Digital Content Development for Information Societies with special reference to the Asia and Pacific Region: UNESCO on Digital Content Development

Dr. Susanne Ornager
UNESCO Regional Adviser for Asia and Pacific
920 Sukhumvit Road, Bangkok 10110, Thailand


Describes the role of UNESCO in the digital content development for information societies with special reference to the Asia and Pacific region within the umbrella of Information for All Programme. The points discussed include development of international, regional and national information policies; development of human resources and capabilities for the information age; strengthening institutions as gateways to information; and development of information processing and management tools and systems.

KEYWORDS: UNESCO; Information for All Programme; Digital content development; Information societies; Asia and Pacific region.


UNESCO's mandate "to promote the free flow of ideas by word and image"' clearly indicates the part that the Organization is called upon to play in making information and knowledge freely accessible to all, with the ultimate objective of bridging the gap between the information rich and the information poor. To achieve this end and according to its constitutional mandate, UNESCO shall "maintain, increase and diffuse knowledge" by ensuring the "conservation and protection" of the world's recorded knowledge. Furthermore, the Organization shall encourage "co-operation among nations ... in the exchange of publications" and other information materials and initiate "methods of international cooperation calculated to give the people of all countries access to printed and published material produced by any of them".

International intellectual cooperation is of the utmost importance in a global environment, which is led by rapid developments of information and communication technology (ICT) and increased convergence in all its applications. The consequences of these developments, particularly in education, science, culture and communication, are affecting, either directly or indirectly, all Member States, groups and individuals, in very different ways. Particularly people in developing countries must, at all cost, be empowered to participate fully in the global society and to gain maximum benefit from effective and efficient access to information.

In this context UNESCO with its mandate to promote the "intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind" is uniquely well placed to provide a forum for international debate, and to contribute to policy-making especially at international and regional levels. Policy-making must focus on preservation and access to information, with particular emphasis on information in the public domain, on capacity building, as well as on networking among key institutions, such as archives, libraries, and other information centres.

UNESCO's Information for All (IFA) Programme shall be a key participant in the fulfillment of UNESCO's mandate to contribute to "education for all", to the "free exchange of ideas and knowledge" and to "increase the means of communication between peoples".

Digital Content Development within Information for All Programme

The IFA programme was approved by the Executive Board at its 159th session replacing the General Information Programme (PGI) and the Intergovernmental Informatics Programme (IIP) merging "the content and the tool". IFA gives priority to working with and through all UNESCO Sectors in the adaptation of ICT to their activities. The programme itself provides a platform for international policy discussions and guidelines for action on the following areas: Preservation of information and universal access to it; Participation of all in the emerging global information society; and Ethical, legal and societal consequences of ICT developments.

In the IFA programme it is stated, "It should also be understood that priorities, strategies and activities might vary from region to region depending on the local economic, social and cultural situation". In quoting the IFA areas it is presumed that the above sentence covers Asia and Pacific, and further that the digital content development is present within all the areas into which the IFA programme is divided.

The first area, which IFA is planned to cover, is: Development of international, regional and national information policies. In general, electronic government services can be distinguished according to the main functions they perform, which are:

* Information services - where one can retrieve sorted and classified information on demand (e.g. www sites);

* Community services - to interact with individuals or groups of people (e.g. via e-mail or discussion fora); and

* Transaction service - to acquire products or services online or to submit data (e.g. government forms, voting etc.).

The effort involves collaboration with civil societies (including any national and local library and information association) to be encouraged in order to develop the appropriate standards and systems to facilitate the digitization and availability of government information on Internet or Intranet for the public benefit. A revolutionary use of Internet information infrastructure would be the development of electronic democracy allowing citizens to express their views on a variety of issues.

Although it is not quite about digital content development I want to mention that UNESCO supports the establishment of Internet awareness seminars among policy makers. UNESCO is having the second seminar early in May on this issue. Further UNESCO encourages public authorities to demonstrate leadership in making government and official information available electronically to their citizens, reflecting their own culture, language and heritage. UNESCO supports the formulation and implementation of the national policies and information awareness on ethical issues in the digital era, and takes appropriate steps to arrive at an international consensus of uniform international community standards and norms in the context of the digital age.

