UNESCO to engage information commissioners in latest access to information survey methodology

Gearing up for the next round of data collection on public access to information, UNESCO is gathering stakeholder input on its updated survey methodology for SDG Indicator 16.10.2.
The consultation process kicked off on 30 November 2020 with an online consultation involving experts and concerned organizations.

Preparation for the second consultation is now underway to test the revised methodology with information commissioners and other oversight bodies for access to information (ATI), who are the data holders for assessing Indicator 16.10.2 at the national level.

“The consultations are to assess the feasibility of the updated survey questions, with a view to ensuring the quantity and quality of data to be collected in 2021,” said Guy Berger, UNESCO Director for Strategies and Policies in the field of Communication and Information.

The second consultation, with the ATI oversight bodies, is scheduled for January and February 2021. It will be divided into three language sessions in English, French and Spanish. UNESCO will be partnering the International Conference of Information Commissioners and the Regional Network of Access to Information Practitioners in Latin America and the Caribbean (RTA).

The exercise with ATI oversight bodies is deemed essential for the updated survey, which has been a work in progress since 2018. The survey was first piloted in 2019 and was further refined for deployment earlier this year. Taking into account the experience from this year’s data collection, the survey methodology is now being adjusted to improve the rate and quality of responses by Member States.

A UNESCO webinar in September 2020 Beyond the Numbers: Using Access-to-Information Data to Achieve Sustainable Development Goals discussed the significance of the 2020 data collection, which also formed the basis of a first global monitoring report for UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) in November.

The 2020 responses revealed that states with a specialised ATI oversight body are likely to perform better than those without, and that such oversight bodies should have the capacity to perform their duties, which include the monitoring and reporting of ATI in their jurisdiction.

“The lessons of the 2020 data collection help stakeholders to focus advocacy and capacity-building activities,” said Berger.

“We consider it a great success to have received 69 responses to what was quite a demanding questionnaire, given that 2020’s responses were solicited during the difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he added.

Berger also pointed out that many countries could not answer the questionnaire due to an absence of links between official SDG monitoring bodies and actual data holders on this topic – the Information Commissioners and their equivalents.

Based on the 2020 experience, UNESCO’s updated survey for 2021 will have fewer key questions than the previous version. In this regard, the 2021 survey is being designed in line with UN General Assembly resolution 70/1, which emphasizes the need to take into consideration national realities, capacities and levels of development.

According to Berger, the revision of the current UNESCO survey instrument aims to lighten the load for potential respondents in 2021, and the tool would likely continue to evolve in subsequent years.

The ongoing adjustment anticipates the 2025 Comprehensive Review by the UN’s Inter-agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs), where the existing SDG indicators will be assessed for replacement, revision or deletion.

An indicator can be deleted in the case where it has not produced the expected results, or can be revised if it does not track the target well. During the 2020 Comprehensive Review, the Secretariat of UN Statistical Commission proposed changes on 36 indicators to the IAEG-SDGs.

“We believe that it is in society’s interests to retain Access to Information in the 2030 Agenda, and even continue tracking it beyond 2030,” Berger said, hence the value in updating UNESCO’s survey instrument in order to secure greater numbers of responses over time.

By conducting the survey annually, UNESCO and stakeholders will be able assess the progress each year during the International Day for Universal Access to Information on 28 September.

The updated survey will be included as part of the revised metadata for Indicator 16.10.2. The package will be submitted for validation next year by the IAEG-SDGs. If approved, UNESCO will henceforth update the current database on Indicator 16.10.2 with the scores of participating countries, enabling each to see any changes in trends over time.

Qualitative analysis will be possible through a number of follow-up questions to the key questions in the survey, touching on issues related to, among others, oversight and appeal functions of the ATI bodies, including statistics on appeals.

The methodology of the main survey will be to collect data from ATI oversight bodies through the ‘National Questionnaire’, while also linking these bodies to the SDG monitoring systems at country level such as national statistics commissions.

A second UNESCO tool, an ‘Institutional Questionnaire’ which is targeted at selected public authorities, will be applied in countries where there is an interest in doing a more in-depth exercise. This could be, for example, in countries where UNESCO is currently implementing projects on public access to information.

UNESCO continues to work with civil society to complement UNESCO’s efforts by assessing ATI progress either using their own methodologies or that of UNESCO.

In 2020, the Organization’s IPDC granted funds to five grassroots projects on SDG 16.10.2 on the basis of proposals submitted by civil society organizations in Ecuador, Honduras, Uruguay and Venezuela. Under these projects, the CSOs are set to monitor and report on ATI progress at the national level and the Latin American region.

 

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