The run up to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), which starts in Geneva next month, has for some time provided a focus for debate and lobbying about civil uses of new technology. Those involved in local community networks and similar projects can add ideas and expertise gathered at previous events in Barcelona, Buenos Aires and Montreal organised under the banner of the Global Community Networking Partnership (GCNP). There is also an associated Platform for Community Networks with many thoughtful articles and news updates about WSIS issues in several languages. However, the problem (for me anyway) is that if you are not closely involved in the arcane processes of international summits it is difficult to fight your way through discussion of Prepcoms, Declarations of Principles, and Plans for Action to get to stuff most people can understand. This would seem particularly important when much of the discussion is about how global information and communication technology developments can further disadvantage disadvantaged sections of society. I was therefore glad to learn from the Guardian that the British Council has assembled a team of young journalists to run a blog about WSIS - the Daily Summit. Hopefully they will tackle the who, why, what and how of WSIS in terms we can all understand.
This is not to be critical of community networking activists who have done so much over the past decade or more to raise the "who benefits" issues of technology development. It just highlights how difficult it is to find a common global language to bridge from practice to policy - even if you are in the information and communications business.
GCNP are also facing some challenges in organising their own events and activities, with lively discussion on their mailing list about the need (or not) for a more formal organisation to undertake fundraising and organising. I have a bit of a Groucho Marx attitude to organisations personally (not sure I want to belong to ones that will have me...), and favour clusters of individuals and networks where possible. However, when you are trying to engage with governments and global corporations you do have to get organised one way or another. And even the most modest international face-to-face gathering costs someone a lot of time and money - so issues of accountability do surface. I'll tread carefully here, because I know quite a few of those involved and don't want to be seen to fall into one or other of the camps that seem to be gathering - just offer heartfelt thanks to those putting in so much effort, and hope it works out well. I sometimes wonder if the ability to discuss (but not resolve) these issues of organisational politics on mailing lists helps or hinders the process. Often you have to get together to thrash these things out. What we probably need is another Prepcom....
PS Thanks to Michael Gurstein for pointing out on the GCNP list the excellent free book about WSIS from APC, the Association for Progressive Communications, and the Campaign for Communication Rights in the Information Society.