Accessing the social benefits of the Asia and Pacific information policy (IP) is premature since few studies have been done in Asia and Pacific. Such effort, when we have more studies to choose from, will provide useful policy implications in the cooperative strategy to build the Asia Pacific IP and to have it digitized as "best practices" on the Internet.

The Memory of the World (MoW) programme has a regional office in Malaysia headed by the National Archives. One of the knowledgeable projects about this region is the Archives of the Dutch East India Company, which will be made electronically accessible in cooperation with UNESCO within the MoW programme.

Archives have established regional associations in Asia to take care of access and preservation of the published and the documentary heritage of the region, the associations are called SEAPAVAA and SEACAP. The first association develops audiovisual archiving at the national, regional and international levels. The second aims at microfilming the paper-based archival material. They both intend to provide a regional forum for addressing common issues and concerns related to the collection, preservation and provision of access to the document and audiovisual heritage of Member countries. In the region the agencies serve local communities and scholars worldwide in providing access to materials relating to Asia, and enhance preservation activities in the region within the MoW programme. UNESCO has sustained the development of the home pages for the organizations.

UNESCO promotes the training in accessing and preserving the published and the documentary heritage of the region by emphasizing the use of new technologies. Action will focus on training of trainers and improvement of local training expertise.

The second area is: The Development of human resources and capabilities for the information age. One can mention that the role of information technology in Asia and Pacific has evolved from that of an administrative support tool to that of a major catalyst for change and a major enabler for its implementation.

Users of information technology generally expect it to deliver timeliness, cost assurance, quality and value results. A key element in achieving these results is the establishment and utilisation of centres of excellence in which processes are well defined and managed, and where skills can develop in a consistent and focused way. Studies have shown very large productivity differences between the best and worst development teams and these productivity gaps remain, even with the introduction of new tools and techniques. UNESCO endorses surveys in chosen countries of the region to obtain comparative data. The qualitative and quantitative information will be employed in creating a Clearing House information center on best practices.

To promote the effective use of information and knowledge especially to eliminate the hindrance between the "haves" and "have nots", many countries need to educate and train trainers on the use of Internet information and one method may be by distance learning (DL). However, there is a drawback to the use of DL.

This is especially important in Asia and Pacific, where the rush to emulate every single trend in virtual education seems to be accelerating as entrepreneurs realize the massive profits crying out to be taped by such schemes. While the democratisation of education should be qualitatively linked to virtual media, such media should not be an end to themselves in the pursuit of continuing education. Virtual media should be complimentary rather than alternative products of learning and should aim to develop knowledgeable individuals, not mere information receivers.

UNESCO is establishing pilot projects to demonstrate the social and economic impact of the provision of ICT and services in the rural areas by supporting the development of multipurpose community telecentres (MCT) connected to Radio Browse the Internet (RBI).

By itself, an MCT overcomes the technological barriers to communication, access and exchange of information with the rest of the world. Through training schemes and the presence of information personnel, it can offer to a wide range of people, and not only the best-educated, the possibility of using its resources individually or in small groups. The use made of the MCT by certain members of the community - teachers, health workers, etc - can be of great benefit to whole segments of that community: students, patients, etc. However, an MCT cannot serve a mass public. Moreover, it can only overcome the obstacles of illiteracy or lack of knowledge of national or international languages through the introduction of specially-designed software. To reach a mass public in local languages and through the spoken word, the linkage of the MCT with community radio is essential.

Community radio presents information from the Internet to their listeners. The RBI programme raises awareness among the listeners by providing all Internet information in the radio programme in the local language, which make community people being better integrated in the national life. The computer(s) are provided for young people giving free access and guidance to find necessary resources on the Internet, building a kind of cyber cafe for surfing the Web .

Community radio and MCTs are clearly complementary and can function in parallel in the same community, offering a broad spectrum of distinct services. However, when their traditional and innovative technologies are actively combined, they can offer far greater possibilities for engaging a community in its own development. The possibilities generated by the combination of the two are not confined to quantity or range; the qualitative nature of those possibilities also changes. Such a combination permits the implementation of Community Multimedia Centres (CMCs), which are people-oriented, community-owned, and development support facilities.

