UNESCO launches 2021 survey on public access to information

UNESCO has kicked off a global survey on public access to information, putting into practice its status as the custodian agency in the UN for monitoring the right to access to information.
Using Sustainable development indicator 16.10.2, the new survey will track progress on how states are adopting and implementing legally binding guarantees for public access to information.

The 2021 survey on Access to Information will be launched during the World Bank online consultation for the next “World Development Report 2021: Data for Better Lives”.

Previous surveys by UNESCO have raised awareness that states as the duty-bearers responsible for ensuring access to information and data are often themselves in a position of having very limited data about performance of the very institutions charged with this duty.

The launch of the new survey will help to generate new data and further pinpoint where progress is needed. It will also be an opportunity to share concrete examples on how data on the monitoring of SDG 16.10.2 can improve lives and links to other SDGs.

Our previous monitoring showed the need to build capacity of authorities to produce and analyse data on the real delivery of access to information. When information commissions and equivalent bodies can monitor their own performance, they can assess progress over time in delivering public access to information.

A new survey to advance access to information
UNESCO has made it easier for authorities to respond with data, while still enabling stakeholders to analyse and report on overall global progress in ensuring public access to information.

“Based on the 2020 experience, UNESCO’s updated survey for 2021 will have fewer key questions than the previous version. It will also introduce an assessment grid system for participating countries, enabling each to begin to track any changes in trends over time,” added Berger.

The survey comprises one questionnaire accessing both the adoption and the implementation of access to information guarantees. It can be completed by Access to Information Officers/Commissioners, Data Protection or Privacy Commissioners, Human Rights Commissions, Ombudsmen, or other by selected public authorities, all of whom are encouraged to link with their national SDG monitoring mechanisms.

UN Member States at UNESCO through permanent delegations, along with UNESCO National Commissions, are kept in the loop. They have the possibility to consult with their respective institutions and push forward this monitoring and reporting process.

In the course of this global action, UNESCO will also work closely with its partners to provide support and enhance coordination and networking.

The new survey was developed in consultation with experts and information commissioners. Early in February 2021, UNESCO partnered with the International Conference of Information Commissioners (ICIC) and Red de transparencia y acceso ala información (RTA) to test the feasibility of the survey’s questions, with a view to ensuring the quantity and quality of data to be collected in 2021. Around 70 representatives from oversight bodies for access to information worldwide participated in the consultation. In 2020, UNESCO also consulted with experts and civil society.

What is this monitoring and reporting exercise for?
As unique data, the survey results will be publicized as a highlight in the 2021 commemoration of the International Day for Universal Access to Information.

In addition, this global data collection exercise also responds to a request made by the Intergovernmental Council of UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) in 2018. As a result, a report will be made for the 2022 IPDC Council meeting.

The data will also be included in other important reporting exercises at the international level, such as the annual UN Secretary-General report on overall SDG progress. Governments can also make use of the collected data at the national level to keep track of their country’s progress towards SDG 16, and to prepare their Voluntary National Review (VNR) and Universal Periodic Review (UPR) exercises.

UNESCO’s work on access to information has been made possible through the support of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), Germany and The Netherlands through the IPDC.

The deadline for submitting data is 3 May 2021. The analysis of the findings is expected to be disseminated during the celebration of the International Day for Universal Access to Information on 28 September 2021.