The World Summit on the Information Society

What is WSIS+10?

In 2003, the United Nations (UN) established the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), recognizing the urgent need to harness the potential of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) to promote the goals of the UN Millennium Declaration. The two-phase summit (Geneva 2003 and Tunis 2005) defined the issues, policies, and frameworks required to tackle ICTs in order to foster development.

The WSIS began with the goal of achieving a common vision, desire, and commitment to build a people-centric, inclusive, and development-oriented Information Society, where everyone can create, access, utilize, and share information. In the first phase, a Plan of Action was devised with a series of Action Lines to cover such issue areas as human rights, greater engagement of youth and the disabled, expanding ICT infrastructure, increasing access to information and knowledge, and building confidence and security in the use of ICTs. The second phase of the WSIS process highlighted Internet governance issues and led to the creation of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) to serve as a multistakeholder venue to discuss public policy issues related to the Internet and to enhance cooperation.

2015 marked the ten-year review of the WSIS outcomes (WSIS+10), which concluded with a two-day high-level meeting at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on December 15 – 16, 2015. The WSIS outcomes are comprised of four documents which include:

  • the 2003 Geneva Declaration of Principles, outlining a common vision for the Information Society;
  • the Geneva Plan of Action, framing the objectives, targets, and Action Lines;
  • the 2005 Tunis Commitment, reaffirming the principles established at the 2003 Summit; and
  • the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society, evaluating progress made since 2003 and reaffirming commitments.

The discussion consisted of an overall assessment of the outcomes, a review of the progress that has been made since the last Summit in 2005, and a consideration of the challenges to implementation post-2015. These discussions took place through a series of intergovernmental and multistakeholder consultations held in July and October 2015.

In addition to these opportunities, there were several rounds of comment periods for relevant stakeholders to submit their input regarding priority issues, potential challenges, and recommendations, which then fed into the final outcome text, negotiated by UN member states in December 2015. This outcome document is significant because it has the potential to set the course for ICTs for development (ICT4D) in the coming years. It also extended the mandate of the Internet Governance Forum for the next ten years.

For additional historical information, check out the Association for Progressive Communications’ Everything you need to know about the WSIS+10 review.

Where We Stand

While we support the significant progress that has been made to build a more inclusive and development-oriented Information Society, such as through the expansion of broadband and mobile networks, and the increased deployment of ICTs in the delivery of services (including e-health, e-learning, e-commerce), there are still many challenges that lie ahead. These challenges include bridging the digital and gender divide, offering affordable access to telecommunications and broadband networks, and opposing increasing national laws and policies that harm human rights online, such as privacy and freedom of expression.

To help tackle these issues, it will be vital to make a coherent link between ICTs and the post-2015 development agenda, by integrating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into the implementation of the WSIS outcomes and its overall vision. The SDGs, formerly the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), are a set of proposed targets relating to the future of international development that aim to eliminate poverty and hunger and increase access to education and health services, among other essential goals. Therefore, such a connection has the potential to create further economic opportunities and foster social, cultural, and political inclusion for millions of people around the world.

To view our full written submission to the UN General Assembly’s overall review of the implementation of the WSIS outcomes, click here. Additionally, our joint submission with Global Partners Digital can be found here. Our comments to the WSIS Non-Paper, endorsed by Article 19, Center for Technology and Society of the Getulio Vargas Foundation School of Law in Rio de Janeiro (CTS-FGV), Fundación Karisma, Global Partners Digital, and iNGO European Media Platform, can be viewed here.                             

What is the Role of Civil Society?

Civil society has actively been involved in the WSIS conferences and its subsequent review periods since the beginning, working through coalitions such as Best Bits to increase opportunities for engagement and improve coordination. Civil society groups are in an especially unique position to fill knowledge gaps created by rotating diplomats and other actors by lending their historical knowledge and procedural expertise, thereby helping to move discussions forward. The next multistakeholder WSIS Forum to coordinate implementation activities and advance the WSIS outcomes will take place on June 12-16, 2017. 

Watch PK’s Vice President of International Policy, Carolina Rossini, speak about civil society engagement in the WSIS+10 review


To take a look back at Public Knowledge's engagement in the WSIS+10 review process, please refer to our “Paving the Way to WSIS+10: Shaping the Final Outcome,”  “Achieving a Global Information Society: Linking the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals with WSIS+10,” “All Eyes on the Future: Looking Beyond WSIS+10,” and “Public Knowledge Welcomes the Newly Adopted WSIS+10 Outcome Document.”