Many initiatives aim at exchanging experience among networks within the same field. Emphasis is on existing networks in Asia and Pacific where UNESCO encourages them to set up one or more regional portals. The portals can include methodologies, curriculum development and past experiences to be shared among schools, universities, information and research institutions, etc.

The third area is: Strengthening institutions as gateways to information, where the conditions in Asia and Pacific differ from region to region depending on the local economic, social and cultural situation. In some areas the information institutions play a strong and efficient role providing services to an expanding clientele in a fast changing environment where accurate and relevant information is at the heart of competitive advantage framework. In other regions the number of capable persons and institutions still lack equipment and technical support to build expertise. Furthermore, other factors that need to be developed are law and regulative systems. The issue of strengthening regional arrangements and intra-regional networks has to be brought forward to be high in the agenda of regional forums.

Keeping in step with changes and development in a technology-driven environment is evidently a big challenge for Asia and Pacific. Finding the balance between the physical and digital services is another. Along with the increasingly varied demands of an expanding client base, there are the rising expectations, too.

The fourth area is: Development of information processing and management tools and systems. Initiatives aimed at changing the current management trend from having the organisation's directions determined by the operational needs of its programs, to a more cross-organisation development is to be supported by UNESCO.

UNESCO also gives priority to the development and implementation of roadmaps for the ongoing improvement, deployment and management of ICT. Such maps would clearly articulate the mission of ICT, describe a vision of client service and establish an environment for execution, which harnesses the potential for change.

The fifth area is: Information technology (IT) for education, science, culture and communication. UNESCO promotes the study on regional needs analyses on the development and implementation of the management of IT. The study will focus on different scenarios involving the management of IT and distribute the results to interested countries in the region.

Fragmented policy setting constrains the emergence of a shared vision both within the countries and in Asia and Pacific about the use of IT. To develop more coordinated directions, promotion of the use of IT in all sectors stressing the necessity for cross-organisation strategies and developments are supported by UNESCO, paying particular attention to the creation of awareness among all involved sectors and the development of a system on needs and trends in the use of IT.


For UNESCO, Intersectoral projects are a new concept. By presenting a common intersectoral programme the forces in UNESCO can be pooled together as a benefit for the Member States. One of the priority areas for CL is the IFA programme. It requires effective collaboration and liaison with a diverse and increasing number of interested parties. Therefore, the programme shall emphasise and enhance the role of external collaboration and partnering in its work within UNESCO and in its support of external programmes. It shall seek cooperation with other international programmes within and outside the UN family in order to harmonise positions and policies. Collaboration with stakeholder NGOs and the private sector shall be established in order to create a multiplier effect from improved communication and collaboration to contribute to achieving the objectives of the programme. Internal cooperation shall be enhanced so that the IFA programme becomes a close partner of UNESCO sectors. The programme shall use ICT in implementing its activities and to establish permanent dialogue with interested communities.

* `Constitution of UNESCO, Article 1; all the following quotations in Introduction' are from the same source.


Area 1: Development of international, regional and national information policies

Indications of expected results (Time frame: UNESCO's medium-term strategy 2002-2007)

Background Strategy Activities
  • Access to information is neither equitable nor universal

  • Increased commercialization and media concentration in the information sector

  • Increased convergence in the applications of ICT

  • Widening gap between the information rich and the information poor

  • Restriction of the public domain in the area of information

  • Changing concept of global public goods

  • Rapid change of ethical, legal and societal concepts

  • Rising expectations of citizens wishing to participate more effectively in government

  • Growing need of local and national authorities for feedback from citizens on their policies and services

  • Increased use of ICT by governments to improve transparency, efficiency and impact through access to internal and external information (cyber-citizenship)

  • Lack of adequate policies, infra-structures and financial means

  • World's information heritage in danger

  • Provide a forum for international debate on equitable and universal access to information

  • Contribute to information policy-making at international, regional and national levels

  • Support policies and strategies conducive to reducing economic obstacles to access to information and to enlarging public spaces and services

  • Promote the concept of publicly funded universal access to information and the nature of information as an essential component of global public goods

  • Foster collective efforts at national, regional and international levels for funding for information resources

  • Promote the sharing of governmental and administrative information as part of a wider pool of public domain information for enabling civil society to receive, generate and disseminate information on community life

