Addressing Some Unintended Consequences of Participation in the Digital Environment UNESCO/UNECA

30 September 2011 - A Workshop on Security in Nairobi, Kenya


In concert with a diverse group of stakeholders, UNESCO in collaboration with the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), will host a session to examine the interplay between the use of ICT, efforts to increase participation in the very important virtual digital spaces and some of the unintended consequences that these developments have brought.
This discussion will frame these challenges within the African context and seek to draw and share lessons from current work that could inform current and future practice.
The catalytic impact of ICT to bring gains in efficiency and effectiveness as well as to create new opportunities at the individual, enterprise, as well as at the national and global level is well appreciated. There is also recognition of their role in promoting access to development and public information thereby facilitating transparency and good governance. ICT and the virtual spaces have also been identified as key enablers for addressing gender inequities, for supporting the roll-out of education and health services and contributing to the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals.
Consequently, public and private investments in ICT and ICT-enabled processes as well as efforts to facilitate greater participation in the virtual spaces and reduce the digital divide are increasing.
Realizing and leveraging the potential of ICT is however, not a linear process. Furthermore, the deployment of ICT, which are evolving rapidly, offer new and complex choices for policy makers and are also leading to the creation of new forms of social organization, relationships and interactions whose impacts on societies are not well understood.
The WSIS process, has identified some guiding principles such as promoting the common good, preventing abusive uses of ICTs and respect for nature amongst the aspects of the ethical dimensions of the information society that ought to be considered as we seek to leverage the potential of ICT. It is therefore critical to examine some of the adverse and unintended outcomes that accompany our efforts to increase participation and the uptake of ICT and seek to mitigate them.
Some examples of the unintended consequences of ICTs that will be discussed in this session are briefly described below:
1. Diversion of resources: The high expectations of the role of ICT and participation can play in abating social challenges has led to many ICT4D projects being funded en masse without adequate attention to issues of feasibility, sustainability and impact. Such situations can present tremendous and adverse opportunity costs.
2. Concerns over the safety of transactions and data: Reductions in transaction costs and complexity through offerings such as mobile banking and access to land title information offer new possibilities for disadvantaged groups to participate in financial activity. However, inadequate protection of ICT systems, low user awareness coupled with lack of policy frameworks and protection provide opportunity for fraud with limited protection and recourse for victims. This raises important issues around the integrity, robustness and society’s confidence in systems as well the need for a regional legal instrument on cyber-security to be adopted under the auspices of the African Union Commission.
3. E-waste: ICT contain a number of substances which when inadequately disposed can pose a serious threat to human health and the environment. Without measures to manage the end-of-life disposal or recycling of this equipment; for example adequate policies, disposal systems and user awareness; it is likely that increased efforts to address digital divide will see increasing amounts of e-waste in Africa.
4. Threats to the survival of African languages: Language is a vehicle for knowledge exchange and a driving force for innovation and productivity. Therefore the development of African languages is vital for Africa’s development. ICT can accelerate the use of Africa’s languages and the continents development however, Africa’s languages are facing many challenges. The dominance of a few European languages in key spheres such as education, public administration and the media is marginalizing African languages. If left unchecked, the roll-out of ICT in foreign languages further exacerbates this situation, jeopardizing Africa’s languages and Africa’s development; this will also deny the opportunity of ICTs to a crucial segment of its people. This situation can only be reversed by ensuring the involvement of the grassroots in ICT and leveraging the power of ICT to support the dissemination and creation of information in the languages that Africa’s citizens understand best. There is thus an urgent need to facilitate the integration of African languages within broader information policy and issues of access and participation.
This session will:
1. Raise awareness of these adverse impacts and steps drawn from practice on mitigating them;
2. Identify and prioritize emerging impacts and areas for research;
3. Support the dissemination of information on existing resources and practices that can support stakeholders in responding to the issues highlighted in the sessions;
4. Identify entry points and possible action plans for supporting national responses.


9:00 a.m. Opening Remark by Session Moderator
9:05 a.m. Diversion of resources - Ms. Titi Akinsanmi,Researcher, LINK Centre, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg,South Africa
9:15 a.m. Safety of transactions and data - Ms. Eskedar Nega, Programme Officer, ICT Policy Development, UNECA, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
9:25 a.m. E-waste Ms. Gladys Muhunyo, Director, Computer Aid International, Nairobi, Kenya
9:35 a.m. Survival of African languages Mr. Maurice Tadadjeu,Association Nationale des Comités de Langues Camerounaises , Yaounde, Cameroun
9:45 a.m. Interactive session with live and virtual audience with 15 minutes dedicated to interventions by virtual participants
10:20 a.m. Discussion synthesis and closing Remark by Session Moderator
10:30 a.m. End of session



A brief substantive summary and the main events that were raised:
A brief substantive summary and the main events that were raised:
UNESCO and UNECA successfully organized a workshop on the unintended consequences of participation in the digital environment. The session examined challenges around: i.) Diversion of resources, ii. Trust and safety, iii. E-waste and iv. Linguistic diversity and survival.The panel drawn from academia, civil society and the policy-making community offeredrich and varied insights into the identified challengesand their implications for the African information society.A lively interactive session following the presentations allowed deeper exploration of the session topics anddrew on the audience’s diverse experience in addressing similar challenges in other developing regions. Of the 4 topics, e-waste and the role of ICT in supporting the survival of African languages captured the greatest attention. The cross-fertilization of ideas, raising awareness of other global initiatives allowed a number of networks and resources to be identified which could enable interested persons and institutions to further explore/undertakeactivities in these areas.

Conclusions and further comments:
The session while recognizing the challenges of the unintended consequences reaffirmed the importance of continuing efforts in Africa to reduce digital divides and expand opportunities and participation in the digital spaces. Measures identified to mitigate adverse effects includedi. awareness raising of policy-makers and civil society, ii.including information on adverse consequences in information and digital literacy programmesand iii. stimulating local content creation. Participants were also invited to provide the organizers via e-mail withproposals for follow-up activities.

The co-organizers extend their appreciation to the 4 panelists and thesession participants for their active engagement and contribution to its success.