ICTs, Openness and ITU

One of the most debated impacts of ICTs on international affairs concerns the increasing openness and possibility for mass collaboration offered by ICTs, which are expected to gradually change governance models.[1] Thanks to ICTs, openness of governance systems and integration of policy making mechanisms can harness collective intelligence, building on the knowledge, experience, and competence of various actors. [2] Here, we understand openness in a broad sense that includes all aspects of participation in a decision taken by the organization, ranging from commenting on ongoing working papers and standards, to influencing the agenda of the next General Assembly or the organization’s next working plan via an open debate on an eForum.

This post will analyze the impact of ICTs on the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and more precisely on some elements of openness.

Resolution 32 of the WTSA-12 entitled “Strengthening electronic working methods for the work of ITU-T” [3] requires the organization to develop its online services to facilitate the exchange of information and documents, but also to support all activities conducted by ITU-T members. These electronic services include webpages, discussion groups, document exchange areas and remote participation tools. [4] ITU-T claims to offer “unique contribution-driven and consensus-based environment, using the latest collaboration tools and facilities.”[5] To participate in ITU’s internal or technical governance mechanisms, stakeholders need to register and obtain a TIES account (Telecommunication Information Exchange Service). TIES provides access to a wide range of online information resources and services. Through their TIES account, ITU Members can access remotely meetings, internal emails, forum, newsgroups,  but also documentation (including recommendations, contributions, working documents, reports…).[6]Contribution is the term used to describe membership input into a meeting, whether it is onsite or online. In addition, it is important to note here that internal governance does not offer the possibility to vote online. Due to the status of the organization, a State Member representatives can join a meeting remotely but need to be onsite to vote. For technical governance, the same principle applies, although some Study Groups have developed specific contribution rules. Between each meeting, study group work is progressed primarily using mailing lists, informal FTP areas and virtual meetings, which are managed by the TSB secretariat’s Electronic Working Methods (EWM) support staff. [7]

ITU-T offers its Members several options to join meetings remotely: physical meetings with remote observation (i.e., webcast), physical meetings with (active) remote participation, and e-meetings (also called virtual meetings).[8] Adobe Connect is used for remote participation in sessions physically held in ITU Headquarters. This “web conferencing software service offers immersive online meeting experiences for collaboration, virtual classrooms and large scale webinars”. [9] In other words, it creates a virtual meeting where participants can follow ongoing discussions and intervene remotely via their webcam or their audio system. For each meeting, participants need to register online and indicate if they are a member, and what type of participation they choose. [10] GoToMeeting (and GoToWebinar for larger groups) are similar web conferencing tools proposed by ITU-T to enable their members to participate remotely. [11] The audio component of GoToMeeting can be replaced by a conference call bridge in cases where not all participants are connected to the Internet. A call-back facility is available for participants who can provide a direct-dial telephone number. [12] GoToMeeting can be combined with a separate conference call bridge to support both physical and remote meeting participation.[13] Each meeting offers a webpage with all recently posted meeting documentation[14] and another one summarizing all collective letters, contributions, and temporary documents for this SG5.[15]  With a TIES account, members can follow the SG5 meeting groups via webcasts live or recorded. [16]

Study Group meetings can therefore be held via multiple formats (e-meetings, conference call or face to face). The Study Group makes the choice of the format. E-meetings should not normally exceed fourteen consecutive calendar days and should be held with a minimum of four weeks interval so that members can have the time to read and comment on the documentation available online. Each e-meeting starts and end with a conference call and will provide access to discussion forum boards, drop box documentation, agenda, contact detail of all registered participants. All contributions to the meeting should be made available on TIES. For each e-meeting, a leader of the drafting activity should be identified. Results of a drafting activity are to be submitted for approval to the e-meeting before closure of the e-meeting. All contributions and documents generated during the meeting will be made available to all participants. [17]

ITU-T also offers informal FTP areas entitled IFAs. Each Study Group proposes these electronic facilities for their correspondence work. Participants can use IFAs as a repository and an exchange facility for documents they are working on. Access to IFAs is open to all ITU-T members taking part in the Study Group. IFAs comprise of three folders. First the docs folder contains the mirror of meeting documents and is Read Only to ITU-T members. Second the exchange folder is the working area where participants upload and exchange files/documents. Lastly, the temp folder is the informal area where participants upload and exchange files/documents. For the last two folders, members have Read and Write access.[18] SG5 has a general email address to send to all members [19] but each sub-group discussing specific Study Question has also its own. [20] This enables members of Study Groups and Sub-Groups (dedicated to specific questions) to communicate and exchange efficiently. [21] Since 2011, ITU-T offers the possibility to submit contributions by email and by direct posting. Direct Document Posting (DDP) is a two-stage process that allows members to register and then upload their contribution directly. An abstract describing the content of the contribution, contact details and membership status must be provided along with the contribution. After initial registration and upload, it is still possible to upload revisions, addenda and corrigenda, delete/withdraw documents and modify the registration information.[22]