  • Promote the use of ICT in government offices, public libraries, multipurpose community centres in providing access to such services

  • Concentrate on community governance in developing countries

  • Develop policies for the protection of the world's information heritage

  • Assist in planning and promoting international, regional and national information policies

  • Analyse and reprot on the ethical, legal abd societal developments in the information society

  • Support the increase of information in the public domain

  • Encourage the creation of inter-national, regional and national legal and regulatory environments in areas such as privacy, filtering, access to information in the public domain, rights and responsibilities of intellectual property holders, database access security

  • Initiate and support collaboration and development of partnerships within and among diverse communities and producers, distributors and users of information

  • Analyze and report on trends in using ICT for improving democratic governance and developing cyber-citizenship

  • Initiate and support the preparation of guidelines on using ICT for governance

  • Support projects integrating groupware, decision support tools, databases providing secure acess to policies, regulations, procedures, documentation and correspondence

  • Initiate and support international debate, studies and guidelines on the protection of the world's information heritage


Area 2: Development of human resources and capabilities for the information age

Indications of expected results (Time frame: UNESCO's medium-term strategy 2002-2007)

Background Strategy Activities
  • Sustainability of technical infra-structures needs educated workforce

  • Rapid development of ICT

  • Increased importance of computer literacy for basic and lifelong education

  • Increased number of information users

  • Emergence of new information professions

  • Availability of new educational concepts and tools

  • Increased number of economic obstacles to training and education

  • Promote education and training to narrow the gap between the information rich and the information poor

  • Act as a catalyst for international, regional and national discussions on information training

  • Develop international policies for the training of trainers and for the training of providers and users of information

  • Increase awareness of the importance of blending traditional forms of education with new education tools and learning methods e.g. distance education and lifelong learning

  • Promote networking at all levels in the area of training

  • Encourage transdisciplinarity within UNESCO through the use of ICT

  • Analyse and report on developments in the area of information training

  • Initiate and support curricula development for information literacy and media competence at all levels

  • Encourage the use of networking in formal, non-formal and lifelong education

  • Initiate and support training of trainers and professionals networking, training and exchanges

  • Encourage the development of a framework for cooperation and information exchange about the content and quality of training in the information area

  • Contribute to the development of regional centres for skills transfer

  • Initiate and support the development of training toolkits

  • Support training programmes for e-publishing and e-commerce for publishers and producers


Area 3: Strengthening institutions as gateways to information

Indications of expected results (Time frame: UNESCO's medium-term strategy 2002-2007)


Background Strategy Activities
  • New role of information institutions such as libraries and archives in the information society

  • New types of institutions and mechanisms to ensure information access for all required

  • Information explosion both in non-digital and digital fields

  • Information in non-digital form requires new management methods and access modalities

  • Increased importance of information institutions as digital content providers

  • Increased importance of the role of information institutions for the preservation and conservation of the world's information heritage

  • Move towards a redefinition of the role of information institutions

  • Extend the role of established professional and institutional infrastructures such as libraries, archives, community centres, etc

  • Promote the creation of new information institutions particularly local gatways to information

  • Create awareness of the importance of the complementarity of institutions providing access to non-digital and digital information

  • Promote the creation of digital content by information institutions

  • Promote international cooperation through networking among professional communities/associations

  • Promote cooperation between public information institutions and the private sector (in particular content providers)

  • Greater use of technology by information institutions for information preservation

  • Analyse and report on the changing role of information institutions in the information society

  • Support the implementation of technology and professional standards for the management and preservation of physical collections of information

  • Support the creation of public gateways to information particularly in developing countries

  • Support the networking of institutions to provide access to information resources

  • Support the digitization of information, particularly indigenous knowledge useful to local communities

  • Foster cooperation with the information industry to develop formulas for providing equitable access for economically disadvantaged users

  • Support resource sharing of digital and non-digital resources

  • Encourage and support the use of ICT to manage and preserve information resources


Area 4: Development of of information processing and management tools and systems

Indications of expected results (Time frame: UNESCO's medium-term strategy 2002-2007)


Background Strategy Activities
  • Increase in different information resources, data formats and systems

  • Strong commercialization and monopolization in the market of electronic information management tools

