[24] ITU-T author guide: http://www.itu.int/oth/T0A0F000004

[25] ITU virtual meeting tutorials: http://www.itu.int/dms_pub/itu-t/oth/0A/0F/T0A0F0000070001PDFE.pdf

[26] ITU website: https://www.itu.int/en/access-policy/Pages/default.aspx

[27] The Challenge of Capacity Development: Working Towards Good Practice (2006) DAC Guidelines and Reference Series, Paris: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, archived from the original (PDF) on 28 April 2013

[28] ITU website: https://academy.itu.int/index.php?lang=en

[29] ITU website: https://academy.itu.int/index.php?lang=en