According to Schmidt, “accountability, understood as being subject to scrutiny by a specific forum.”[23] In other words, accountability is generally taken to mean that an organization is judged on its responsiveness to participatory input demands and can be held responsible for its output decisions.[24] In the case of ITU-T, new ICTs offer several channels for the organization to respond to members and external stakeholders. As mentioned previously, the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA) is the first place where Member States and Sector Members can hold the organization accountable. In terms of reporting and monitoring, ITU-T uses a WTSA Action Plan ​as a tool to monitor and facilitate the implementation of WTSA outcome. On its website, members can download document that records the implementation progress and another one that​ details the actions, responsibilities, collaborations, and implementation status in a table. [25]

ICTs also offer ITU-T the possibility to respond to external stakeholders via “Standards Q&A”, a public moderated forum for questions about ITU-T’s work. Any interested party have the opportunity to engage with the experts that develop ITU-T standards. In other words, individuals and organizations from anywhere in the world can question the work of the organization directly.[26]

As discussed in this post, ICTs enable ITU-T members to participate in numerous decisional and non-decisional processes and therefore increase the openness of the organization. ICTs also offer some channels for the organization to respond to members. Thanks to new technologies, ITU-T increased its openness and accountability. However, we must note here that ITU did not digitalize all decision-making processes. This is particularly true for internal governance processes, where members can only vote when physically present at meetings. In many cases, they receive financial support to do so. This is mainly because online participation cannot yet offer the same context as onsite voting, especially concerning independence and privacy guarantees.

[1] Misuraca, G., Broster, D., & Centeno, C. (2012). Digital Europe 2030: Designing scenarios for ICT in future governance and policy making. Government Information Quarterly, 29(SUPPL. 1), S121–S131. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.giq.2011.08.006, p.126

[2] Misuraca, G., Broster, D., & Centeno, C. (2012). Digital Europe 2030: Designing scenarios for ICT in future governance and policy making. Government Information Quarterly, 29(SUPPL. 1), S121–S131. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.giq.2011.08.006, p.126

[3] ITU website: http://www.itu.int/en/ITU-T/wtsa12/Pages/resolutions.aspx

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

[5] ITU website: http://www.itu.int/en/ITU-T/about/Pages/development.aspx

[6] ITU website: https://www.itu.int/TIES/

[7] ITU website: http://www.itu.int/ITU-T/edh/index.html

[8] ITU-T Newcomer Guide: https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-T/info/Documents/Newcomer-Guide-201701.pdf

[9] Adobe Website: http://www.adobe.com/products/adobeconnect.html

[10] ITU website: https://www.itu.int/online/regsys/ITU-T/misc/edrs.registration.form?_eventid=3000941

[11] ITU website: http://www.itu.int/ITU-T/edh/faqs-gotomeeting.html

[12] ITU website: http://www.itu.int/ITU-T/edh/faqs-gotomeeting.html

[13] ITU-T Delegate Guide: https://www.itu.int/dms_pub/itu-t/oth/0A/0F/T0A0F0000020004PDFE.pdf

[14] ITU website: https://www.itu.int/md/T13-SG05/new/en

[15] These procedures for Electronic Meetings were produced by the SSG “IMT2000 and beyond” in their development of the working procedures in Recommendation A.9. These are provided for information of the other ITU-T Study Groups.

[16] ITU website: https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-T/studygroups/2017-2020/05/Pages/webcasts-l.aspx

[17] ITU-T Procedures for Electronic Meetings: https://www.itu.int/dms_pub/itu-t/oth/0A/0F/T0A0F0000070001PDFE.pdf

[18] ITU website: https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-T/ewm/Pages/ifa.aspx

[19] General Distribution List of Study Group 5: t17sg5all@lists.itu.int

[20] For instance, t17sg5q10@lists.itu.int is dedicated to Question 10 about guides and terminology on environment and climate change.

[21] ITU website: https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-T/studygroups/2017-2020/05/Pages/ifa-structure.aspx

[22] ITU website: https://www.itu.int/net/ITU-T/ddp/Default.aspx?groupid=T17-SG05

[23] Schmidt, V. A. (2013), Democracy and Legitimacy in the European Union Revisited: Input, Output and ‘Throughput’. Political Studies, 61: 2–22. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9248.2012.00962.x, p.16

[24] Schmidt, V. A. (2013), Democracy and Legitimacy in the European Union Revisited: Input, Output and ‘Throughput’. Political Studies, 61: 2–22. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9248.2012.00962.x, p.6

[25] ITU website: http://www.itu.int/en/ITU-T/wtsa12/Pages/default.aspx

[26] ITU-T Delegate Guide: https://www.itu.int/dms_pub/itu-t/oth/0A/0F/T0A0F0000020004PDFE.pdf