Opening remarks by Mr. José Antonio Ocampo,Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations for Economic and Social Affairs and chairman of the UN ICT task force to "Measuring the Information Society", a WSIS parallel event organized by the Partnership on Measuring ICT for Development
Tunis, 15 November 2005

I would like to extend special thanks to my colleagues for organizing this event on "Measuring the Information Society" and for successfully leading the work of the Partnership on Measuring ICT for Development, which brings together ITU, OECD, UNCTAD, the UN ICT Task Force, four UN regional commissions (ECA, ECLAC, ESCAP, ESCWA), the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, the World Bank and Eurostat. The Partnership is an excellent example of how different organizations sharing the same goals and challenges can achieve faster and greater results by joining forces and working closely together.

The work of this Partnership has a strong relationship to the broad global Development Agenda, generated over the past decade and through the series of major UN conferences and summits, including this World Summit on the Information Society.

We know that information and communication technologies have a special role to play in reducing poverty and in achieving the other development goals. Increasingly, ICTs are seen not as ends in themselves, but rather as indispensable tools that can provide many countries with innovative solutions to address social and economic problems.

Today, international organizations are realigning their development strategies to harness ICT. On a national scale, many countries are developing national e-strategies. And some are integrating ICT into their Poverty Reduction Strategies.

Nonetheless, debate persists on how and to what extent the effective application of ICT furthers development. Designing appropriate instruments and mechanisms for convincingly demonstrating the role of ICT as an enabler of development remains a critical challenge.

Policy and decision makers, including finance and planning ministers, need reliable data demonstrating the impact of ICT on countries’ socio-economic development. This would help generate a strong rationale to invest in ICT and to formulate policies and strategies for ICT-driven growth. Without such data, it may be difficult to secure funding for the necessary infrastructure and capacity-building programmes and other activities that would increase national ICT penetration and usage.

Moreover, measuring short- and middle-term impacts of ICT-based programmes would permit governments and international organizations to assess their activities and better target ICT deployment to catalyze and support development. As they say in business, “You cannot improve what you cannot measure”.

In addition to looking within their borders, decision makers should be attentive to what is happening in other countries, both as a means of comparison and for identifying successful initiatives. In this regard, a system of comparable statistical ICT indicators would permit governments to monitor their progress, compare their level of ICT development, and learn from each other’s best practices. At this stage, although a variety of tools already exist to monitor ICT readiness and use, they are neither comparable nor agreed upon internationally.

As Chair of the United Nations ICT Task Force, I can tell you that both the examination of ICT’s impact on development and the adoption of a common system of ICT indicators are top priorities in our work. This is why we actively participate in the Partnership on Measuring ICT for Development.

In 2003, the UN ICT Task Force formed a Working Group on Indicators and MDG Mapping chaired by the Government of Canada. Through it, we are helping to identify tools for measuring and monitoring the socioeconomic impact of ICT and their potential contributions to implementing the international development goals, particularly the MDGs.

The Working Group is conducting a qualitative as well as quantitative analysis that highlights the enabling role of ICT in the development process. Its aim is to map the role of ICTs in helping to achieve the MDGs by identifying a series of ICT-specific targets and by suggesting possible indicators for measuring progress. The ultimate objective is to design a progress-tracking tool, which could be used to illustrate, in practical terms, how ICTs can help meet the development challenges expressed by each of the MDGs. We presented our initial results during the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva. Building on this effort, the Working Group is now developing a more robust measurement framework.

As Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, I can also report that our Department is working intensively to advance the concept and measurement of “e-government readiness”, and of “e-participation”. Since 2003, we have published the United Nations Global E-government Survey, which reports on how willing and ready governments are to use ICT to provide information and services to their citizens.

The Survey presents a comparative ranking of the countries of the world according to two primary indicators: i) the state of e-government readiness; and ii) the extent of e-participation. We have developed a statistical model for the measurement of digitized services to assess the 191 Member States of the UN according to a quantitative composite index of e-government readiness based on: website assessment, telecommunication infrastructure, and human resource endowment. In this benchmarking model, as countries progress in both coverage and sophistication of their state-provided e-service and e-product availability, they are ranked higher according to a numerical classification that corresponds to the five stages of e-government readiness.

We have also developed the E-participation Index, to assess the quality and relevance of online services on governments’ websites for engaging citizens in public policy decision making. We believe this is a pioneering step in how participation can help in furthering the Information Society—and vice versa.