Linking Communities to Global Policymaking: A New Electronic Window on the United Nations

Linking Communities to Global Policymaking: A New Electronic Window on the United Nations

John Lawrence (United Nations Development Program, USA) and Janice Brodman (IT Strategies Consultant, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-878289-69-8.ch022
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Abstract

The 1990s have been marked by extraordinary changes in many of the fundamental elements of human existence, among the most powerful, the introduction of a global networking system. Indeed, it is difficult to consider thoughtfully any major aspect of our socio-economic-political circumstances, current and future, that are not in some way profoundly affected by this revolution. For those of us with Internet service, even a few keystrokes on a laptop computer can now put us in touch with friends, family, colleagues, or strangers almost anywhere in the world, certainly on all seven continents including Antarctica. Business can be conducted, money transferred, medical records evaluated, books/papers jointly written and edited, inventions created, ideas shared. The unprecedented ease and speed of access to knowledge and experience, and increasingly commerce, is at the heart of the promise of the new technologies for cyberconnectivity. Communities in all parts of the world are finding ways to make the Internet serve them, and becoming energized, organized and activated as a result. Two factors, however, contribute to a sobering backdrop that frames further exploration of these exciting new frontiers. First, access to the underlying technologies is severely constrained in developing countries, and in poorer communities of industrialized countries. Differential access to key resources, such as capital, electricity, telephone service, exacerbates gaps between the haves and the have-nots. Furthermore, even for those who gain basic access, other constraints, such as predominance of “colonial” languages, limit their ability to take advantage of opportunities offered by the technology. Second, the glitter of cybertechnology tends to divert us from addressing broader problems of inequities in social and economic development, and their associated ecological consequences. These have been sharply documented in the UNDP Human Development Report Series. (The most recent of these 10 annual Human Development Reports, that of July 1999, can be found at: http://www.undp.org/hdro/99.htm.) This chapter presents the results of an experiment to bring together these two contemporary forces — the Internet explosion, and a sense of growing inequality in economic and political power — to create a new channel into global decision making fora, particularly for communities that seem increasingly to be left behind. The context for this effort was the United Nations, and a series of global conferences that focused attention on the major social, environmental, and economic issues of our time. The objective was to explore ways to use new electronic networking to link communities around the world more directly to top level decision makers.

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