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Building peace in the minds of men and women

World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)

The UN General Assembly Resolution 56/183 (21 December 2001) endorsed the holding of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in two phases. The first phase took place in Geneva from 10 to 12 December 2003 and the second phase took place in Tunis, from 16 to 18 November 2005.

Geneva Phase: 10-12 December 2003

The objective of the first phase was to develop and foster a clear statement of political will and take concrete steps to establish the foundations for an Information Society for all, reflecting all the different interests at stake.

Nearly 50 Heads of state/government and Vice-Presidents, 82 Ministers, and 26 Vice-Ministers from 175 countries as well as high-level representatives from international organizations, private sector, and civil society attended the Geneva Phase of WSIS and gave political support to the Geneva Declaration of Principles and Geneva Plan of Action that were adopted on 12 December 2003. More than 11,000 participants from 175 countries attended the Summit and related events.

Tunis Phase: 16-18 November 2005

The objective of the second phase was to put Geneva's Plan of Action into motion as well as to find solutions and reach agreements in the fields of Internet governance, financing mechanisms, and follow-up and implementation of the Geneva and Tunis documents.

Nearly 50 Heads of state/government and Vice-Presidents and 197 Ministers, Vice Ministers and Deputy Ministers from 174 countries as well as high-level representatives from international organizations, private sector, and civil society attended the Tunis Phase of WSIS and gave political support to the Tunis Commitment and Tunis Agenda for the Information Society that were adopted on 18 November 2005. More than 19,000 participants from 174 countries attended the Summit and related events.

WSIS related:

  • World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)

    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.

  • Knowledge Societies concept

    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 in WSIS (Tunis and Geneva Phase)

    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: Geneva Phase in 2003 and Tunis Phase in 2005.

  • UNESCO and the WSIS outcomes implementation and its follow-up

    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).

  • The UN Group on the Information Society (UNGIS)

    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. 

    >> Joint Statement United Nations Group on the Information Society (UNGIS) on the Post-2015 Development Agenda (PDF)

Internet governance related:

  • 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)

    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.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and related targets were launched in 2015 as a successor to the Millennium Development Goals. It is a comprehensive agenda covering economic, social, and environmental change that advocates a transformational approach to development, serving as an international development framework as well as a point of reference for shaping national development strategies.

Agenda 2030 is innovative in recognising the growing importance of science and technology for furthering development. Paragraph 15 of Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development specifically mentions and acknowledges the potential of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for development:

"The spread of information and communications technology and global interconnectedness has great potential to accelerate human progress, to bridge the digital divide and to develop knowledge societies"

ICTs have an important and valuable role to play in sustainable development. The implementation of WSIS Action Lines, which are organised thematically along areas of activity in which ICTs are harnessed for development, will therefore contribute directly to achieving the SDGs.

The Geneva Plan of Action, which was agreed at the first WSIS Summit in 2003, identified eighteen areas of activity in which governments, civil society entities, businesses and international organizations could work together to achieve the potential of ICTs for development.

UNESCO is responsible for six of Action Lines as listed below:

  • Access to information and knowledge (C3)

    Universal access to information and knowledge is fundamental to the development of inclusive Knowledge Societies.  In the past, information and knowledge have too often been the preserve of powerful social or economic groups.  Inclusive Knowledge Societies are those in which everyone has access to the information that s/he needs and to the skills required to turn that information into knowledge that is of practical use in her/his life.

    >> Read Full text about this action line (ITU website)

  • E-learning (C7)

    Everyone should have the necessary skills to benefit fully from the Information Society. Therefore capacity building and ICT literacy are essential. ICTs can contribute to achieving universal education worldwide, through delivery of education and training of teachers, and offering improved conditions for lifelong learning, encompassing people that are outside the formal education process, and improving professional skills.

    Education for All (EFA) is one of UNESCO’s central goals.  Achieving the established EFA goals requires innovation in areas such as distance learning and the use of IT tools within the classroom. 

    >> Read Full text about this action line (ITU website)

  • E-science (C7)

    Science, like education, is central to UNESCO’s mandate.  In addressing this role, UNESCO has paid particular attention to the free flow of scientific information, with the aim of enabling researchers and practitioners from all countries to participate in research and innovation and freely access publicly financed research.

    Action Line C7 has focused particularly on access to scientific information and the diffusion of scientific content and knowledge.  This addresses an important challenge for researchers in developing countries that is caused by the high access costs of scientific journals and poor internet connections in their countries.

    >> Read Full text about this action line (ITU website) 

  • Cultural diversity and identity, linguistic diversity and local content (C8)

    Cultural and linguistic diversity, while stimulating respect for cultural identity, traditions and religions, is essential to the development of an Information Society based on the dialogue among cultures and regional and international cooperation. It is an important factor for sustainable development.

    UNESCO emphasises the value of cultural and linguistic diversity in all its work.  It is also concerned to ensure that new media platforms make content available which is relevant to the lives of all communities and individuals, including the poor and marginalised.  Content of local relevance, and content which is locally produced, are important in this context.

    Action Line C8 has brought together stakeholders that are concerned with these aspects of access to knowledge, and has focused in particular on heritage, local content, linguistic diversity and disability.

    >> Read Full text about this action line (ITU website) 

  • Media (C9)

    Action Line C9 is concerned with both traditional and new media.  It focuses on following thematics: freedom of expression, press freedom and legislation to guarantee the independence and plurality of the media; media development and capacity building for media professionals; media and information literacy; fostering access to information through community media; promoting gender sensitive reporting and gender equality in the media professions.

    Action Line participants have explored how media production, distribution and consumption will be affected by social and market changes, including the impending switchover from analogue to digital broadcasting and the rise of online content generation by end-users.

    >> Read Full text about this action line (ITU website) 

  • Ethical dimensions of the Information Society (C10)

    The Information Society should be subject to universally held values and promote the common good and to prevent abusive uses of ICTs. Action Line C10 has been primarily concerned with promoting universally held values and principles for the Information Society and with preventing abusive uses of ICTs.

    >> Read Full text about this action line (ITU website)


As a coordinator, UNESCO co-organizes with ITU, UNDP and UNCTAD an annual multistakeholder event called the “WSIS Forum”, which is built on the Action Line facilitators consultation meetings. This event provides excellent networking opportunities, facilitates communication among the Stakeholders and therefore efficiently contribute to the advancement of the WSIS outcomes implementation.

www.wsis-community.org - The WSIS KC is an online collaborative platform open to all and hosted by UNESCO with 7500 members discussing and exchanging information and ideas. The objective is to facilitate information gathering and exchange, and to stimulate the common development of ideas and projects in the area of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for development..