  • Challenge of retrieving information in a trillion-document univcrse

  • Context greatly influences context and the way individuals access it

  • Transformation of data into information then to knowledge is difficult, contextually determined and only minimally supportable through technology

  • Interoperability and accessibility of data not ensured

  • Greater use of open source information management tools

  • Development of national and regional competence in creating information management tools

  • Development of systems with resource- sharing possibilities

  • Use of widely accepted guidelines, best practices, and standards wherever available

  • Initiate and support the development of freely accessible information management tools and digital library toolkits

  • Support projects that encourage the development of freeware and open standards

  • Support the development of best practices and standards for information management

  • Initiate and support projects that ensure semantic interoperability through metadata, classification information genres, etc.

  • Support test-bed and pilot projects that demonstrate the efficient use of ICT and ICT-based services


Area 5: Information technology for education, science, culture and communication

Indications of expected results (Time frame: UNESCO's medium-term strategy 2002-2007)


Background Strategy Activities


  • New learning opportunities for all through the use of ICT

  • New ICT-based learning methods for secondary and higher education ( e.g. groupware, virtual university, etc.)

  • Large number of children and adults excluded from basic learning opportunities world-wide

  • Developing countries not benefiting from the potentials of ICT in education


  • Raise awareness of the potential of ICT applications in education

  • Promote the testing and exchange of ICT exchange of ICT-enhanced methods in basic education

  • Ensure the exchange of ICT-based educational materials in the public domain


  • Encourage the development of policies and tools for ICT- enhanced education

  • Encourage the creation of virtual learning communities, virtual schools and universities

  • Support the establishment of a monitoring system on needs and trends in the use of ICT to favour lifelong learning for all

  • Develop strategies for training in basic computer literacy

  • Prepare a feasibility study for the establishment of an education portal


  • New possibilities of scientific information exchange and scientific research through ICT (Virtual reality, virtual laboratories, ICT-based knowledge management, etc.)

  • Scientists in developing countries isolated from colleagues in developed countries and from essential sources of information


  • Raise awareness of the potential of ICT applications in science

  • Promote international consensus on a framework to ensure wide access to and production of electronic scientific information in developing countries

  • Encourage the adaptation of virtual laboratory methods to the needs of scientists and research institutions in developing countries and their dissemination to and exploitations by these groups


  • Assist in promoting universal and equitable access to scientific knowledge

  • Support the development of new codes of practice in the use of ICT on the part of researchers and all those involved in the scientific information chain

  • Prepare guidelines for ensuring networked access to scientific information

  • Expand environment data and information exchange networks and data centers in developing countries


  • Emergence of a new cyber-culture with new forms of cultural expressions and artistic creation

  • Possibilities of greater access to cultural goods increased to ICT

  • New possibilities of training in the area of culture through ICT

  • Cultural institutions in developing countries not benefiting fully from the opportunities for cultural development and expression offered by ICT

  • Cultural and linguistic diversity at risk


  • Raise awareness of the potential of information technology applications in culture

  • Increase awareness of the importance of free access in maintaining and promoting cultural and linguistic diversity

  • Promote broader access to the cultural heritage by using ICT

  • Provide guidance to and sharing among cultural institutions in developing countries


  • Identify and disseminate ICT tools and experience useful to cultural institutions and industries in developing countries

  • Support the organization of networks of institutions dedicated to promoting and sharing cultural heritage at the international level

  • Organize pilot projects in ICT-enhanced collection, management and dissemination of cultural heritage

  • Prepare projects for improving networking cultural and media workers

  • Prepare international framework on multilingualism and multiculturalism in cyberspace


  • Increasing convergence of media

  • Emergence of new media types and professions

  • New possibilities of training in the area of communication through ICT

  • Media and journalism in developing countries facing obstacles in exploiting ICT in their work


  • Raise awareness of the potential of information technology application in communication

  • Ensure freedom of expression of ICT-based media services

  • Encourage the development of national communication policies taking account of the new situation posed by ICT

  • Promote innovative use of ICT by pluralistic and community media in developing countries


  • Development of policies to ensure freedom of expression on the Internet

  • Support applications of information technologies in the media

  • Support training in Internet journalism

Information Today & Tomorrow, Vol. 20, No. 2, June 2001, p.3-p.10